What Do We “Let the Page Be”?

Today I came across this recording of the spoken word piece by Bonafide Rojas called “In Front of the Class.” In it, he describes a group of youth who, at first glance, may seem hopeless. He says to the young people:

Let the page be a doctor.
Let the page be a therapist.
Let the page be a lover.

Let the page be your enemy, punch it in the face.
Let the page be your best friend
who will never stab you in the back.
Let the page be your Prozac.

Let the page be your hip hop.
Let the page be your rock and roll.
Let the page be that fancy ride you’re always talking about.

Let the page be that bling, bling on your wrist.
Let the page be the underground beat you’re about to rip.
Let the page be your autobiography.

This week I will be speaking with the NYU’s ELL (English Language Learners) Think Tank, a consortium of teachers from across New York City. One of the first things I am going to do is ask us to (re)think the typical definition of writing that we see at work in our schools, and particularly the limited ways we talk about writing when working with those who are learning English. What do we “let the page be”?

photo (5) 2For the young men I got to know while researching how young men develop as writers, “the page” was all of the things Bonafide Rojas listed, and more. At some point during the two years that I traced their writing practices, each of the young men dealt with particular social tensions like for one young man, trying to make sense of having an abusive father, and for another young man, being considered by some to be “too White” and by others as being “too Latino.” To make sense of these social tensions, each of the young men independently turned these literal issues into figurative literary tropes through writing.

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Tweet-a-Read: Kirkland’s A Search Past Silence–The Literacy of Young Black Men

Sometimes while I am reading, I am so struck by the ideas and the prose that I sheepishly begin live-tweeting. On even rarer occasions, when the text is one I can’t get out of my mind, I collect the tweets and recommend the text to you. This time it was David Kirkland‘s A Search Past Silence: The Literacy of Young Black Men. Highly recommended.

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To DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or to DREAM (DRop Everything And Make)

Last weekend, as I was walking to my weekend office (my favorite cafe in El Barrio, East Harlem Cafe), I passed the corner of 105th and Lexington, which had been under construction for the last months. Suddenly, I heard someone calling my name from inside the building. Sure enough it was Manny Vega, visual artist and mosaicist extraordinaire, who is well-known for his restoration of … Continue reading To DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or to DREAM (DRop Everything And Make)

Forget Defining Literacies. What’s ‘Writing’?

I’d like to talk to you about the 468th episode of This American Life. Specifically, I want to hone in to 23 and 1/2 minutes that makes up Act Two: Forgive Us Our Press Passes. I don’t recommend many things, as a habit, but this is worth your time. In producer Sarah Koenig’s story about a company called Journatic, which outsources local newspaper stories, be whisked away into … Continue reading Forget Defining Literacies. What’s ‘Writing’?