Harlem’s New Bard: Kevin Young

Welcome CREAD family, it’s springtime!!! Feels good to announce a new season and let us usher it in with a verse:

April Rain Song

As you all know April is National Poetry Month, a celebration established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets.  We want to encourage you to join the celebration and recognition of poetry as an important genre of writing to our culture as a whole and our classrooms in particular. The poem featured is from the incomparable Langston Hughes. If you are considering (and you should be) what poets to feature this month in your lessons or other activities, then Hughes must be on the list along with many others.

They say there are no coincidences in life and so it is no wonder that Kevin Young and Langston Hughes would find a connection in Harlem.  Young became the new director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture this fall.  If you don’t already know the Schomburg atrium lobby is where the ashes of Hughes are buried. So it is significant that as a literary descendant he takes leadership over the Schomburg as it now is designated a National Historic Landmark.

Mr. Young is a poet, scholar, professor and curator of rare books.  He has written 11 books and edited many other poetry collections.  Young’s most recent work is called Blue Laws. His works focus on the African American experience of beauty, survival, and also draws upon personal family history as a native of Louisiana. Titles of his poems give a glimpse into the many topics Young writes about: “Ode to Ol’ Dirty Bastard”, “Bling Bling Blues”,  and “Aunties” and the many facets of Blackness that he pays tribute to.

In talking about his new post at the Schomburg, Young explains his desire to make the archives more accessible in an age of digitized content. His vision is a reminder that while we embrace and flow with the ever-changing world of information, we must also remain connected to our foundations.  Bringing poetry and the spoken word into our classrooms is one way to achieve this.

I encourage you to take advantage of resources for National Poetry Month.  Think of ways you can infuse poetry, rhyme, or even a rap battle into your lessons this month; regardless of your content area or grade level.  Don’t just make copies of poems and ask kids to read them. Let the written word come alive for your students.

Painting from Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series, which inspired Young’s  poem, “Thataway”.

There is no shortage of Black and Brown poets to explore with your students and research the new up and coming voices as well.  And remember hip hop is poetry so be sure to include rap lyrics as well.  Whatever you decide for this month, make it relevant, be creative, and have fun.  And don’t forget to make space your students’ ideas and voices. I leave you with some “bars” of encouragement…

Poetry and spoken word is so essential

Teaching it to our youth is fundamental

Let the verse, let the rhyme proclaim the real truth

Knowledge and power make ‘em fierce like a sabertooth

Peace and love good people.


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