From Baldwin to Zadie Smith: Teachers Celebrate Black Literature at APAC 2018
From W.E.B. Dubois’ early 20th century classic, The Souls of Black Folk, to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestseller, Americanah, Black authors have undoubtedly left their mark on the literary world
From W.E.B. Dubois’ early 20th century classic, The Souls of Black Folk, to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestseller, Americanah, Black authors have undoubtedly left their mark on the literary world. A mark infused with cultural, social, and racial influences that give readers a glimpse into the complexity of the Black experience.
At this year’s Advanced Placement Annual Conference (APAC), the College Board featured two sessions on Black literature: A Talk to Teachers: Revisiting James Baldwin in 2018 and New Black Voices in Literature.
In "A Talk to Teachers", Robin Aufses, Director of English Studies at Lycee Francais de New York, and educational consultant Renee Shea led attendees in an analysis of James Baldwin’s most popular pieces. Among those was Baldwin’s “A Talk to Teachers,” which was originally delivered to a group of educators in 1963. His message to educators is clear: the classroom is not separate from the world.
“The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated,” said Baldwin.
Simply put, students’ realities exist both outside of and within school walls. Rigorous instructional content could (and should) coexist with civically and culturally relevant lessons. The facilitators and session attendees engaged in a dynamic discussion, citing Baldwin’s skill at not only evoking powerful ideas during his lifetime, but his seemingly prophetic ability to write things that still ring true today. We see his influence throughout Black voices in contemporary literature. As the popular quote says: you cannot know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.
Later that day, Enithie Hunter, an English teacher at The Lawrenceville School, began her session with a powerful statement: African-American literature is American literature. Hunter led session attendees in an exploration of breakout Black novelists and poets like Zadie Smith, Yaa Gyasi, and Joshua Bennett to name a few. One takeaway from her session is that it’s important for students to see themselves in the books they read.
“What students want in the classroom is honesty and authenticity. They want to read classic works by the likes of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Shelley, Steinbeck, and Faulkner, as well as those of Douglas, Jacobs, Toomer, Wright, Brooks, and Walker. But, they also want to read literature that allows them to synthesize what's happening in the spaces that they identify with,” she said.
Diverse content coupled with rigor prepares students to understand and navigate the world as their authentic selves. The AP English Literature and Composition course supports teachers in achieving this by providing them with a rigorous curriculum and allowing them the flexibility to design a course best suited for their students. The course features a diverse list of representative authors including W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison and more.
“Contemporary literature meets them in those spaces. It comes from individuals who occupy their worlds, so the writing, by default, reflects their realities – whether set in the past or present.