The Grant

Lift Every Voice: Why African American
Poetry Matters

Lift Every Voice: Why African American
Poetry Matters

A Library of America Project funded with generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Emerson Collective.

A Library of America Project funded with generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Emerson Collective.

Offering $1,200 grants to 50 libraries, museums, and nonprofit cultural institutions to host public programs.

Intro
Partners & Terms
Project Overview
Themes & Questions
Model Programs
Project Components
Guidelines
Criteria
Application Questionnaire
Finding Poets

DOWNLOAD APPLICATION:

DOWNLOAD APPLICATION:

Grant Term

9.01.20 - 3.31.21

Extended Application Deadline

3.20.20

Notification

4.30.20

Grant Term

9.01.20 - 3.31.21

Application Deadline

3.20.20

Notification

4.30.20

Project Overview

Project Overview

Lift Every Voice is a national public humanities program dedicated to enhancing appreciation of the African American poetic tradition and its imaginative range and richness. Its principal objective is to engage participants in a multifaceted exploration of the tradition, the perspectives it offers on American history and the struggle for racial justice, and the universality of its portrait of the personal experiences of African Americans over three centuries.

Lift Every Voice is a national public humanities program dedicated to enhancing American’s understanding and appreciation of the African American poetic tradition and its imaginative range and richness. Its principal objective is to engage participants in a multifaceted exploration of the tradition, the perspectives it offers on American history and the struggle for racial justice, and the universality of its portrait of the personal experiences of African Americans over three centuries.

Lift Every Voice comprises three main initiatives:

1. A Library of America anthology, African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, edited by Kevin Young, to be published on September 15, 2020, an inclusive new canon of African American poetry for the next century;

2. Thematic programming in 50 institutions nationwide beginning in September 2020 and extending through March 2021. Each site selected by competitive application to participate in the initiative will be awarded a stipend of $1,200 to mount a minimum of two free public programs. Applications are open to public, academic, and community college libraries; and nonprofit museums and community organizations.

3. A multimedia website (www.africanamericanpoetry.org), launching in June 2020, with content to support public programs; with the anthology, it will be a permanent resource for students and other individuals interested in exploring the African American poetic tradition, and a space where visitors can access content from our partners’ websites.

1. A Library of America anthology, African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, edited by Kevin Young, to be published on September 15, 2020, an inclusive new canon of African American poetry for the next century;

2. Thematic programming in 50 institutions nationwide beginning in September 2020 and extending through March 2021. Each site selected by competitive application to participate in the initiative will be awarded a stipend of $1,200 to mount a minimum of two free public programs. Applications are open to public, academic, and community college libraries; and nonprofit museums and community organizations.

3. A multimedia website (www.africanamericanpoetry.org), launching in June 2020, with content to support public programs; with the anthology, it will be a permanent resource for students and other individuals interested in exploring the African American poetic tradition, and a space where visitors can access content from our partners’ websites.

Humanities Themes and Guiding Questions

Humanities Themes and Guiding Questions

African American poetry is all around us—echoed in hip-hop and & in movies and on television, recited in houses of worship and at presidential inaugurations, in classrooms and on social media. African American poets received two of the past four National Book Awards and Poet Laureateships, one facet of a creative explosion that shows no sign of slowing. How does this renaissance build on the work of earlier generations? How does it relate to the experiences of African Americans today? What can African American poetry tell us about American history and national identity?

African American poetry is all around us—echoed in hip-hop and & in movies and on television, recited in houses of worship and at presidential inaugurations, in classrooms and on social media. African American poets received two of the past four National Book Awards and Poet Laureateships, one facet of a creative explosion that shows no sign of slowing. How does this renaissance build on the work of earlier generations? How does it relate to the experiences of African Americans today? What can African American poetry tell us about American history and national identity?

Lift Every Voice creates a structured environment to explore these and other issues through reading and discussion of individual poems and poets from across the tradition, with particular focus on five themes:

Lift Every Voice creates a structured environment to explore these and other issues through reading and discussion of individual poems and poets from across the tradition, with particular focus on five themes:

1. THE FREEDOM STRUGGLE

1. THE FREEDOM STRUGGLE

African American poets have added their voices—and often their bodies—to the struggle for freedom and racial justice. Poet Kevin Young observes that “for African Americans, the very act of composing poetry proved a form of protest.” What forms and voices does Black protest poetry take on? How does it enrich and complicate our understanding of American ideals of freedom and self-determination?

Poems for discussion: 1) Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “The Slave Mother” (1854) 2) Claude McKay, “If We Must Die” (1919) 3) Aja Monet, #sayhername (2017)

Further exploration: Andy Razaf, “What Did I Do (To Be So Black and Blue)”; Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again”; Countee Cullen, “Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song”; Pauli Murray, “Prophecy”; Sonia Sanchez, “Elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia)”; Toi Derricotte, “On the Turning Up of Identified Black Female Corpses”; Claudia Rankine, Citizen

African American poets have added their voices—and often their bodies—to the struggle for freedom and racial justice. Poet Kevin Young observes that “for African Americans, the very act of composing poetry proved a form of protest.” What forms and voices does Black protest poetry take on? How does it enrich and complicate our understanding of American ideals of freedom and self-determination?

Poems for discussion: 1) Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “The Slave Mother” (1854) 2) Claude McKay, “If We Must Die” (1919) 3)
Aja Monet, #sayhername (2017)

Further exploration: Andy Razaf, “What Did I Do (To Be So Black and Blue)”; Langston Hughes, “Let America Be America Again”; Countee Cullen, “Scottsboro, Too, Is Worth Its Song”; Pauli Murray, “Prophecy”; Sonia Sanchez, “Elegy (for MOVE and Philadelphia)”; Toi Derricotte, “On the Turning Up of Identified Black Female Corpses”; Claudia Rankine, Citizen

2. BLACK IDENTITIES: SELF-ASSERTION AND SELF-PROTECTION

2. BLACK IDENTITIES: SELF-ASSERTION AND SELF-PROTECTION

African American poets have asserted their blackness–with joy, with defiance, occasionally with bitterness at the pressure to downplay Black identity or hide it behind a protective mask. How do the voices and personae in African American poetry express the richness, depth, and variety of African American identity? What sorts of expressive (and subversive) freedoms do poetic personae and masks make possible?

Poems for discussion: 1) Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask” (1913) 2) Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” (1992) 3) Allison C. Rollins, “Why Is We Americans” (2016)

Further exploration: Claude McKay, “Tropics in New York”; Langston Hughes, “I, Too, Sing America”; Waring Cuney, “No Images”; Lucille Clifton, “I am accused of tending to the past”; Nikki Giovanni, “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why); Rita Dove, “Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove”; Nikky Finney, “Concerto No. 7: Condoleezza at the Watergate”

African American poets have asserted their blackness–with joy, with defiance, occasionally with bitterness at the pressure to downplay Black identity or hide it behind a protective mask. How do the voices and personae in African American poetry express the richness, depth, and variety of African American identity? What sorts of expressive (and subversive) freedoms do poetic personae and masks make possible?

Poems for discussion: 1) Paul Laurence Dunbar, “We Wear the Mask” (1913) 2) Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” (1992) 3) Allison C. Rollins, “Why Is We Americans” (2016)

Further exploration: Claude McKay, “Tropics in New York”; Langston Hughes, “I, Too, Sing America”; Waring Cuney, “No Images”; Lucille Clifton, “I am accused of tending to the past”; Nikki Giovanni, “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why); Rita Dove, “Hattie McDaniel Arrives at the Coconut Grove”; Nikky Finney, “Concerto No. 7: Condoleezza at the Watergate”

3. BLACK EXPERIENCE IN HISTORY AND MEMORY

3. BLACK EXPERIENCE IN HISTORY AND MEMORY

 The past has been both a subject and a muse for African American poets, who have lamented the foundational trauma of slavery and its legacy even as they’ve celebrated the spirit of endurance, resistance, and grace that has become central to American identity. How do African American poets make use of Black history and experience, including its heroes and its martyrs? Is African American history a source of symbolic power or a limitation for a poet? Does artistic freedom involve engagement or liberation from the past?

Poems for discussion: 1) Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921) 2) Gwendolyn Brooks, “Malcolm X” (1968) 3) Kevin Young, “Money Road” (2016)

Further exploration: James Weldon Johnson, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son”; Richard Wright, “Between the World and Me”; Gwendolyn Brooks, “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon” and “The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till”; Robert Hayden, from “Middle Passage”; Lucille Clifton, “why some people be mad at me sometimes” and “i am accused of tending to the past”; Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day,”; Natasha Tretheway, “Pilgrimage”; Clint Smith, ”Your National Anthem”; Morgan Parker, “The President’s Wife.”

 The past has been both a subject and a muse for African American poets, who have lamented the foundational trauma of slavery and its legacy even as they’ve celebrated the spirit of endurance, resistance, and grace that has become central to American identity. How do African American poets make use of Black history and experience, including its heroes and its martyrs? Is African American history a source of symbolic power or a limitation for a poet? Does artistic freedom involve engagement or liberation from the past?

Poems for discussion: 1) Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1921) 2) Gwendolyn Brooks, “Malcolm X” (1968) 3) Kevin Young, “Money Road” (2016)

Further exploration: James Weldon Johnson, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”; Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son”; Richard Wright, “Between the World and Me”; Gwendolyn Brooks, “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon” and “The Last Quatrain of the Ballad of Emmett Till”; Robert Hayden, from “Middle Passage”; Lucille Clifton, “why some people be mad at me sometimes” and “i am accused of tending to the past”; Elizabeth Alexander, “Praise Song for the Day,”; Natasha Tretheway, “Pilgrimage”; Clint Smith, ”Your National Anthem”; Morgan Parker, “The President’s Wife.”

4. BLACK LANGUAGE AND MUSICALITY

4. BLACK LANGUAGE AND MUSICALITY

Black poetry has deep kinship with performance: music, Black preaching, and “code switching” between forms of language and speech. What makes an African American poem African American? How do different poets make use of the links to music (spirituals, blues, jazz, hip-hop), to African cultures, and vernacular language, and to what effects?

Poems for discussion: 1) Sterling Brown, “Ma Rainey” (1932) 2) Michael S. Harper, “Dear John, Dear Coltrane” 3) Kate Rushin, “The Black Back-Ups” (1993)

Further exploration: Paul Laurence Dunbar, “When the Co’pone’s Hot”; ; Bob Kaufman, “Heavy Water Blues”; Ted Joans, “Jazz Is My Religion”; Gil-Scott Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”; Henry Dumas, “Son of Msippi” (published posthumously, 1989); Yusef Komunyakaa, “Blue Light Lounge Sutra for the Performance Poets at Harold Park Hotel”; Saul Williams, “Amethyst Rocks.”

Black poetry has deep kinship with performance: music, Black preaching, and “code switching” between forms of language and speech. What makes an African American poem African American? How do different poets make use of the links to music (spirituals, blues, jazz, hip-hop), to African cultures, and vernacular language, and to what effects?

Poems for discussion: 1) Sterling Brown, “Ma Rainey” (1932) 2) Michael S. Harper, “Dear John, Dear Coltrane” 3) Kate Rushin, “The Black Back-Ups” (1993)

Further exploration: Paul Laurence Dunbar, “When the Co’pone’s Hot”; ; Bob Kaufman, “Heavy Water Blues”; Ted Joans, “Jazz Is My Religion”; Gil-Scott Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”; Henry Dumas, “Son of Msippi” (published posthumously, 1989); Yusef Komunyakaa, “Blue Light Lounge Sutra for the Performance Poets at Harold Park Hotel”; Saul Williams, “Amethyst Rocks.”

5. FAMILY AND COMMUNITY

5. FAMILY AND COMMUNITY

Ties of family and community are a perennial subject for poetry. How have they been manifested in the African American poetic tradition? In what ways have African American poets depicted Black communities and their rituals? What is universal in these poems, and what is expressive of the uniqueness of the African American experience?

Poems for discussion: 1) Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays” (1962) 2) Nikki Giovanni, “Nikki-Rosa” (1968) 3) Jamila Woods, “Ode to Herb Kent” (2015)

Further exploration: Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son”; Margaret Walker, “For My People”; Etheridge Knight, “The Idea of Ancestry”; Mari Evans, “I Am a Black Woman”; Sonia Sanchez, “A Poem for My Brother”; Natasha Trethewey, “Miscegenation”; Danez Smith, “dinosaurs in the hood.”

Ties of family and community are a perennial subject for poetry. How have they been manifested in the African American poetic tradition? In what ways have African American poets depicted Black communities and their rituals? What is universal in these poems, and what is expressive of the uniqueness of the African American experience?

Poems for discussion: 1) Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays” (1962) 2) Nikki Giovanni, “Nikki-Rosa” (1968) 3) Jamila Woods, “Ode to Herb Kent” (2015)

Further exploration: Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son”; Margaret Walker, “For My People”; Etheridge Knight, “The Idea of Ancestry”; Mari Evans, “I Am a Black Woman”; Sonia Sanchez, “A Poem for My Brother”; Natasha Trethewey, “Miscegenation”; Danez Smith, “dinosaurs in the hood.”

Model Programs

Model Programs

All participating institutions will present a minimum of two programs under the grant, at least one of which must be a discussion/reading group moderated by a scholar of African American literature designed to draw out and explore the project themes (above). The program will focus on poems drawn from the Lift Every Voice Reader, which will be made available at this website as a free downloadable PDF, though sites are encouraged to supplement with other poems (for instance by a local or regional poet) that fit the themes. Since audience members cannot be expected to have read the poems in advance, we recommend that programs include live readings or screenings of video recordings of readings available at www.africanamericanpoetry.org. For information on how to find poets and poetry scholars in your area, see Tips for Finding a Poet/Scholar Moderator, below.

All participating institutions will present a minimum of two programs under the grant, at least one of which must be a discussion/reading group moderated by a scholar of African American literature designed to draw out and explore the project themes (above). The program will focus on poems drawn from the Lift Every Voice Reader, which will be made available at this website as a free downloadable PDF, though sites are encouraged to supplement with other poems (for instance by a local or regional poet) that fit the themes. Since audience members cannot be expected to have read the poems in advance, we recommend that programs include live readings or screenings of video recordings of readings available at www.africanamericanpoetry.org. For information on how to find poets and poetry scholars in your area, see Tips for Finding a Poet/Scholar Moderator, below.

Other programs under the grant might include:

• Poetry readings combined with panel discussions.

• An exhibition of material — photographs, rare or signed editions, memorabilia–that reflect the local community’s historic engagement with the tradition that inspire them.

• A lecture by a local poetry scholar.

•Adult and young adult reading
groups based on the Lift Every Voice Reader.

• A poetry slam in which local poets share their own work and their poems the tradition that inspire them.

• A poetry workshop led by a local writing instructor.

• Musical performances, reflecting the tradition’s deep engagement with the blues, jazz, hip hop, gospel, R&B and other forms.

• Poetry readings combined with
panel discussions.

• An exhibition of material — photographs, rare or signed editions, memorabilia–that reflect the local community’s historic engagement with the tradition that inspire them.

• A lecture by a local poetry scholar.

• Adult and young adult reading
groups based on the Lift Every Voice Reader.

• A poetry slam in which local poets share their own work and the poems.

• A poetry workshop led by a local writing instructor.

• Musical performances, reflecting the tradition’s deep engagement with the blues, jazz, hip hop, gospel, R&B and other forms.

Project Components

Project Components

Institutions selected to participate in Lift Every Voice will receive:

Institutions selected to participate in Lift Every Voice will receive:

• A $1,200 grant to support free public programming. Grants may be used for: stipends for a local poet and/or scholar; travel expenses; honoraria; actors/performers fees; publicity and advertising; refreshments; or other costs associated with programming.

• A copy of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, a hardcover anthology edited Kevin Young to be published by Library of America in September 2020.

• The Lift Every Voice Reader (PDF), available for free download at the project website (below).

• www.africanamericanpoetry.org: project site featuring multimedia resources for public programming and individual discovery, including video readings and commentary by scholars, poets, actors, musicians, and others; a free down-loadable reader of key poems, with commentary and questions for discussion; a calendar of events; and links to other resources.

• An online site support notebook, with tools for planning and publicizing programs, including downloadable press
releases.

• An orientation webinar for site coordinators and scholars/facilitators covering interpretive materials, public relations,
and logistics.

• A best-practices webinar designed to assist sites in addressing special issues involved in presenting programming dealing with race.

• Programming support throughout the grant period.

• A $1,200 grant to support free public programming. Grants may be used for: stipends for a local poet and/or scholar; travel expenses; honoraria; actors/performers fees; publicity and advertising; refreshments; or other costs associated with programming.

• A copy of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song, a hardcover anthology edited Kevin Young to be published by Library of America in September 2020.

• The Lift Every Voice Reader (PDF), available for free download at the project website (below).

• www.africanamericanpoetry.org: project site featuring multimedia resources for public programming and individual discovery, including video readings and commentary by scholars, poets, actors, musicians, and others; a free down-loadable reader of key poems, with commentary and questions for discussion; a calendar of events; and links to other resources.

• An online site support notebook, with tools for planning and publicizing programs, including downloadable press
releases.

• An orientation webinar for site coordinators and scholars/facilitators covering interpretive materials, public relations,
and logistics.

• A best-practices webinar designed to assist sites in addressing special issues involved in presenting programming dealing with race.

• Programming support throughout the grant period.

Guidelines

Guidelines

Institutions selected to participate in Lift Every Voice will:

• Develop and produce a minimum of two public programs addressing the project’s Guiding Questions, at least one of which must be a discussion/reading group moderated by a scholar of African American literature.

• Offer these programs free of charge and open to the public in a wheelchair-accessible venue.

• Undertake community outreach to ensure that a diverse audience is served by project programming.

• Appoint one staff member as the project coordinator. The coordinator is required to participate in an orientation webinar that includes a workshop in best practices for project programming.

• Provide a required summary report, including copies of photos or recordings of programming, at specified deadlines.

Institutions selected to participate in Lift Every Voice will:

• Develop and produce a minimum of two public programs addressing the project’s Guiding Questions, at least one of which must be a discussion/reading group moderated by a scholar of African American literature.

• Offer these programs free of charge and open to the public in a wheelchair-accessible venue.

• Undertake community outreach to ensure that a diverse audience is served by project programming.

• Appoint one staff member as the project coordinator. The coordinator is required to participate in an orientation webinar that includes a workshop in best practices for project programming.

• Provide a required summary report, including copies of photos or recordings of programming, at specified deadlines.

Selection Criteria

Selection Criteria

Library of America will select institutions to participate in Lift Every Voice based on the following criteria:

Library of America will select institutions to participate in Lift Every Voice based on the following criteria:

1. Excellence, creativity, and specificity of plans for public programming, especially of plans to alert, invite, and involve a diverse audience.

2. Location: the grant seeks to serve all regions of the country, with a special preference for communities currently underserved by quality humanities programming.

3. Size and demographics: The Selection Committee seeks a mix of different community sizes and demographics.

4. Evidence of the site’s ability to reach target audiences and market programs effectively. Preference will be given to applicants who have a proven track record of partnering with other institutions on public programming.

5. Site director’s commitment to dedicating the necessary time and resources to develop and implement the proposed programming.

1. Excellence, creativity, and specificity of plans for public programming, especially of plans to alert, invite, and involve a diverse audience.

2. Location: the grant seeks to serve all regions of the country, with a special preference for communities currently underserved by quality humanities programming.

3. Size and demographics: The Selection Committee seeks a mix of different community sizes and demographics.

4. Evidence of the site’s ability to reach target audiences and market programs effectively. Preference will be given to applicants who have a proven track record of partnering with other institutions on public programming.

5. Site director’s commitment to dedicating the necessary time and resources to develop and implement the proposed programming.

Application Questionnaire

Application Questionnaire

Please respond to the following questions in no more than two pages total, making sure to number your responses to each question.

Please respond to the following questions in no more than two pages total, making sure to number your
responses to each question.

1. Why would your institution like to participate in Lift Every Voice? Please describe the programming you plan to undertake, indicating with as much specificity as possible who will be involved as moderators, performers, or panelists.

2. Describe the audience you intend to reach and how and where you will publicize your programming.

3. Identify the scholars you plan to invite and describe their roles in your proposed public programming.

4. Discuss any community partnerships you plan to develop or exploit to support your proposed programming.

5. Describe the size and demographic profile of the community your institution services.

6. Please indicate when you plan to offer your proposed programming.

Thank you for your application.

1. Why would your institution like to participate in Lift Every Voice? Please describe the programming you plan to undertake, indicating with as much specificity as possible who will be involved as moderators, performers, or panelists.

2. Describe the audience you intend to reach and how and where you will publicize your programming.

3. Identify the scholars you plan to invite and describe their roles in your proposed public programming.

4. Discuss any community partnerships you plan to develop or exploit to support your proposed programming.

5. Describe the size and demographic profile of the community your institution services.

6. Please indicate when you plan to offer your proposed programming.

Thank you for your application.

Tips for Finding Local Poet-scholars

Tips for Finding Local Poet-scholars

All institutions participating in Lift Every Voice will present a discussion/reading group moderated by a poet–scholar designed to draw out and explore the project’s Humanities Themes and Guiding Questions through close attention to the poems presented in the Lift Every Voice Reader. Scholars with expertise in African American poetry, and/or in leading text-based discussions, might be found through:

All institutions participating in Lift Every Voice will present a discussion/reading group moderated by a poet–scholar designed to draw out and explore the project’s Humanities Themes and Guiding Questions through close attention to the poems presented in the Lift Every Voice Reader. Scholars with expertise in African American poetry, and/or in leading text-based discussions, might be found through:

  1. Lift Every Voice’s national partner, the National Endowment for the Humanities: www.neh.gov

2. The online directory of Poets & Writers, which allows searches by geography and other filters: https://www.pw.org/directory

3. Contacting Us: If you need additional assistance in locating resources near you, please contact Library of America via email at lifteveryvoice@loa.org.

1. Lift Every Voice’s national partner, the National Endowment for the Humanities: www.neh.gov

3. Contacting Us: If you need additional assistance in locating resources near you, please contact Library of America via email at lifteveryvoice@loa.org.

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