Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Writing African American college students letters about poetry and ideas

Every summer for years now, I exchanged series of letters or emails with the incoming college students enrolled in two of my fall courses. One of the courses is comprised of first-year collegiate black men, and another course is comprised of first-year collegiate black women. Overall, the summer brief writing exchanges constitute an opportunity to have early involvement in the intellectual lives of African American college students.

Some years in the past, I sent a copy of Frederick Douglass's Narrative (That's when the university had more funds to provide support). In recent years, I sent the students electronic copies of chapters from Douglass's book, and in other years, I sent them links to poems to read. Along with the readings, I send a "welcome" letter, which includes prompts with questions about the readings.

In addition to introducing the students to various readings, the letters give me the chance to vie with the university's formal orientation materials as well as summer vacations for the students' attention. Something tells me that I'm way outmatched. I compete nonetheless.

This year, to begin, the young women read Gwendolyn Brooks's "Song in the Front Yard," Lucille Clifton's "Aunt Jemima," and Evie Shockley's "Philosophically Immune." The young men read Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays," Amiri Baraka's "RhythmBlues," and Adrian Matejka's "Fisticuffs." The poems are a chance for me to begin conversations with the group about poetry, creativity, culture, philosophical concepts, and more.

A Notebook on Collegiate Students

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