Reflecting on Yolanda Wisher Teaching African-American Literature Class


Yolanda Wisher teaches African-American Literature class.

Yolanda Wisher, writer, educator, and former Philadelphia poet laureate, visited FSS on Monday. Her visit included an assembly for the entire Upper School where she spoke to us and performed some of her poetry with the accompaniment V Shayne Frederick on piano. Some other components of her visit to FSS were teaching English Teacher Miriam Rock’s African-American Literature senior elective and hosting social justice and writing workshops during class blocks.

In African-American Literature, this elective is currently reading the novel Beloved by Toni Morrison, for which Wisher prepared a corresponding lesson. We started off class by bringing up the character ‘Paul D’, which opened up a discussion about his traits and larger themes in the book. After reading specific passages and debriefing thoughts about the book, she introduced a more personal and self-reflective activity directly relating to the book. Everyone was given small silver boxes representing our hearts – a reference to Paul D’s “tobacco tin” in place of his heart. Then we were each given four pieces of paper on which to write poetic lists of things we covet, mourn, have survived, and something of our choice, all to put in our ‘hearts’. She encouraged us to keep these boxes and even tweak or primp to make them more suitable to what we feel our hearts are. 

I admired the way she could connect a piece of school-taught literature so directly to each of us and our lives so earnestly and universally. The lesson she prepared for us was engaging, personal, and felt like she gave us all something to further reflect on and keep with us. I felt inspired by her way of thinking and interpreting creative material so intimately. Miriam agreed, saying “I loved having Yolanda Wisher visit my African American Literature class this week. Her combination of experience as an English teacher and as a poet really enhanced the class discussion of Paul D in Beloved.”

Overall, I was happily surprised by Yolanda Wisher’s visit, not because I didn’t expect her wisdom, but rather because of the fact that Friends Select can bring in and cultivate such a creative environment and mindset.