Global Contributions of African American Writers: Using Poetry to Facilitate Connections between Historical Periods and Students' Personal Experiences

By Krull, Kristin | Black History Bulletin, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Global Contributions of African American Writers: Using Poetry to Facilitate Connections between Historical Periods and Students' Personal Experiences


Krull, Kristin, Black History Bulletin


As an English major and pre-service teacher, I am naturally drawn to the literary canon as a means of reflecting upon historical periods. Throughout my public and post-secondary education, literature has illuminated, and at times even revealed, periods of historical significance that were not a part of any traditional history curriculum I experienced. It was through the writings of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois that I first heard many of the voices of our nation's past that often go unheard within our public schools. Similarly, the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez provided a new and authentic perspective on history that glaringly revealed the exclusion of many African American voices from our nation's classrooms.

Throughout my teacher education program, I have been immersed in culturally responsive teaching theory and practice, which Geneva Gay defines as "using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively." It is based on the premise that "when academic skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of reference of students they are more personally meaningful, have higher interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly." (1) This immersion in culturally responsive teaching has given me a heightened awareness of the injustice of denying students the opportunity to study the works of African Americans who have had a defining role in shaping the American social, political, and cultural consciousness, and also the negative impact that such an exclusion has on student engagement and student achievement.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to meet Sonia Sanchez while attending the 93rd Annual Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Convention in Birmingham, Alabama. Experiencing firsthand the powerful grace and truth of her spoken word was a bittersweet experience. I was reminded of my own limited K-12 educational experiences, but more importantly, I was faced with the realization that the majority of today's students are experiencing a similarly narrow curriculum. Despite decades of curricular reforms designed to be inclusive of the multiplicity of voices that comprise the American experience, students continue to be taught a narrowly defined view of both history and literature. Ultimately, my encounter with Sonia Sanchez served to solidify my belief in and commitment to using literature as a means to facilitate student connections to history and their own lives through culturally responsive teaching.

Literature is a powerful lens through which historical periods come alive. It allows the reader to connect with history in a unique and often very personal way. While numerous African American writers have made significant contributions to the literary canon, many are only now being recognized for their work. The global contributions of African American writers were prolific at two distinct, yet connected, points in American history: the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The Harlem Renaissance, situated historically between the Great Migration and the Great Depression, gave birth to a new African American cultural identity despite rampant racism and economic oppression. Alain Locke deemed it a "spiritual coming of age" offering the "first chances for group expression and self determination." (2) Through this spiritual awakening the voices of James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, and Langston Hughes were resoundingly heard.

Langston Hughes, one of the best known writers of the Harlem Renaissance, was thrust into the mainstream of American literature, successfully earning a living by writing. Hughes's writing was powerful and groundbreaking; however, his success is due in part to the cultural movement that became the Harlem Renaissance. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Global Contributions of African American Writers: Using Poetry to Facilitate Connections between Historical Periods and Students' Personal Experiences
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.