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African American Poets in the 21st Century

Seminar Leader:
Herman Beavers


In the current moment, African American poets enjoy a level of notoriety and visibility that testifies to how far they have come since Thomas Jefferson’s characterization of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry as being “beneath the dignity of criticism.” In the last twenty years, African American poets have begun to make annual appearances in The Best American Poetry anthology, winning several Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards as well (indeed, in 2002 four of the five nominees for the National Book Awards were African American poets).

To begin this seminar experience we built a base of understanding, becoming familiar with poetry’s technical aspects, and later employed strategies for interpreting poems. Our attention was not on poetry as “difficult” literature, disengaged from everyday concerns. Rather, our motivation was to make poetry relevant to how we understand African American history (e.g. slavery, the Great Migration, and racial injustice) in addition to the issues shaping family life, spirituality, gendered identities, and social consciousness. We further explored poetry’s relationship to other cultural forms such as cinema, advertising, and music.

Unit TitleAuthor


Looking at the Black Experience in America Through African American Poetry

Joyce Arnosky
Keywords: 5th grade, African American, Black experience in America, History, poems, poetry, Reading, writing

P.O.W.E.R. : Profound. Original. Words. Expressing. Resilience.

Karen L. Brinkley
Keywords: afrian american literature, African American art, african american poetry, History, Literature, poetry

Imagery in Action

Donna L. Jones
Keywords: activism, african american poetry, Civil Disobedience, English 3, Imagery, Imagery in Action, literary devices, Literature, poetry

Bob Kaufman: Life According to the Beat

Lisa Kelly
Keywords: Beats, Bob Kaufman, consumerism, discussions, literacy, literary movement, power, race, silencing in America

Homage to a Mockingbird: Poetry in Motion

Stacia D. Parker
Keywords: 1930s, characters, collaboration, conscience, courage, found poem, haiku, Harper Lee, historical background, Historical Context, odes, poetry, social injustice, social order, social responsibility, sonnet, The Black Arts Movement, The Harlem Renaissance, themes, To Kill a Mockingbird

Brave Voices through Time and Space: Poetry Café for Young People

Samuel A. Reed, III
Keywords: African American poets, Art, biography, constructive criticism, demystify poetry, figurative language, Middle School, Music, read, Reading, Research, social studies, speak, write, writing

Prosody and the African American Poet: A Case for Close Reading

Deborah Samuel
Keywords: active engagement, close readings, Critical thinking, English, English literature, examine, literary techniques, Literature, poetry, read, slow down


Michael Steele-Eytle
Keywords: Afro-American poets, art and music, interpretation, language acquisition, lens of Spanish Translation, listening, poetic structure, Reading, Spanish, speaking, writing

Southwest Philadelphia: What it was and how we see it today

Deanna M. Stephan
Keywords: 11th grade, African-American community, American Literature, analyze current status of community, Claude McKay, Gwendolyn Brooks, historical frameworks, history of the community, Jack Myers, poetry, process observations, Reading