Last week as part of a reading project we're working with designed for high school black boys, I sent the participants short descriptions of poetry and asked them to choose the one that they wanted first. I shouldn't have been surprised at the top selection. Here's how I described the book:
Dear Hero, by Jason McCall – The volume includes a variety of poems that reference the common subject of heroes and antagonists, including poems about Greek mythology figures and comic book and movie heroes.McCall's book alludes to dozens of heroes, including Captain Marvel, Magic Johnson, Marilyn Monroe, Odysseus, Solomon, Spiderman, and many many more. Why wouldn't those topics interest black boys? And various others.
Each year for the last several years, I've polled my first-year college students about what comes to mind for them when they think of poetry. They've given a range of answers, but the subject of heroes, sidekicks, and antagonists never emerges. At the same time, it's hard to overlook how a range of heroes matter to black boys as presented in comic books, movies, rap music narratives, you name it. Somehow those subjects seem less prevalent in the poems that are presented to young people.
McCall's book, I figured, would pique the interests of black boys. I've begun distributing the books, and I'm already looking forward to how they'll respond.
• Jason McCall