How to Teach Children About African American Literature

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    • 1). Outline a curriculum, syllabus and bibliography for students that includes African American writers covering different generations, and cultural heritage. African American writers' ancestries span Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas which further informs the writing.

    • 2). Include artists in the curriculum who are not traditionally known as writers. Consider musicians, ministers or actors for their contribution to African American literature. Some examples of this are the music and lyrics of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday; the speeches of James Weldon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and the narratives of Paul Robeson. African American literature is represented by more than fiction, poetry, and plays. Examine also essays, memoirs, journalism, autobiography, visual arts, and storytelling.

    • 3). Consider introducing the unit with reading excerpts of African American literature that uses metaphor and imagery to engage students. For example, 'Scuse me while I kiss the sky" from Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" or "Hold your head like it was a ruby sapphire" from Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Was Not Enuf " are examples that use poetic device.

    • 4). Read aloud from a different African American writer each day as an example of oral recitation. The origin of African American literature evolved from an oral tradition. Explain the history of griots (historical oral storytellers) and their relevancy with African American literature. During slavery times, griots would tell allegorical stories or songs, such as "Follow the Drinking Gourd" to reveal secret plans.

    • 5). Highlight samples of writing to demonstrate differences in style ranging from classical to experimental. Discuss Nikki Giovanni's writing style in her "Poem for Aretha," as an example of non-traditional writing. Below is an excerpt from her "Kidnap Poem":

      "yeah if i were

      a poet i'd kid

      nap you"

    • 6). Use a variety of media to teach African American literature such as slide presentations, music, DVD recordings, public radio and television broadcasts.

    • 7). Invite African American authors to the class to read and answer questions. Go on field trips to attend live dramatic performances with African American playwrights. Some performances have question and answer components afterward for students.

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