Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai is a Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Chinese Taiwanese American spoken word artist who fights for cultural pride and survival through how she spits and how she lives. Touring extensively worldwide, she has featured at over 450 shows across the continental United States, Hawaii, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Kenya, the Netherlands, and Trinidad. Winner of the 2007 Asian American Arts Alliance/New York Foundation for the Arts Urban Artists Initiative Award, Kelly was also profiled in Idealist in NYC's Top 40 New Yorkers Who Make Positive Social Change in the Five Boroughs in 2008, Angry Asian’s “30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30” in 2009, and HBO's "East of Main Street: Asians Aloud" in 2010. In 2011, she was selected as an Asian Women's Giving Circle Grantee and Urban Word NYC-New York Live Arts Artist-in-Residence.  

Kelly has rocked stages at venues like the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the House of Blues, the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and three seasons of "Russell Simmons Presents HBO Def Poetry." She has shared stages with Mos Def, KRS-One, Sonia Sanchez, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, DMX, Michael Eric Dyson, Wyclef Jean, Tracy Morgan, Amiri Baraka, Ursula Rucker, Harry Belafonte, and many more.

Past projects include her award-winning spoken word video ("By-Standing.." dir. by Karen Lin) and her viral spoken word video ("Black, White, Whatever" dir. by Jazzmen Lee-Johnson), which was featured on the day before Barack Obama's historic election and quickly garnered over 200,000 hits. Her poems and essays can be found in We Don't Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists (Seal/Avalon), We Got Issues! A Young Woman's Guide to a Bold, Empowered and Courageous Life (Inner Ocean) and The Spoken Word Revolution Redux (Sourcebooks).


Photo by Katie Piper (