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Celebrating Poetry in Black History Month

posted: 2.1.10 by archived

Terrence Hayes reads at Cornell University, April 15, 2009

With the arrival of February comes the celebration of Black History month in the United States and—on this blog at least—a recognition of the pioneering work of  writers and artists of African descent in this country.

There are a lot of great Web resources to help you appreciate these innovators and to structure activities for your students.

The Academy of American of American Poets has compiled a wealth of material for Black History Month and invites readers to “[c]elebrate and explore the rich tradition of African American poetry through essays on literary milestones, intersections of music, poetry, and art, and profiles and poems of historical and contemporary poets such as Harryette Mullen who continue to pioneer new ground while keeping an eye on the past.”

Highlights include classic recordings, such as Langston Hughes reading “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and Gwendolyn Brooks reading “We Real Cool,” along with overviews of poetic movements like Slam and Negritude, essays, videos, and biographies.

Langston Hughes reads, “I, Too.”

The Library of Congress has provided an equally impressive collection, though its focus is broader, covering the whole spectrum of politics and culture. Of special interest to readers of this blog will be videos of poet Sheila Moses at the 2006 National Book Festival, David Kresh discussing the poetry of Langston Hughes, and poet E. E. Miller giving an interview.

The Smithsonian’s Web site for Black History month features a host of resources for educators including a Harlem Renaissance reading list.

And, on that topic, the History Channel offers a brief video overview of the Harlem Renaissance—the surge of creative activity in Manhattan’s Harlem neighborhood in the 1920s and 1930s that involved poets such as Claude McKay and Langston Hughes.

The Biography Channel’s Web site features a lengthier, written introduction to the Harlem Renaissance, with links to biographies to major writers, artists, and intellectuals associated with the movement—including, of course, poets.

About your classroom:

How will you celebrate Black History Month in your poetry classroom this February? How do you celebrate all year round?

Send in your exercises and ideas and we will feature them here on Teaching Poetry.

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Andrew Flynn is an editorial assistant at Bedford/St. Martin’s. He graduated from Columbia in 2008, with a BA in history and philosophy. Before coming to Bedford he interned at the Paris Review.

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