Sunday, September 29, 2019

Collegiate black women as reader-listener-viewers

For a recent unit in one of my African American literature courses, we covered at least one selection by more than 15 poets (including rappers and spoken word artists). We checked out work by Margaret Walker, Meg the Stallion, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lauryn Hill, Sonia Sanchez, and several others. As we discussed the pieces that resonated most with folks in the class, I noticed some patterns.

For one, the students expressed the most interest in pieces that we had video of people performing their works. People read facial expressions and body movements as part of the text and performances. Too, reading along on the page and recognizing what presenters were doing to the words alive prompted admiring comments.

Second, seeing people read from memory appealed to the students. Jae Nichelle's “Friends with Benefits” and Porsha O's “Angry Black Woman" were two of the selections that they enjoyed most. Both pieces are performed from memory, not simply read. The students viewed memorization as a skill.

I also noticed that they were drawn to pieces that discussed some key topics. The Jae Nichelle piece is favored because she focuses on her struggles with anxiety. A few different women in the class announced that they have similar struggles. The students also expressed interest in pieces that highlighted the conflicts that black women sometimes have with black men speaking to them in troubling ways on the streets (we read a poem, where a sister responds).

I took note and have noted for years that many of the pieces that garnered the strongest responses from the students were not the pieces that are most canonical in African American literary history. The students did not dislike Walker's "For My People," Brooks's "We Real Cool" and "kitchenette building," and other historically significant poems They just had much stronger feelings about poems that seemed to address some of their contemporary everyday concerns.

Black women, creativity, and styles of delivery

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