Women of color have made many contributions to American life in wide-ranging and diverse fields. Many pioneered the way and opened door after door. These were women who took a mighty step across the stage of America.
The 19th and 20th Centuries have brought forth a group of dynamic African American women writers and poets. These writers joined their elders in the struggle for justice and equality to chart strategies and work for change in the conditions of all African Americans. Cultural messages to and for the people expressed black pride , strength, power and beauty, despite oppression along with the call for freedom for all African Americans.
Some would say that black women are some of America’s greatest heroes, and that not enough credit has been given to the blacks who have been oppressed beyond recognition.
In this unit, students will become familiar with such writers as Phillis Wheatley, Alice Walker, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hainsberry, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou and Paule Marshall.
These writers represented one of the strongest literary movement in the history of African creativity. These poets not only helped to shape a contemporary literature but they also helped to recapture and reshape a culture.
As early as the eighteenth century black poet Phillis Wheatley caught a vision that was to remain characteristic of many black writers during the next two centuries. In different tones and in a different manner, she reflected an element of race-consciousness so powerful as to significantly enhance the beauty of African American poetry. As black writers continued to emerge, some regarded themselves simply as writers, while others insisted on being regarded as black writers, or even as members of particular schools of writers. Many, though not all, of these writers have dealt with black themes, some attempting to erase past stereotypes, others not.
It was during the 1920’s that black literature made a sharp change of direction, removing itself once and for all from the polite and strait-laced conventions and grinning, dancing, ingratiating manner of the minstrel show. With the emergence of the “Harlem School” came a sense of racial pride which expressed itself in earthy, realistic terms—the protests of both the black and white establishments not withstanding.
This unit will be divided into three general areas: one will attempt to have an historical approach, the second, a more personal focus on each author, in the third , students will read, identify, respond to, recite, research, and evaluate poetry and novels by famous individuals.
Famous works will be discussed with a view toward their context and the intent of the poet. Through these writings, we will attempt to focus upon the author’s life and works, individual strength, the role each played and the struggle each writer had to overcome. Although this unit will be most responsive to the needs of African American students, all students have something to gain from the content. The message of racial pride, survival, struggle, determination, love and humor that weaves its way through these writings should increase students’ personal pride, self-confidence and self-esteem.
This unit will give students an opportunity to gain a more personal understanding and appreciation of women, feelings, heritage and events that mark the course of African American History.
These writers have earned a reputation as gifted story-tellers whose troubled characters seek to find themselves and their cultural riches in a society that wraps or impedes such discovery. The contemporary theme that unites them—the troubling persistence of racism in America—is infused with an urgency that black writers are a part of the history of America and this unit is their combined achievements.
This unit is written for Special Education students in grades 9-12 who are not always easily motivated and whose reading levels are below grade level. In writing this unit, I hope to motivate as well as stimulate students in what they are learning.
This unit will offer students the strength of diversity to flourish, the history and literature that have shaped our country and society. Students will also be provided with “hands-on activities”. I will use both cognitive and affective domains to help them internalize the similarities and differences of what poetry is in the eyes of the African Americans writer.
The cognitive component of this unit is designed to increase the students’ ability to conceptualize and generalize about ethnically-related events and collect and evaluate data related to race and ethnicity. The affective component is designed to help students analyze and clarify their attitudes and feelings related to racial and ethnic groups and to reduce racial and ethnic prejudices.
A book always comes to life when it has a reader, someone to recreate the author’s original meaning and emotion. There are times when we read with such absorption that we forget ourselves and allow the language of the book to take over our minds, transporting us into the world of a novel, story, poem, play, or essay.
When students respond to a book in this way, they actually participate in the creative process. It is the reader who allows the author’s words to have a sound, creating a space in which the author’s words have a meaning.
The group establishes a list of criteria for evaluating a poem. For example, the experience of a poem should help the reader or listener to understand the literal meaning of the theme, or it may help him or her enjoy the rhythm or the language.
After each poem is experienced, each group member will determine the methods that is most satisfying.
After all of the presentations of the poems are completed, students will compare ratings of the methods among the group members.
I have selected several poems to be included in this unit. Each poem selected for study will present an opportunity for students to listen, read and recite. Poems will be the vehicle for detailed phonics and word attack lessons. I will consider each poem on its own terms to find out what it has to offer as both an experience and as a way to improve students’ reading skills.
The following is a list of poems I have selected to include in this unit: “We Real Cool”, by Gwendolyn Brooks, “Trips”, by Nikki Giovanni, “Imagination”, by Phillis Wheatley, “Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll see You in the Morning”, by Alice Walker.
These poems will acquaint students with poetry and the writer. The selection was based on interest, reading level and vocabulary and word study skills.
Poetry gives us knowledge. It is a knowledge of ourselves in relation to the world of experience, and to that world considered, not statistically, but in terms of human purposes and values.
Poetry is many things in the twentieth century that it has never been before. In a time of continuing and catastrophic change, poets have changed the tune of poetry, changed its shape, changed its very nerve of feeling in order to record a new and often numbing reality.
The poet sees and feels a situation in a way that enables him to express it for our better understanding and enjoyment. He helps us to understand the world better by sharpening our senses and by making us more sensitive to life around us. By his vivid imagery he appeals to us through our hearts and feelings. Our imaginations are kindled and we are privileged to store up treasures in memory.