With the rise of slam poetry and storytelling in the literary world, Writers in the Schools is excited to hire talented local writers who create work in these genres. This year Desmond Spann, who describes himself as “a spoken word poet, a positive emcee and hip hop artist,” was the writer-in-residence in two of Steve Naganuma’s radio classes at Benson High School in Portland. We visited the classroom one morning in April for a glimpse into the process.

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Students filed in slowly, chatting about their spring break activities and teasing each other about new haircuts. They collected their individual WITS folders and pulled out their handwritten pieces. Spann announced that it was his last day in the class, and he wanted each student to perform. When a student asked to “pass,” Spann coached him on the power of growing as an artist through performance. Eventually, students were coaxed to the front of the classroom.

Spann hooked up an iPod and played a beat for the background of each student’s piece. Some chose to read it a capella, but those who rapped along with the music had the audience nodding their heads. Everyone had a big smile when they finished.

“Let me do it again!” said one student, who had previously announced he was “terrible” and “so nervous.”

Spann smiled. “You see? Once you do it, it gets easier.” He encouraged everyone to keep practicing in front of audiences. We handed out information about submitting to the WITS anthology, and have our fingers crossed that some of these talented students’ work makes its way to our inbox!

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