Sunday, September 23, 2012

Imagining Digital Resources for African American Poetry

For some reason or another, those of us who research and write about African American literature haven't sought to produce digital resources on specific modern and contemporary poets and perhaps modern and contemporary authors in general. Folks in our field have demonstrated superb capabilities producing scholarly articles, books, and conferences. However, there have been fewer attempts among scholars to produce online databases on figures such as Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Elizabeth Alexander, and Kevin Young,    

Within the larger fields of literary study and humanities in general, conversations about digital humanities have become pervasive. For some reason or perhaps for several reasons, relatively  few scholars of African American literature have emerged as leaders on cutting edge or formidable web-based projects that highlight the works and careers of black poets.     

The Poetry Foundation site serves as one model for what we might do. The site includes biographical sketches, poems, audio of poets reading, video, and suggested readings. Such an ambitious site would be unlikely for one or two scholars to replicate, but it does suggest approaches that we might take to produce small-scale digital resources featuring African American poetry.

The production of more digital and web-based projects would be necessary if we were interested in engaging students as well as teachers and scholars who are more likely to sign on to the web for information about black literature as opposed to accessing books of criticism and scholarly journals. Producing digital resources and online databases featuring African American poetry is easier said than done. However, advancements in user-friendly software and the access that literature professors have to their university's Information Technology Services (ITS) units make the development of digital and online projects more possible than ever before.    

And even before we have the necessary funding and software and technical expertise, we can begin imagining what digital resources featuring African American poetry might look like. Folks in our field have actively theorized black literary art for more than 40 years now. We can surely devote some attention to envisioning online databases on poets and poetry.

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