Contributed by Allison Flowerdew
I witnessed day one of Marita O’Neill and Jackie Brookes’ grant, Celebrating Diversity: American Voices, in January at YHS. Actor and writer David Mills performed a one man show as Langston Hughes in the Yarmouth Performing Arts Center for the Junior and Senior classes. He started his performance reciting Hughes’s famous poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” then continued reciting more of Hughes’s poems and short stories for about an hour. Throughout his performance, he used many different voices and dialects to portray an array of diverse characters.
After his presentation, he conducted a workshop on Blues Poetry in two Senior AP Literature classes. The classes read a Hughes poem titled “Midwinter Blues.” After the students read the poem out loud, they dissected each stanza line by line, discussing setting, structure, form, tone, meaning, repetition and rhyme. The students then wrote their own blues poem using the formula they had just learned. In the background, Mills played a Chicago Blues song, while the students wrote their poem. At the end of class, a couple of brave students read their poems out loud. Ms. O’Neill has some terrific poets in her class! I could tell the students really enjoyed the workshop, because they personally thanked Mills and shook his hand on the way out the door.
Mills conducted three more Blues Poetry workshops the following day. This experience coincided with a Senior English poetry unit and a Junior Harlem Renaissance history unit.