Week of April 24: (Night Class) Def Poetry Jam and Assata



  • I gave out hard copies of the last written assignment of the semester. Download yours from the assignments page if you missed class. It’s due Tuesday May 8.
  • For anyone interested, I’m teaching Intro to Africana Studies (AAS 166) in the fall on Wednesday nights from 6-8:40 PM. Section XW81. Search by my name or the course/section in CUNYFirst. It satisfies the “World Cultures and Global Issues” core requirement and is a gateway to a major (or minor) in Africana Studies.

For Tuesday April 24 the assignment is to watch the Youtube videos of various poets from Russell Simmons’s Def Poetry Jam, which ran for several seasons on HBO. Also read Ben Brantley’s New York Times review of Def Poetry on Broadway.

Questions to think about:

  • How does being in front of a live audience change the perception of the poetry?
  • In the Pedro Pietri interview I posted, Pietri was critical of slam poetry and thought it relied too much on people’s personalities and being performers–do you agree?
  • What do their stories say about the urban experience?
  • What, if anything makes them “urban” or ties them to urban themes?
  • Lastly, choose 2 poems you like, watch them a few times, take some notes, and be prepared to discuss in class.

Here are the poems. There are several, but they’re mostly short. It’s less than a half hour, total.

For Thursday April 26, read the first 69 pages (chapters 1-4) of Assata: An Autobiography. Be sure to read the foreward by Angela Davis and Lennox Hinds. Also make sure to pay attention to the various poems she includes in the story on pages 1,17,44, and 62.

Questions to think about:

  • How effective is her style of storytelling? Does the non-linear narrative with flashbacks make the book more engaging?
  • How does Assata go about re-telling history?
  • What role do poems play in an autobiography? What do they tell you about Assata or the other people that the regular story does not?

What physical spaces and places does Assata describe in the story? What is the significance of them?

We are not primarily concerned with figuring out guilt innocence here (and in any case don’t have all the court documents to review): the goal is to read her story as we would any other autobiography and focus on how the story develops and how she develops into the person she is today. Look for clues of these things in the story.

Extra: Listen to “A Song for Assata” by Common, from his 2000 Like Water for Chocolate release, featuring CeeLo Green.