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WIU Graduate Student Wins Chicago Reader Competition

March 3, 2022

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MACOMB/CHICAGO, IL – "You and yours and them, she be willing to give, she be willing to live, she know she got the world on her back and the galaxies in her womb. She is a woman so she know that means that she is a warrior too …" – "and She Worthy" by Kywn Townsend Riley, from her spoken word album, "and She Worthy."

Riley, a Western Illinois University College Student Personnel graduate student, recently won the Chicago Reader's 2021 Best of Chicago Competition, in the "Best New Poetry Collection of 2021" category. She was nominated for the competition, and then individuals voted in the respective categories. One of the other winners, Poet Eve Ewing, is one of Riley's inspirations, she added.

Riley released her first album in September 2021 (on Amazon, Apple Music, YouTube, iHeart and more). A poet, speaker, activist and organizer from Chicago's South Side, Riley, aka "Kwynology," has been writing for as long as she can remember, having first performed in high school.

"My writing helps heal myself and others. As a Black woman, I've experienced many poems to preach on racialized violence, womanism, gentrification and womanhood, homophobia and more," Riley said. "'and She Worthy' is a mandate for me to accept my own significance. This album is intentionally soft, audacious and precious. I want listeners to hear my family and friends and feel invited to my own community and therefore to their own acceptance of how they are worthy.

"It is a war cry against societies insistent attack against Black queer women, this is a rallying chant for us to stand firm in our value," she added. "Winning the award is evidence that I have the community, talent and power to do anything.

Riley has performed around the world from Germany to California, and as a speaker and activist, she has interviewed for CBS, WBEZ, Windy City Live and the Late Night Tammi Mac Show. In addition, she hosted a radio show in Cameroon, Africa on Ocean City Radio and a hour-long talk show on WUDR 99.5/FM in Ohio. Riley has delivered many sermons at Trinity United Church of Christ, a church known for its involvement with social justice and other churches in Chicago, and has served as the keynote speaker for the "Off the Sidelines" Feminist Conference.

The Kenwood High School and the University of Dayton graduate, was among those organizing Black Lives Matter marches and protests. She has continued her activism and advocacy at WIU, serving as the graduate adviser for the WIU Black Student Association, WIU Student Chapter of the NAACP and Cultural Expressions. Riley also serves as a graduate student in the Multicultural Center, is the president of the Black Graduate Student Association and will be inducted into Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

"I'm passionate about justice for all Black people, especially Black queer and gender nonconforming folks," she added. "I care about people being able to live, and to have the resources that they need to not only just survive, but to thrive – and it make s me feel a lot better knowing that what I can do is helping people," I will continue fighting as long as I'm able to do so. It's my duty."

Riley, who is a Antibigotry Convening Fellow at Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research, said she organizes through a Black Queer Feminist lens. In addition to her poetry album, she is the author of two books, "and She Wrote" and "and She Will." Following her graduation from WIU, Riley plans to pursue a career as a director of a university Multicultural Center, along with producing her own show and writing more books.

"My goal is to use all of the talents God has given me," Riley added.

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