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'Def Poetry Jam' Star Javon Johnson Brings Laughs To The LAT Festival Of Books

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By Maddy Keavy

Those lucky enough to walk past or be near the University of Southern California stage during the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books Saturday experienced not only music, but the spoken word stylings of poet-professor Javon Johnson. And it was not your typical performance. Before the two-time National Poetry Slam champion, as seen on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, began, he urged audience members to clap, cheer, and high-five their friends if they agreed with what they heard. And they did.

His first piece, "Elementary," turned bystanders into believers, and what started as a group of uncertain watchers became an involved audience reacting to Johnson's comments on topics like politics, ethnicity, and culture.

Johnson, who is also a USC professor, utilized comedy to enhance the powerful remarks on racial and social issues, which made his performance unique to the festival. Among statements like, "How do I tell him that I am more human than I am hero," and, "It scares me to think that he, like many others, are getting ready for a war we can't prepare them for," Johnson kept the audience laughing.

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Audience members let down their guards and were able to connect with the truths Johnson presented, and what might seem daunting in another format was offered in digestible amounts. The diversity of the crowd emerged as the visible representation that Johnson had something to say.

Recap: 'Orange is the New Black' Panel, William Friedkin Conversation at the LAT Festival of Books