African-American literature focus of read-in

by David Anderson

Other than Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison and a few other major writers, the chances that a high school student would have contact with an African-American author before reaching college are quite slim.
A read-in, sponsored by the University’s General College and held at the Minneapolis Technical and Community College on Sunday afternoon, is an effort to increase the awareness of African-American contributions to literature.
The fourth-annual read-in featured Quincy Troupe, a nationally renowned poet, as well as five local performers. Troupe read some of his poems and spoke about illiteracy and the importance of books in society. “If you can’t read, you are a slave,” he said.
Troupe, a creative writing professor at the University of California-San Diego, is a two-time winner of the American Book Award and is a Peabody Award laureate.
Ezra Hyland, a General College counselor and organizer of the read-in, encouraged professors and schoolteachers to participate at the event by reading aloud a book written by an African-American. Hyland said part of the cause behind the increasing illiteracy rate among black teenagers is they are not taught literature that reflects them.
Despite the growing minority population in Minnesota as well as nationally, some of the people present at the read-in believe black literature remains largely overlooked by high school curriculums across the country.
“Very definitely I think it is,” said Archie Givens, who heads the Givens foundation for African-American literature and is the son of the namesake for the University’s Givens Collection of African-American literature. “Most teachers are not taught how to introduce students to African-American literature.”
Students also say they received minimal exposure to minority cultures before they reached college. “I didn’t have anything in high school dealing with African-American culture,” said Karey Jaszewski, a University senior in pre-family education.
Other performances Sunday included musical storytelling, poetry reading, singing and lectures about the African-American cultures. Journalism sophomore Toki Wright performed spoken-word poetry that dealt with racism and delinquency.
Hyland said there is a long tradition of combining word and music in the African-American culture. “Quincy Troupe is a continuation of that tradition,” he said.
The read-in was organized as part of African-American History Month.
“I think (students) should read (black authors) just like we read white American writers,” Troupe said. “You have to have respect for the culture and the community.”