At about the time I received Jean’s letter, I was researching potential literary outreach projects for the Black Studies program and had just completed reading a publication about “Building Participation in the Arts.” The research on outreach projects along with Jean’s letter and the enclosed poem served as an impetus for the Poetry Correspondence Program, a letter and poetry sharing project between college students affiliated with the Black Studies program and middle school and high school students in the area.
Each month, the college participants send letters enclosed with poems and complementing photographs to students at the participating schools. The letters from the college participants provide responses to the poems and images and invite the student recipients to share their views of the materials.
Last year, we sent the students poems by Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Kevin Young, and other poets, and the images that we used came from the Farm Security Administration documentary photographs. During our first year, we corresponded with approximately 75 students.
This year, we will extend the Correspondence Program, by communicating with about 200 middle school and high school students. And thanks to a grant that we received from the Meridian Society, a philanthropic organization of women, we will provide each of the students with a book of poems by Langston Hughes.
We’re looking forward to sending the free Hughes books to the 200 students in mid-September. During the course of the project, we’ll post observations concerning the poetry and photographs, excerpts from our letter-writers, and reflections on what we’re learning by communicating with the students. Have ideas, suggestions, or feedback on what we’re doing? Feel free to share.
--H. Rambsy II
[Poem excerpts from "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks and "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Image design by Tristan Denyer and Marci Daniels.]