This is the 1999 winner of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award:
I, Too, Sing America; Three Centuries of African American Poetry compiled by Catherine Clinton (Houghton Mifflin, 1998)
Here is a Digital Trailer for I, Too, Sing America created by graduate student Alexis Gross.
Here is a Readers' Guide for I, Too, Sing America created by graduate student Sabrina Ramirez.
Clinton, Catherine. 1998. I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African American Poetry. Ill by Stephen Alcorn. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395895995.
Recommended Age Levels 8 – 12
Summary of Book
I, Too, Sing America is a collection of poetry from several different well known African American poets. In this book, Catherine Clinton has showcased twenty-five influential authors’ poetry. The collection of authors range from the 1800’s up until some that are still living and writing works today. Prior to the works of each author, Clinton gives a short biography about that author and reveals notes about the poem being presented. Each author speaks from the heart about the difficult struggles and hardships African Americans have faced and are still facing. The tone of this thirty-six poem collection ranges from despairs and struggles of the past to hope and equality of a better future. Stephen Alcorn uses his unique colorful illustrations to add an emotional visual image to each of the inspiring poems.
Review excerpts/awards for book
“A splendid, rattling good collection of African-American poetry.” – Kirkus Review
“Readers will need other resources to explore these writers more fully, but this collection should "touch the imagination," as the author hopes. Each poem is illustrated on the facing page with one of Alcorn's strong, colorful, and imagistic paintings (reminiscent of the work of Aaron Douglas and the Harlem Renaissance). This artwork as well as the taupe patterned block prints make this book a truly beautiful visual interpretation of the collection.” – School Library Journal
“The strong selections that are included here coupled with the dramatic paintings they have inspired are likely to put readers on the trail to the poets' further works.” - Publishers Weekly
Questions to ask before reading book
After reading the title, showing the cover and artwork of the book, invite students to discuss the following questions:
Look at the men, women, and children illustrated on the cover and throughout the book, brainstorm who they think the book might be about.
Discuss how long is a century? How long is three centuries? Discuss how the poems in this book range from authors that were born in the late 1700s to the 1900s.
Discuss how Catherine Clinton isn’t the author of the poems but how she selected them to create the book.
Why would the illustrator, Stephen Alcorn, put the two strings tied together on the front cover?
Suggestions for reading poems aloud
Invite African American guest readers come during Black History Month to read poems throughout the month of February.
Divide students into small groups to read and discuss certain authors and poems. Have groups share with the class an overall report on what they read and discussed on their assigned poems.
Assign each student an author and poem. The student must become an expert on that poet and share information about that poet to the class. Once the poet information has been completed, have the student recite one of the poems.
Follow up activities (writing, art, science, etc.)
Have students select his or her favorite author and poem from the book. The students must create a similar poem to read and present to the class. The teacher will collect all the student created poems to create a book for the class.
All of Stephen Alcorn’s illustrations in I, Too, Sing America depict people showing intense emotion. Students will create a similar illustration to match their own poem written for the writing activities. The illustrations will accompany the poems in the class poetry book.
Divide the class into three groups. Assign each group a century to research since the poetry from this book covers a range of three centuries. Have each group do computer and book research on historical events that took place in that century that helped African American people decrease inequality.
Related web sites/blogs
[This website gives you many links to famous African-American poets such as Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, and many more. Each link on this website will give you their biography, poems, and a picture of that poet.]
[This website is another great resource to access information on several multicultural poets, many of which are classical and contemporary African American poets. This website also has many other links to other heroes.]
[A fantastic resource for getting children started on writing poetry. It offers step by step workshops with actual poets. Students can create and print their own poetry on this site.]
Related books (other poetry, related nonfiction, related fiction)
Hughes, Langston. 2006. Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. Ill. By Benny Andrews. Sterling. ISBN 1402718454.
Angelou, Maya. 2007. Poetry for Young People: Maya Angelou. Ill. by Jerome Lagarrigue. Sterling. ISBN 1402720238.
Rochelle, Belinda. 2000. Words with Wings: A Treasury of African-American Poetry and Art. Amistad. ISBN 0688164153.
Mandela, Nelson. 2007. Nelson Mandela’s Favorite African Folktales. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393329909.