Lately, Democrats, Republicans, political commentators, and journalists have been noting the "93%," as in the percentage of black voters who selected Barack Obama in the recent presidential election. The commentators and journalists have spent time dissecting exactly how the Obama campaign mobilized such considerable support, and I suspect Democratic and Republican strategists are considering what those levels of support might mean for upcoming elections.
What would it mean, I wondered, if literature professors, poets, and others sought to win black readers with the same intensity that, say, the Obama campaign went after African American voters? Sure, the Obama campaign was a multi-million dollar enterprise, and there are various reasons why a campaign of that magnitude is hardly analogous to an initiative for nurturing interest in poetry. Still, amid the national political discussions of black interests, why not also consider reading possibilities?
Similar to a national campaign, we might start with geographies and consider where black people are in the country and how their various locations shape their literary and cultural interests and concerns. Age is also an important factor, as campaigns often tailor their messages to different groups based on how young and old they are.
Campaign workers must constantly have information on how their candidate and specifically their candidates' policies might serve locale-specific, age-related, and general interests of particular constituencies. Campaigns, well, highly effective campaigns must also study their target demographics and understand what interests them most and how "the other side" fails to address their key interests and needs.
Imagine a poetry campaign like that--one powered by a multifaceted coalition that strategized to "get out" the readers. Imagine a poetry reading campaign that believed in figuring out black reader interests in distinct locales and age-groups, and where workers on the campaign could explain why engaging the writings of this poet or that poet would reap certain benefits. Who knows? Maybe shifts in outreach to readers might represent a change we could believe in.
• What if there was a weekly New Volume of Poetry Day?
• Toward a Sociology of African American Readers & Their Relationships to Poetry