Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 2012 Issue »

    Call and Responsibility

    Critical Questions for Youth Spoken Word Poetry

    Susan Weinstein and Anna West
    In this article, Susan Weinstein and Anna West embark on a critical analysis of the maturing field of youth spoken word poetry (YSW). Through a blend of firsthand experience, analysis of YSW-related films and television, and interview data from six years of research, the authors identify specific dynamics that challenge young poets as they participate in YSW-related activities. Participants discuss the risks of being overly identified with the subject matter of the poems they perform, the tendency of some YSW communities to create a “star” system among youth poets, and the implications of the intensified public gaze trained on youth poets by growing media attention to YSW. Weinstein and West argue that risks and tensions are intrinsic to the nature of a deeply social youth arts context but that the field’s long-term sustenance depends on all participants’ willingness to have honest, ongoing discussions about such challenges.

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    Susan Weinstein is an associate professor of English at Louisiana State University, where she advises the secondary English concentration. Her research focuses on teenage writers, particularly on the kinds of discourses through which teens enact literate identities. She has multiple volunteer roles with Baton Rouge’s WordPlay Teen Writing Project and has spent the last six years researching youth spoken word poetry throughout the U.S. and abroad. Her work has appeared in journals such as Written Communication, the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, and English Education.

    Anna West has developed and led youth programs with a focus on spoken word poetry for over fifteen years. She is the founding director of WordPlay Teen Writing Project in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the former director of Young Chicago Authors. She cofounded Louder Than a Bomb, the acclaimed Chicago teen poetry slam festival and subject of an award-winning documentary film. In 2011, West brought together poets and educators in Massachusetts to form Mass LEAP, a community-driven youth spoken word initiative. She was the recipient of the 2011 Arts in Education Faculty Recognition—Intellectual Contribution Award at Harvard Graduate School of Education. In Fall 2011, she began doctoral studies at Louisiana State University’s Department of English with an emphasis in writing, rhetoric, and cultural studies. 
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    Summer 2012 Issue

    Abstracts

    Critical Bifocality and Circuits of Privilege
    Expanding Critical Ethnographic Theory and Design
    Lois Weis and Michelle Fine
    Legally White, Socially “Mexican”
    The Politics of De Jure and De Facto School Segregation in the American Southwest
    Rubén Donato and Jarrod S. Hanson
    Responding to Racism and Racial Trauma in Doctoral Study
    An Inventory for Coping and Mediating Relationships
    Kimberly A. Truong and Samuel D. Museus
    Identity Constructions and Negotiations Among 1.5- and Second-Generation Nigerians
    The Impact of Family, School, and Peer Contexts
    Janet T. Awokoya
    Call and Responsibility
    Critical Questions for Youth Spoken Word Poetry
    Susan Weinstein and Anna West

    Book Notes

    Changing on the Job
    Jennifer Garvey Berger

    “Multiplication Is for White People”
    Lisa Delpit

    American Teacher
    Vanessa Roth and Brian McGinn (Directors)