At Ballou Read-In, Noted Authors Foster a Love of Literature 

Feb. 14, 2012

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Love was in the air at Ballou High School on Tuesday – a love for the written and spoken word – at the school’s 2012 African American Read-In.

After all, it was Valentine’s Day. And author Kwame Alexander was reading from his book “Crush: Love Poems.”  

“I always love reading and presenting to teens,” said Kwame Alexander, an award-winning poet, children’s book author, playwright, producer, dynamic speaker, performer, and the author of 14 books. “A lot of educators and other people believe that when you get to the teen audience, you’re too late to reach them from a literacy standpoint. I don’t believe that at all. It’s exciting to get teens excited.”

Alexander, who won an NAACP Image Award, said love seemed to be a natural theme for the annual African American Read-In, which happened to fall on Valentine’s Day, and “Crush: Love Poems,” a collection of verse for teenage readers, seemed to capture the moment.    

In poems that express a complex range of emotions, Alexander shared stories, insights and a few laughs with students who are exploring similar themes in their own writing.

“Teens like stories of trials and tribulations,” said Melissa Jackson, Ballou’s library media specialist, who brought 10 authors to the school Tuesday to share their love of books. “This is a celebration of Black History Month – celebrating black authors and promoting literacy.”  

The event, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Black Caucus of NCTE, is held throughout the country during Black History Month. Schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and interested citizens are urged to make literacy a significant part of Black History Month by hosting and coordinating Read-Ins in their communities, according to the NCTE website. Read-Ins can be as simple as bringing together friends to share a book, or as elaborate as public readings and media presentations that feature professional African-American writers.

At Ballou, where Jackson and school leadership have made literacy a focus, students participate in poetry slams, publish their works in literary journals, and interact with noted authors, such as Alexander.

Ballou junior Tiffany Adams, who read her poem “The Thought of Being a Black Eagle” at the Read-In, has been composing poetry since age 11. Over the summer, she connected with Alexander, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area, as part of his Book-in-a-Day writing and publishing program. Through Book-in-a-Day, Alexander has helped more than 1,000 students become published authors in more than 30 schools across the country, and in Canada. Adams is one of those authors.

“I write most about my life – anything that pops into my mind,” said Adams, whose poem “The Thought of Being a Black Eagle” is about Bessie Coleman, the first African American woman pilot, and Adams’ dreams of soaring to great heights in her own life. “Everyone who knows me says my poems are so wicked that I could win [a poetry slam].”

Alexander said Adams not only has a love for poetry that comes through in her presentation, but she also dug into her subject to get to the heart of Coleman’s story. That research gave Adams insights that she could connect with her own life.

“The poem she shared today about soaring like a black eagle showed an appreciation for black history and research,” Alexander said. “She took nuggets from Coleman’s life and put them on paper in a poetic way that resonated with me and the students. It was great.”

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