Saturday, August 10, 2013

An underground curriculum in the study of black poetry

Yesterday, one of my former students, Ashley, who graduated a week ago, stopped by my office to see me. She just got a job where she will coordinate activities for elementary school students in an after-school program in St. Louis. Although she majored in psychology at the university, Ashley took a number of African American literature courses; in fact, during her 4 years at the university, she took 4 different courses with me and one course with my colleague Candice Jackson. All of the courses concentrated on black writers, literary history, and artistic culture.

Our university does not offer a minor in African American literature, but Ashley fulfilled something akin to an unofficial or underground course curriculum in the study black poetry. She entered college and my classes at the moment when I was significantly expanding my approaches to the coverage of black poetry. In the courses she took with me, Ashley covered more than 25 poets and 300 poems over the last 4 years.

Ashley and I had a good laugh when she informed me that her job encourages her to concentrate on topics related to African American identity and cultural roots with the students she’ll work with at the school. Those happen to be topics we covered repeatedly in courses together over the last four years. Who knew, we noted with amusement, that she’d actually get a job based largely on all those electives, which consisted of classes featuring African American poetry?

Ashley is actually one of more than 10 students who've taken 3 or more courses with me over the last several years. Those students, along with their peers in the classes, have read poems about slavery, participated in browsing sessions, viewed and listened to poems in mixed media exhibits, and engaged in wide-ranging discussions about history, folklore, afrofuturism, and creativity.

Some of us have had some conversations about turning this grouping of classes into a formal minor. But we're still figuring it out, thinking through the pluses, minuses, and really whether it's a possibility. In the meantime, a number of us will continue navigating the routes of this active and growing underground curriculum on black poetry.  

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