Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Students Recite Poems from the Harlem Renaissance

As a culminating activity for our study of the Harlem Renaissance, I brought my video camera to class and filmed some of my students reciting poems from Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.  You should see what a great job they did.

1. "I, Too" by Langston Hughes

I, Too
Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,

But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

2. "Mother to Son," by Langston Hughes

Mother to Son
Langston Hughes

Well, son, I'll tell you:
Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,
And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.
So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair. 

3. "Incident," by Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."

I saw the whole of Balimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

4. "For a Lady I Know," by Countee Cullen

For A Lady I Know
Countee Cullen

She even thinks that up in heaven
     Her class lies late and snores,
While poor black cherubs rise at seven
     To do celestial chores.

5. "Harlem," by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

6.  "Lenox Avenue: Midnight," by Langston Hughes

Lenox Avenue: Midnight
Langston Hughes

The rhythm of life
Is a jazz rhythm,
The gods are laughing at us.

The broken heart of love,
The weary, weary heart of pain,—
To the rumble of street cars,
To the swish of rain.

Lenox Avenue,
And the gods are laughing at us.

7. "Still Here," by Langston Hughes

Still Here
Langston Hughes

I’ve been scarred and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,

Looks like between 'em they done
Tried to make me

Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'--
But I don't care!
I'm still here!

8. "I, Too" (two!), by Langston Hughes


  1. Kudos to the kids willing to speak on camera and for you, getting them there. I hope M.A.S.E. becomes the school you dream it to be.

  2. What a great project! I want to try it for my class.


  3. These are great. I've never read any Countee Cullen before.