Maggie Estep, a poet and novelist who helped popularize slam poetry and had a heavy presence on MTV in the early Nineties, died Wednesday in Albany, New York. Two days earlier, she had suffered a heart attack, according to The New York Times.
In the early Nineties, Estep was a regular on MTV, which gave her a platform for her wry poetry and forked-tongue observations. The channel cast her, alongside Henry Rollins and other spoken-word artists, on a spoken-word-focused episode of Unplugged. And it included her video for “Hey Baby,” which showed off her penchant for black humor and curl-lipped reaction to pickup lines, on an episode of Beavis and Butt-head. She also appeared on the HBO program Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam.
Offscreen, Estep appeared onstage with Rollins, Jim Carroll and John S. Hall and took part in the Free Your Mind spoken-word tour and made appearances at Lollapalooza ’94 and Woodstock ’94. She also released an album, No More Mr. Nice Girl, in 1994, and a follow-up, Love Is a Dog From Hell, three years later. She released several novels, beginning with Diary of an Emotional Idiot, in 1997, and her work was anthologized in several books, including The Best American Erotica and Brooklyn Noir 2. She was working on a book titled The Story of Giants at the time of her death.
She was born Margaret Ann Estep in 1963 in Summit, New Jersey, to racehorse-trainer parents, and she grew up in Canada, France, Colorado and Georgia. She moved to New York City as a teenager after dropping out of high school.
In New York, she worked briefly as a go-go dancer and picked up a heroin addiction. She began writing fiction while in rehab. In 1986, Estep took a class taught by beat author William S. Burroughs at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, and eventually received a bachelor’s degree in literature. In recent years, she kept a blog, and she published her most recent post, “Strippers, Sluts and Umlauts,” last Friday.
Estep got her start performing after a friend dragged her to an open-mic night, according to the Los Angeles Times. She later read her works at New York’s slam-poetry hub the Nuyorican Poets Café. Recounting her first time doing spoken word, she told the L.A. Times in 1994, “I read and did really well. I seemed to have an immediate affinity to do it. . . . I got so nervous, I’d just rush through things and just pace. It evolved into my signature.”
The New York Times reports that she is survived by her mother, Nancy Murray, two half-brothers, Jon and Chris Murray, and a half-sister, Ellen Murray.