James Clemens students review an exhibit for Swan Records. (CONTRIBUTED)
James Clemens students review an exhibit for Swan Records. (CONTRIBUTED)

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African-American writers, poets claim interest at James Clemens

Published 8:18pm Saturday, February 16, 2013

MADISON — For the week of Feb. 11, English teachers coordinated the second week of Black History Month activities at James Clemens High School.

“Students highlighted influential writers, artists and musicians of both the Harlem Renaissance and more contemporary times,” teacher Jane Herndon said. Students displayed their projects in the commons at lunch and also developed overhead presentations, poem analyses, project/informational boards, quizzes and models.

Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen were two writers in the spotlight for “strong messages for the need for equality and acceptance.” Herndon said Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America” is a simple poem with simple imagery “but packs in such a powerful message about justice and equality.”

English teachers at James Clemens are Herndon, Kendra Harper, Kipp Cain, Madelene Marcus, Lucas Powell, Kim Wilson, Clay Combs, Pat Beale, Jessy Scivley and Jeff Dunnavant.

“It was important for students to make a connection with their current unit of study, ‘The Odyssey,’” Marcus said. They explored modern African-American poet Nikki Giovanni, whose poems allude to passages in “The Odyssey.” Marcus’ students wrote an original poem to imitate Giovanni’s stylistic devices, along with mythology references.

Another James Clemens class selected historical personalities associated with the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater. Herndon said identified the eras’ popular musicians.

“Literature is heavily influenced by the goings-on of the world around us,” Herndon said. “Students hopefully saw how writers were influenced and what drove them to write the way they did and with the messages they had.” They chose individuals who were inspirational, who made a difference with their themes or who wanted to depict a way of life in their prose.

By choosing the Harlem Renaissance, students realized “the arts were highly valued and African-American literature was finally the center of attention,” Herndon said.

Herndon, Cain, Harper and Marcus’ classes contributed to displays. “My students presented poetry from black poets,” Beale said. “Also, I organized a step show performed by Coach Mac Hampton’s fraternity brothers.”

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