Celebrating African American Writers with Students

One of my favorite poems is “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. If you’ve never read it or heard it performed, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a poem which, in Angelou’s own words, captures the nobleness of the human spirit. There is pain and struggle, joy and laughter, all wrapped up in the enduring promise of hope. It’s safe to say that few people understood the life-changing power of words like Maya Angelou.

History is brimming with African American writers, poets, and essayists whose command of the English language helped change our world for the better. Just consider how the works of Fredrick Douglas are still relevant to modern discourse or how Lorraine Hansberry inspired others with her poignant scripts. With Black History Month now well underway, teachers have a unique opportunity to share these powerful words with their students. In doing so, we not only build up their knowledge of language, but also strengthen their understanding of history and foster healthy social-emotional growth. Here are just a few African American writers your class can celebrate during Black History Month:

Notable Names    
  • Maya Angelou: As I’ve already mentioned, Angelou has inspired countless people with her deep and moving poetry. Aside from “Still I Rise”, Angelou’s other notable poems include “Human Family” and “On Aging”. Angelou also published several autobiographies which include short stories about her experience growing up in Stamps, Arkansas.
  • Jerry Craft: In 2019, Craft published the graphic novel New Kid which tells the story of an African American seventh grader who joins an affluent private school in New York. New Kid became the first graphic novel to be awarded the Newbery Medal and received Coretta Scott King Award for its depiction of African American students at a predominantly white school. Much of Craft’s work is focused on helping young students foster a love of reading!
  • Langston Hughes: Like Angelou, Langston Hughes is a celebrated poet whose work helped contribute to the rise of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes writing explored ideas of legacy, culture, and identity while also writing in an accessible, familiar language. Some of his most notable poems include “Dream Deferred” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers“. His writing is a perfect example of how poetry changes and evolves over time.
  • Martin Luther King: Even today, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is considered one of the most important orations in American history. It speaks of the African American struggle for civil rights. It also envisioning a world where peace and fellowship are prized over division. Yet King also penned a number of other speeches, essays, and letters which spoke of his experiences throughout the Civil Rights movement. Among these, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is considered one of his most significant.
Other Resources

If you found these suggestions helpful, be sure to check out Blue Apple’s free Timely Topic: Celebrating Black History Month. Its four lessons include engaging, inquiry-based activities that will help your students exercise their creativity and critical thinking skills while learning about the influence and impact that Black Americans have had on history. There’s no better time to explore the countless influential figures who shaped our understanding of science and art. So don’t wait, get started with your students today!

*Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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