This is the 2005 winner of the Claudia Lewis Poetry Award:
Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices by Walter Dean Myers (Holiday House, 2004)
Here is a Digital Trailer for Here in Harlem created by graduate student Nikitra Hamilton. Click here to view.
Here is a Readers' Guide for Here in Harlem created by graduate student Lauren Smith.
Dean Myers, Walter. 2004. Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 978-0-8234-2212-8 (paperback)
Recommended Age 13 and up or Grades 7-12
Summary of Book
In this beautifully written book of fifty-four poems, Walter Dean Myers manages to cover a variety of voices from Harlem that he grew up with beginning in the 1940s. Managing to show readers multiple aspects of life in Harlem, Myers helps his audience see that life is life, whether it be beautiful or difficult. The poems are written in “first person” point of view from actual people that the poet encountered while living in this part of New York. People are identified by their names, ages, and occupations. Myers collects their voices through verse, leaving the reader to interpret many of the phrases within the poignant poetry. The book covers testimonies from the twelve-year-old student to the mailman to the retired old man who has watched life pass him by. Beginning and ending with Clara Brown’s testimonies in Parts I-IV, the author captures every profession and a multitude of ages. In between these testimonies are everyday life stories of triumphs and disappointments, and Myers also covers simple encounters the people of Harlem experience that change them for better or for worse. The index at the back of “Some People, Places and Terms,” will help readers become familiar with the unfamiliar regarding the Harlem culture. This stunning book of verse will be an excellent addition to the secondary classroom and library classroom and creates an excellent opportunity for collaborating across the curricula.
“The rich and exciting text will give readers a flavor of the multiplicity of times and peoples of Harlem.”
-School Library Journal (starred review)
“One of Myers’ best – and that’s saying a lot. Sure to be a classic.”
-Kirkus Review (starred review)
“While there are occasional references to historical events or people, this collection can be enjoyed without knowing them. The rich and exciting text will give readers a flavor of the multiplicity of times and peoples of Harlem, and the more than 50 voices will stay with them, resurfacing as their understanding of the context develops.”
-Reed Business Information
* ALA Best Book for Young Adults
* ALA Notable Children’s Book
* Capitol Choices, the de Grummond Medal
* the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award
* CCBC Choices
* Best of the Books for Great Kids
* IRA Notable Book for a Global Society
* the Claudia Lewis Award (Bank Street College)
Prior to reading Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices, invite students to discuss and answer the following questions and points:
* What do you know about Harlem? What are some common stereotypes about Harlem or the people of Harlem?
* Looking at the cover of the book, Here in Harlem, what do you notice? In what decade do you think the image on the cover could have been taken? Why might that be significant to the content of the book?
* Do you know of any famous African Americans during the 1940s to the 1960s? What do you know about them?
* What do you know of the Harlem Renaissance and its effect on the people of Harlem the surrounding areas?
* What do you know about The Great Depression and the effects on people in America?
* This poetry book covers perspectives of many different ages living in Harlem during the 1940s to about the 1960s. How do you think the experiences of a person your age versus an adult will differ?
*It would be beneficial for teachers to have students complete some of the following activities in groups prior to reading in order to help them on the above questions:
* K-W-L-Q charts
* A gallery walk of images from Harlem during the 1940s-1960s, the images in Myers’ book, and/or The Great Depression
* A gallery walk of unfamiliar terms in the book such as
* A philosophical chair or Socratic seminar could take place discussing some of the topics above.
Suggestions for Reading Poems Aloud
* Have one student read, “Mali Evans, 12, Student” aloud and then another one read “Did Taylor, 14, Student” or another student poem (Pages 38, 54, 55). Then, discuss life from a young person’s perspective in Harlem. Compare those feeling of students now to students then. Discuss Myers’ placement of words on particular lines and what those placements could mean in regards to the tone of the poem.
* Read all of Clara Barton’s testimonies, I-IV, in one class period. Discuss her difficulties and life. Discuss what is going on in Harlem during each one of her testimonies and how Harlem changes over the course of her testimonies.
* Poem in two voices strategy could be used for Ann Carter, 32 and Benjamin Bailey, 38 “Switchboard Operator/Building Maintenance” on Page 57. Have everyone in the class listen, and then afterwards invite them to partner up and write a poem about life in two voices.
* “Helen Sweetland, 27, Party Girl” – Have students read in pairs, one reading the refrain and the other reading Helen’s thoughts, acting the poetry out with motions and expression.
* Solos could be performed by students with the knack for reading aloud. Have a student read, “Macon R. Allen, Deacon” as a solo, and the rest of the class can act like the church congregation, creating responses to the “deacon’s” lines and invitations. Discuss how poetry is more than just rhyming.
* “Richmond Leake, 53, Newsstand Dealer” or “Betty Pointing, 64, Clerk” could be read in slam poetry form.
Writing and English
* Analyze poems using the TPCAST or SOAPSTTONE methods or any other poetic analysis device.
* Choose a few poems for students or let them choose their own and write responses to the people of Harlem in poetry form.
* Some poems are written in free verse; others are written in rhyming formats, such as ABAB and so forth. It may be important, especially for higher-level readers, to discuss why the poet decided on one form over the other on particular poems throughout the book.
* This book lends itself for a discussion on punctuation, as the author uses it in some places in the poems and then leaves it out in other places. Syntactical imitation would be a great activity to include while studying this piece of literature.
* Conduct a lesson on creating voice in writing.
* Write a Here in __________ book of poetry about your school or town. Have students write a poem from their perspective, stating their age and occupation or role (could be student, sister, brother, boyfriend, grocery store cashier, class clown, etc.).
* Statistics – Teachers could use this book as way to initiate research on the percentages of the racial make-up of Harlem then versus the make-up of now. Students could also look at the statistics of the economic make-up of then versus now.
* Economics – Research what Harlem was like in from the 1940s-1960s. Focus on first account stories.
* Philosophical chair or Socratic seminar over all of Clara Brown’s testimonies, discussing the economic changing times in Harlem.
* Students can research African Americans in World War II or during The Great Depression and its effect on this race of people.
* Choir – Some of the poems could be sung to older tunes from the era that Walter Dean Myer’s incorporated into the book.
* Students could research musicians that Myers mentioned in the book plus more from this time period in Harlem
* Art - Draw, paint, etc. portraits of the faces of Myer’s Harlem.
Walter Dean Myers’ website:
School Library Journal:
Reading Rocket’s video interview with Myers:
Information on the Harlem Renaissance:
Information regarding the famous people of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as other traditions of this culture; includes resources for both students and teachers:
Audio gallery of Harlem Renaissance music:
Harlem health statistics:
Teacher’s Guide and Further Analysis of Here in Harlem:
More Information About Slam Poetry:
Fiction about Harlem or African American Culture for Older Readers
Coleman, Evelyn. 2000. The Mystery of the Dark Tower. American Girl. ISBN 9781584850847
Grimes, Nikki. 2000. Jazmine’s Notebook. Puffin. ISBN 9780141307021 (Coretta Scott King Award winner)
Lipsyte, Robert. The Contender. 1987. Harper Teen. ISBN 9780064470391
Lee, Harper. 1960. To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper. ISBN 978-0061743528
Myers, Walter Dean. 2007. 145th Street: Short Stories. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9780385321372
Myers, Walter Dean. 1992. The Mouse Rap. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780064403566
Rosa, Guy. 2001. Bird at My Window. Coffee House Press. ISBN 9781566891110 (*for high school/mature readers)
Weik, Mary Hays. 1993. The Jazz Man. Aladdin. ISBN 9780689717673 (Newberry Award winner)
Wright, Richard T. 1995. Rite of Passage. Harper Teen. ISBN 9780064471114
Non-Fiction Related to Harlem and African American Culture for Older Readers
Hardy, Stephen. 2000. Extraordinary People of the Harlem Renaissance. Children’s Press. ISBN 9780516212012
Howes, Kelly King. 2000. Harlem Renaissance. UXL. ISBN 9780787648367
Millionaire, Tony and Marc H. Miller. 2001. Harlem Renaissance: Map Poster Guide. Ephemera Press. ISBN 9780970412911
Myers, Walter Dean. 1999. One More River to Cross: An African American Photograph Album. Sandpaper. 9780152020217
Poetry Related to Harlem and African American Culture for Older Readers
Angelou, Maya. 1994. The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. Random House. ISBN 9780679428954
Arnold, Adoff. 1997. I am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by African Americans. Ill. Benny Andrews. Simon Pulse. ISBN 978068908692
Giovanni, Nikki. 1996. Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate: Looking at the Harlem Renaissance Through Poems. Henry Holt and Co. ISBN 9780805034943
Jacob, Iris Ed. 2002. My Sisters’ Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out. Holt Paperbacks. ISBN 9780805068214
Myers, Walter Dean. 1996. Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse. Harper Collins. ISBN 9780064434553
Myers, Walter Dean. 1997. Harlem. Ill. Christopher Myers. Scholastic Trade. ISBN 9780590543408
Other Helpful Print Sources:
(A book that fits into all three categories; includes excerpts from non-fiction, fiction, and poetry pieces):
Banks, William H. 2005. Beloved Harlem: A Literary Tribute to Black America’s Most Famous Neighborhood, From Classics to The Contemporary. Broadway. ISBN 9780767914789
(An anthology to be used by both teachers and older students):
McKay, Nellie Y. and Henry Louis Gates. 2003. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. WW. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393977783
(A book about performing African American poetry; more for teacher’s use):
Brown, Patricia Fahamisha. 1999. Performing the Word: African American Poetry as Vernacular Culture. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 9780813526324
About the Author
“I think my life is special. In a way it seems odd that I spend all of my time doing only what I love, which is writing or thinking about writing. If everyone had, at least for part of their lives, the opportunity to live the way I do, I think the world would be a better place.” – Walter Dean Myers
Walter Dean Myers was born in 1937 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Walter was born Walter Milton Myers but was given away to a man named Herbert Dean to be raised in Harlem. He dropped out of Harlem and joined the army at 17 years old. When an English teacher in high school recognized his writing talent and also knew he was going to drop out, she encouraged him to never stop writing. He did not stop and went on to become an award winning author of poetry, novels, plays, and music. He has received multiple awards including two Newbery Honors, five Coretta Scott King Awards, and the first Michael L. Printz Award. His son Chris has grown up to collaborate with his father on some works through his illustrative work.
"It is this language of values which I hope to bring to my books. . . . I want to bring values to those who have not been valued, and I want to etch those values in terms of the ideal. Young people need ideals which identify them, and their lives, as central . . . guideposts which tell them what they can be, should be, and indeed are." – Walter Dean Myers
[All images and text are property of Walterdeanmyers.net and HERE IN HARLEM: POEMS IN MANY VOICES by Walter Dean Myers. 2004. Published by Holiday House, New York. All rights reserved.]