English faculty engage in poetry correspondence program through humanities grant

English professor Howard Rambsy

Faculty members of the English department, professors Howard Rambsy, Tisha Brooks and Elizabeth Cali, are project collaborators in an Illinois Humanities Council grant program.

The project, titled “The Illinois Poetry Correspondence Program,” will involve roughly 30 high school students from various parts of the state in reading, writing and correspondence activities related to poetry. The program is focused and intent on recruiting high school African American males.

Rambsy said he is excited about receiving the grant as it allows students to get involved in the arts, poetry and African American literature.

“This is a rare, important opportunity to work with high school students on literature projects,” Rambsy said.

The goal, according to Rambsy, is to give students at a younger age more exposure to African American literature and poetry.

“This gives students some access to poetry by African American writers before they go to college,” Rambsy said.

According to the program website, each participant will receive a free collection of haiku poetry by Richard Wright and Adrian Matejka’s volume of poetry, “The Big Smoke.” The books will serve as the basis for reading assignments and writing prompts and the program will take place from October 2014 – May 2015.

Students, according to Rambsy, will be participating in correspondence activities with each other. They will be selected by their high school teachers based on their interests in the arts and humanities.

Rambsy said the focus of program is the poetry itself, how students respond to it and what they find interesting and useful. He added that students will interact with each other about the poetry through correspondence mail.

In addition, according to Rambsy, the students will begin to write their own poetry in this enrichment course or extra-curricular activity and professors and graduate students involved will give them feedback.

The project will be chronicled on a blog or monthly digital newsletter so people beyond the main participants of the program can understand what they are doing.

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