Friday, December 30, 2016

Teaching an African American lit. course with audio recordings of black women reading poetry as the basis

This past semester, I taught an African American literature course concentrating on audio recordings of black women reading poetry. My class was comprised of all first-year collegiate black women, and we listened to recordings by more than 30 different poets and a few rappers. By and large, the students enjoyed the materials, especially works by some of the more dynamic and speculator performers such as Sonia Sanchez, jessica care moore, Patricia Smith, and most notably Mahogany L. Browne.

For years, I've included audio here and there of poets reading their works in literature courses, but this was the first time that I made the recordings central to the class.  Early on in the course, I played a recording of Browne's bold and bodacious recitation of her poem "Black Girl Magic." From there, we worked our way through historically significant poems by Gwendolyn Brooks and Margaret Walker, and well known works by Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Jayne Cortez, and others.

Notably, the enthusiasm to which the young sisters responded to dramatic readings and some of the recordings by contemporary performers gave me some sense for why none of them arrived at college with interests in becoming English majors. They've rarely been in classrooms that prioritized the study of black women verbal art like we covered. And unfortunately, it's unlikely that they'll ever take a class during their time in college that presents so many diverse black women voices.

But the good news is what we experienced this past semester. Listening to so many different black women poets was culturally enriching. We spent considerable time talking about the differences between black women poets and black women poets; such discussions were inevitable given the variety of delivery styles the students encountered.

The implementation of this course and the feedback I received from students confirmed my belief that language arts teachers and  literary scholars might raise levels of engagement among under-served demographics by doing more activities and courses utilizing audio recordings of black poets.    

A notebook reflecting on reading and blogging in 2016
Collegiate Students  
Teaching an African American Literature course on Ta-Nehisi Coates in fall 2016  
An African American literature course: Recordings of black women reading poetry (Fall 2016) 

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