Thursday, July 19, 2018

Poems by younger poets for younger students

Student views and listens to video of poet Jae Nichelle reading

What if we offered younger students more opportunities to study younger poets, that is, poets under the age of 30 in our classes? That's a question I've been asking myself lately as I've studied sounds of poetry and worked with high school students and first-year college students.

Based on self-reports from teachers and students and from my observations at conferences and of scholarly journals, I sense that many college professors favor conventionally established poets, under-studied yet important poets, or emergent contemporary poets who possess the requisite cultural capital, such as degrees and award-winning volumes of poetry from prestigious institutions. Many of the poets covered are over the age of 40.

I've heard less discussion of ways that college professors are seeking to meet the needs and interests of younger generations of black students though (That's not to say the conversations don't take place). Over the last few years, I've worked much harder to expose students to a large inter-generational cohort of poets. Some of the poets are canonical and born over a hundreds year ago, like Langston Hughes, Robert Hayden, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Others are in their early twenties and thirties.

When the younger students are presented with images and sounds of poets reading their works, they strongly favor the younger poets over much older poets. The students also prefer poets who recite their works over those who read from the page. The students, especially my black women students, have the strongest positive reaction to Jae Nichelle's "Friends with Benefits," a piece about her internal struggles with anxiety. Seeing a woman in their age range discussing a struggle many of my students know all too well really resonates with them.

The students have similar positive reactions to readings by Mahogany L. Browne, Porsha O, Ebony Stewart, and Jasmine Nicole Mans. None of what I'm saying means that we should stop covering Hughes and Brooks, Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez, and so forth. However, we might have something to gain by additionally considering why students are drawn to a younger generation of black poets as well as dynamic presenters.

A notebook on the sound of black women poets

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fear of language -- the art & pain of insults

Image source

Several years ago, Jerry W. Ward, Jr., responded to a question I posed about barriers preventing students from engaging poetry by noting that one possible challenge for students was "fear of language, or, perhaps to be precise, fear of language that one does not participate in creating." Among other things, his phrase "fear of language" served as a point of departure for me to explore a range of thoughts.

Last week and this week while working with high school students from Cahokia and Madison, Illinois, I returned to considerations of the fear of language, especially in relation to the art and pain of insults.

Like many of my fellow African American literary scholars, I spend considerable time speaking about the power and artistry of language, primarily in favorable ways. We discuss and in many cases celebrate works and words by Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and many others. However, we've had less to say, at least in formal ways, about the damage that people, black people, can do to other black people with language.

During the course of my conversations with high school students, some of them talked to me about their experiences being bullied. They discussed being called names and being regularly targeted as the subject of jokes. One student told me that the students at her school were relentless: "They always saying how bad I look, how funny I dress, and how dumb I talk."

She told me that she was relieved that her family had recently moved and that she would get a chance for a new start at a new school. She and a couple other students noted that the insults at their expense apparently had noticeable receptions. "Everybody laughs," they said when I asked about the responses to the negative insults hurled at them.

Talking to those young people last week and this week has been a reminder for me to expand the discussions about the power of black words in my classes. It was a reminder to why, for good reason, some young people have a fear of the ways language is used against them.

Fear of Language

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Black poetry, high school students, and audio recordings


Last week, I got the chance to put into practice some of the concepts concerning sound that I was studying related to audio recordings of poetry. I worked on language arts activities in East St. Louis with two groups of high school students from Madison and Cahokia -- small towns in southern Illinois. By highlighting features such as volume, pitch, tempo, and dramatic pauses, we studied individual compositions, and at the same time, we spent worked on sharpening our communication skills.

We listened to and read (in that order) to works by 6 poets and rappers:
• "A Song in the Front Yard" by Gwendolyn Brooks
• "RhythmBlues" by Amiri Baraka
• "won't you celebrate with me" by Lucille Clifton
• "Sporting Life" by Adrian Matejka
• "Lost Ones" by Lauryn Hill
• Verse from "Triumph" by Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan
On Monday, we first spent some time talking and thinking about the kinds of speakers we enjoy and value. Next, we used audio devices to listen to the 6 pieces and offer initial impressions. During the rest of the week, we re-read and produced audio recordings of us reading the poems and raps.

Recording, listening, and then re-recording gave the students opportunities to think about ways to study and improve their delivery styles. The students were initially amused to hear the playback of audio recordings of themselves reading (i.e. "uhhh, I hate my voice"). Eventually, they began to listen closer to how they sounded and made adjustments and improvements for subsequent recordings.

For years now, revision and edits in my college classes have focused on writing. For the students I worked with last week however, revision was about improving vocal variety.

A Notebook on digital tools, devices

The following entries chart the work that I've done that makes use of various digital devices in educational contexts.

• June 16: Black Panther, Riri Williams, and Hip-Hop Variant Digital Collections
• June 11: Frederick Douglass, Octavia Butler, and Digital Collections
• June 9: Digital devices and African American literary studies
• April 13: Curating a Malcolm X digital collection
• March 22: Silent listening session in East St. Louis
• January 29: Black boys and audio production

• September 29: A Digital look at postcards from the Andrew J. Theising Collection

November 4: From MP3 Players to Touchscreen Tablets
• November 4: Kristine Hildebrandt & Jessica DeSpain's Digital Motivations
• November 1: Viewing Andrew Theising's East St. Louis postcards on tablets

• October 12: African American literary studies and technology
• September 24: Listening session activity at the East St. Louis Charter High School
• April 4 An audio exhibit concerning the EBR Collection

• November 11: Quietly listening to African American poetry at Venice Elementary School

• February 4: Black Studies and Listening Devices

Assorted Blogging Notebooks

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Coverage of Captain America, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Selection of Variants for Captain America #1

Today, Marvel released Captain America #1, with Ta-Nehisi Coates as writer. I tracked the initial coverage when it was announced that Coates would take over. Now I'm tracking coverage on the release.

• June 23: 10 Things We Can Tell You About Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Captain America #1 - Rich Johnston - Bleeding Cool
• June 25: Midtown’s Retailer Variants for Captain America #1 - Rich Johnston - Bleeding Cool
• June 29: Ta-Nehisi Coates' new take on Captain America - Christian Holub - Entertainment Weekly
• July 2: Advance Review: Captain America #1 - Rich Johnston - Bleeding Cool
• July 2: Captain America #1 - Eric Cline - Adventures in Poor Taste
• July 3: Captain America #1 'a Triumph For One of Marvel's A-Listers' - Justin Partridge - Newsarama
• July 3: 'Captain America' #1 Introduces a Greater Threat Than Any One Villain - Chase Magnett -
• July 4: Captain America #1 Teases the Utter Decimation of [Spoiler] - Ian Cardona - Comic Book Resource
• July 4: Captain America No. 1, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Annotated - Kwame Opam - New York Times
• July 4: Coates writes a ‘Captain America’ filled with star-spangled doubt - David Betancourt - Washington Post
• July 4: Captain America #1 Review – The Fresh Start Cap Needs - Alden Diaz - We the Nerdy
• July 4: Captain America #1 - Brett - Graphic Policy
• July 4: Captain America #1 - Michael Hale - Comicosity
• July 5: Captain America #1 confronts Cap’s time as a fascist - Meg Downey - Polygon
• July 5: Coates' Captain America about Steve Rogers, Country We Live In - Charles Pulliam-Moore - io9
• July 7: Coates & Yu Come Out Swinging in Captain America #1 - Mike Fugere - CBR
• July 12: Captain America #1 Review: Relaunch with Ta-Nehisi Coates - Alex Widen - FanSided
• July 14: Review of Captain America - Ryan Perry - World of the Nerd

Early Coverage of Ta-Nehisi Coates as new Captain America writer
A notebook on Ta-Nehisi Coates
A notebook on comic books

Monday, July 2, 2018

Matt Daniels, The Pudding, and African American literary studies


A few years back, my younger brother Kenton, a literature professor who collaborates with me on digital humanities and other projects, contacted me and insisted that I stop whatever I was doing at the moment and check out some work by Matt Daniels. At the time, Kenton was noting Daniel's "The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop" or perhaps it was "Outkast, in Charts." Either way, by now, it's become habit at this point for us to check out the work that Daniels is doing or the work being done at The Pudding, a company that "explains ideas debated in culture with visual essays." There's also a sister site, Polygraph.

This fall, I'll cover a few projects by Daniels and The Pudding in my African American literature courses. Below is the checklist I'll pull from to examine with students in my classes.

OutKast in Charts - Daniels provides visual displays and other information about the rap group over the years.

The Largest Vocabulary in Hip Hop - perhaps the first breakout hit by Daniels, this project presents an exploration and ranking of rappers based on their use of unique words. The project generated extensive coverage in 2014 when it was released.

The 2,452 Wikipedia Pages on which Miles Davis is Mentioned - Daniels considers the jazz musicians' legacy by tracking every Wikipedia page that mentions him.

• The Largest Analysis of Film Dialogue by Gender, Ever - In this project, Daniels and Hanah Anderson took a look at 2,000 screenplays by Gender and Age. The project received widespread coverage when it was released in 2016.

The Shape of Slavery - Daniels and Bill Rankin examine the historic incarceration rates in relation to slave states and non-slave states.

Where Slang Comes From - Daniels takes a look at the emergence of popular slang searched for on Google in 2016.

• Newspapers: A Black & White Issue - Daniels and Amber Thomas offer a measure of racial diversity in journalism. For Polygraph, there's "How Diverse Are US Newsrooms?," which "measures the percentage of women and minorities working in US newsrooms."

• The Structure of Stand-Up Comedy - provides an interactive analysis of a successful joke by comedian Ali Wong’s performance for Netflix.

• The Musical Diversity of Pop Songs - offers analysis of the declining originality of popular music

• How Music Taste Evolved - provides a listening history of every top 5 song from 1958 - 2016.

The Language of Hip Hop - determines what words are "most hip hop" based on a comparison of word usage across multiple genres.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A glossary for Eve L. Ewing's Electric Arches (by page number)

This summer, I worked with a group of students* in the African American Literatures and Cultures Institute on various activities, including a glossary for Eve L. Ewing's Electric Arches.

For the glossary, the students and I identified key terms that we thought future, younger students might want defined as they encountered the book. We then provided short links and descriptions.

[RelatedAn Index for Eve L. Ewing's Electric Arches]

Page number / term
Cover design by Brett Neimann.
Cover artwork, Garden of Lost Things, by Brianna McCarthy
5: Assata Shakur - a former member of the Black Liberation Army.
5 NASA - an independent agency of the United States Government that oversees the civilian space program.
6: Missy Elliott - a legendary rapper, record producer and dancer.
6: Kool cigarettes - manufactured by Imperial Tobacco Company in the United States. They were fiercely marketed towards African Americans in the 1970's.
6: Sam Cooke - a soul singer from Chicago that influenced many artists.
6: Hennessy - cognac liquor made in Cognac, France. It is mentioned in many hip-hop songs.
8: Jesse Jackson - a civil rights activist and politician.