Monday, November 12, 2012

Talented student readers in African American poetry courses

Over the last ten years, young black women have been among the best "readers" of poetry in my African American literature courses. Every year it seems, one or two black women in my courses are known for their talents as readers or performers of the poems we cover. Some of them develop reputations as powerful readers of poems, and more notably, some become known as dependable readers, willing to read the pieces when others are not.

I suspect that I'm indebted to black churches for some of the talents of the performers. Black churches might be one of the most prevalent institutions within black communities that provide young sisters with multiple opportunities to perform and witness performances during their childhoods. The preachers, choirs, soloists, dramatic readers, and participants in special programs at church services and activities provide a wealth of sources and models for young sisters.

More than a few of the talented black women readers who have enrolled in my courses over the years and become known as "good readers" have been theater majors. They developed their interests in drama and performance prior to arriving at college. Still, working with the Black Theater Workshop at the university is one of the places where they began really sharpening their public reading skills.

The presence of "good" readers in a poetry course might be under-appreciated. Students enjoy listening to recordings of the actual poets reading their poems; however, those who read the poems out loud that we do not have recordings of could shape how everyone in the class appreciate the pieces. 

I've become a fairly experienced reader over the years, but people expect me -- the professor -- to be an above average performer of verse. So there's some special recognition when students witness a classmate who emerges as an especially talented reader. Folks are intrigued that someone "just like me" can take those words on the page and transform them into a strong audible reading.

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