Maggie Estep, slam poet from the glory days of the Nuyorican Poets Café, Dies at 50


This obituary by Daniel E. Slotnik appeared in The New York Times.

Maggie Estep, a novelist and spoken-word poet who helped popularize slam poetry on MTV, HBO and PBS in the 1990s, died on Wednesday in Albany. She was 50.

Ms. Estep (pronounced EST-ep) died two days after having a heart attack at her home in Hudson, N.Y., a friend, John Rauchenberger, said.

An East Village bohemian when the neighborhood contained more discarded syringes than million-dollar condos, Ms. Estep became a regular at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, one of the incubators of the slam poetry movement. Slam poetry combines aspects of a live reading, a rap battle and stand-up comedy, as performers try to win over the audience with wit, braggadocio and, occasionally, nuance.

Ms. Estep’s poetry was characterized by gritty honesty, black humor and a post-punk brand of feminism. She became one of the form’s breakout stars, performing in showcases like MTV’s “Unplugged,” the “Free Your Mind” spoken-word tour in 1993 and, in 1994, the music festivals Lollapaloozaand Woodstock ’94.

Her poems, which she delivered relentlessly, were a cascade of images, often tinged with absurdity, violence and innuendo. She performed one scathingly sarcastic poem, “Happy,” on the HBO show “Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam”:

To hell with sticking my head in the oven

I’m happy

I’m ridiculously, vengefully happy

I’m ripped apart by sunshine

I’m ecstatic

I’m leaping

I’m cutting off all my limbs

I’m doing circus tricks with forks

She recorded two spoken-word albums with rock accompaniment, “No More Mr. Nice Girl” (NuYo, 1994) and “Love Is a Dog From Hell” (Mercury, 1997). Her fame increased when a video for her song “Hey Baby” was mocked on “Beavis and Butt-head.” The song centers on Ms. Estep’s bizarre rejoinder to an amorous man on a New York street, and ends with this exchange:

“What’s the matter, baby?

You got something against men?” He asks.

“No,” I say

“I don’t have anything against men,

just stupid men.”

Margaret Ann Estep was born on March 20, 1963, in Summit, N.J. Her parents were racehorse trainers, and she grew up in Canada, France, Colorado and Georgia. She dropped out of high school in her late teens and moved to Manhattan.

“I fell in love with New York City one day in 1971, when I saw dozens of people blithely stepping over a dead body on a sidewalk,” Ms. Estep wrote in “Think of This as a Window,” an essay about finally leaving the city.

She worked briefly as a go-go dancer, joined the punk scene and became addicted to heroin. She took up fiction writing at a drug rehabilitation clinic in the mid-1980s.

In 1986 she attended a class taught by William S. Burroughs at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. She studied there for two years and eventually received a bachelor’s degree in literature from the State University of New York.

She published several books, including mystery novels set in New York City and “Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals,” which includes her spoken-word work. She moved to Hudson from Brooklyn several years ago.

Ms. Estep regularly kept a blog. Her final entry, about stripping and friendship, appeared on Feb. 7.

She is survived by her mother, Nancy Murray; two half-brothers, Jon and Chris Murray; and a half-sister, Ellen Murray.

Although Ms. Estep became famous as a performer, she said she always considered herself primarily a writer.

“I was a writer long before I performed, and my work is very much for the page as well as the stage,” she told The San Jose Mercury News in 1994.

“I sent my stuff out to the quarterlies and it came back with arrogant notes,” she added. “Now, they come to me.”

For the original report go to

One thought on “Maggie Estep, slam poet from the glory days of the Nuyorican Poets Café, Dies at 50

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s