Reading Group Guide for Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices

♦ Walter Dean Myers celebrates the voices and aspirations of the residents of his beloved hometown, Harlem. Read through the table of contents of his book. What can you infer about the people of Harlem from reading the list of names, ages, and occupations?

♦ These poems reflect the lifestyles of the people of Harlem. What are the themes present throughout the volume?

♦ Who is Clara Brown? How does the author use her story throughout the book? What is the difference between poetry and prose? Find a poem that is clearly poetry and one that seems more like prose. Identify what elements make them like poetry or prose.

♦ Read these children’s poems: “Mali Evans, 12”; “Lois Smith, 12”; “Malcolm Jones, 16”; and “Lydia Cruz, 15.” These poems are about the hopes and dreams of the students. Can you relate to one poem more than another? Why? Do these poems reflect your experience as a student? Which aspects did the poems capture well? Poorly?

♦ Myers says in his introduction: “I have written a poem that is an unabashed tribute to the poet W. B. Yeats.” What is the title of the poem? Who is W. B. Yeats? Why do you think Myers wrote this poem as a tribute?

♦ Which poem affected you the most emotionally? Which poem affected you the least? Why? What is different about each poem. Consider the topic, emotions presented, and language of the poem. Did any poem make you angry? Sad? Happy? How did the poem do it? Be specific.

♦ In his introduction, Myers writes: “The characters in this book all represent people I have known or whose lives have touched mine.” Think of someone you know who has touched your life? How have they done so? Inspired? Write a poem about someone special to you.

♦ Pick two very different poems and write an essay showing how they connect. Or fi nd two similar poems and show how they differ. Use examples and demonstrate how the examples prove your claims.

♦ How does Here in Harlem’s typeface affect the poems? To begin answering, retype a poem in a different font or handwrite it. Look closely at the poem’s context. How does the poem change?

♦ Examine the rhythm of the syntax in the poems “Willie Arnold, 30”, “William Riley Pitts, 42”, and “Willie Schockley, 23.” Do these poems remind you of song lyrics? How does the syntax and rhythm of each line create a beat? How does the author infuse his poetry with the popular music of the time?

♦ Read either “Macon R. Allen, 38” or “Jessie Craig, 38” silently, then have two diff erent students read it aloud. Does the poem’s meaning change after it’s been read by three voices? What happens if the poem is sung, whispered, or shouted?

♦ These poems are in the voices of men and women. Use your imagination and think of what an inanimate object would say about life in Harlem—a tree, a sidewalk outside “Richmond Leake, 53”’s newspaper stand, the stoop near where “Homer Grimes, 83” sits. What would the hairbrush in Ray’s Barbershop say (“Henry Johnson, 39”)? A pew in “Effie Black, 58”’s church?

♦ While these poems are about the community of Harlem, many other places are mentioned, such as Selma (“William Dandridge, 67”), Timbuktu (“Charles Biner, 57”), Mount Kenya (“John Lee Graham, 49”), and the American South (“Frank Griffin, 82”). Many places within Harlem are also mentioned, such as the Alhambra Theater (“Etta Peabody, 60”) and Striver’s Row (“Didi Taylor, 14”). What is the significance of these places to Harlem? To the voices in the poems?