Thursday, May 21, 2009

May 21 is a Big Day for the Big Read - D.C.

Today is another big day for the Big Read - D.C. At 10 AM this morning, David Kipen (Director of Literature for the NEA), Rev. Derrick Harkins (Senior Pastor of 19th Street Baptist Church), and I will be on WPFW for a live discussion of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter on "On the Margin" with host Josephine Reed.

This afternoon students from the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, Coolidge, and Roosevelt high Schools will be completing their Book-In-A-Day workshop with Kwame Alexander. Over the several weeks this group of deaf and hearing young writers have been working on a collection of poetry taken from the themes of the city book. Kwame Alexander, who's well known for his own poetic harmonies, is part of our experiment to forge a collaboration between hearing and deaf youth. Have you seen dancing haiku?

It's been great getting to know teachers like Amy Malone (MSSD) and Michael Fleegler (Coolidge)who have not just contributed unsuspecting new poets to this project, but the kind of enthusiasm teachers have that inspires the rest of us.

The book launch and reading will be the final program of the Big Read - D.C. on Friday, May 29 at 6 PM at Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th Street, NW. Poems will be read and signed aloud.

It's been a challenging process more so for the adults than the youth. But what worthwhile endeavor isn't challenging?

Kwame wrote about the first day on his blog. Here's his entry.

BOOK-IN-A-DAY Kwame Alexander May 2, 2009

You started Book-in-a-Day to inspire students to write. To make writing cool. To create student authors. To open young minds to extraordinary possibilities. The whole "one day" thing was sort of a fluke. You kind of backed into it. But, hey it works.
Since 2006, you've created over 400 student authors.
You've never worked with deaf students. Until Saturday.
At 8am, 8 deaf students were on one side of the room, and 8 hearing students were on the other.
There was fear, nervousness, all kinds of hesitation. You know this, because you experience all three.
You were prepared for this workshop. You did the work.
Nothing can prepare you for teaching poetry to a group of deaf and hearing students.
Except doing it.
You begin with a rhyme poem. It's your comfort zone first 30 seconds routine.
There is no concept for rhyme in ASL (American Sign Language).
Why didn't you know this? What do you do now?
Clerihews always work. Wait a minute. Clerihews are rhyme poems. Oh my, maybe my father was right.
The workshop will last for five hours, and you're supposed to inspire the students to write poetry that behaves, for publication, and you are like an ABC drama, after only 4 minutes.
When you are teaching deaf and hearing students to write poetry, and how to publish a book, and you suddenly have the realization that Sign Language is NOT ENGLISH, and grammar, rhyme and other English constructs to do not apply, IT IS TIME TO DANCE.
A deaf student says there is no such thing as bad poetry. A hearing student agrees.
You ask them is there such a thing as bad fried chicken. You tell them to season their poems right, cook them well…you ask them the ingredients that go into a poem.
Rhythm. Imagery. Feeling. Line breaks. ..
You start getting a little comfortable.
Deanna has a brilliant idea. Pair them up together, one hearing, one deaf, and let them write a list poem together.
Until now, the students are Capulets and Montagues. Okay, well maybe not that extreme, but they are of two different worlds. Afraid. Unaware. Unknowing.
You watch the resistance.
You walk around and see the poems forming. You see the walls coming down.
You see a deaf girl and a hearing boy texting each other.
Well, yes!
You see a deaf girl and a hearing boy smiling. At each other. For a while.
You see something happening that is magical, and wonderful.
And hopeful.
You do not know where the time has gone. You finally have everyone dancing, and it is almost time to go.
You ask the students to read their poems. Deaf students sign. Hearing students read. Some simultaneous. It is honest. Authentic.
A phenomenal interpreter (because none of this works without fabulous interpreters) asks if you've considered doing this at other deaf schools. She wants to come with you.
The students leave. You will see them again in two weeks.
This is what you do.
And, you are making a living.
And, you love your job.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Library of Congress and its WPA Federal Arts Collections (Wednesday, May 20)

Wednesday, May 20 at 12 noon John Y. Cole, Director of the Center for the Book, and Ralph Eubanks, Director Publishing for the Library of Congress ( will host a brown bag lunch presentation and overview of the Library’s collections from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of the 1930s. The WPA Guides to the States from the Federal Writers Project, and the oral histories from the Ex-Slave Narrative Collection will be featured. The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of photos, manuscripts, recordings, posters, and other publications from the WPA programs. Participants will take away additional information about the collections and learn more about the innovative programs and the people who documented real American stories.

The presentation will take place in the Library of Congress Madison Building, Room LM 602,(Independence Avenue between 1st & 2nd Streets SE

Space is limited to 20 persons for this brown bag lunch. Reservations Required. Email or call (202) 387-8391