Guidelines for Students

African American Read-In
Guidelines for Student Readers

  • Assessing the situationThe first step in preparing to speak to an audience is assessing the situation in which you will speak.  Who is the audience? What is the context? Why are you speaking to this audience at this time? The answers to these questions will determine what you say and how you say it.
    • Who is the audience?
      Think about who will be there. Your audience may include students, faculty, staff, and people from the community. You should be prepared to address people of all ages.
      Consider what they know about this subject. Some of the members of your audience at the Read-In will know quite a bit about African American literature in general, but most of them will have no more familiarity than you will.
    • What is the context?
      Think about the setting, the expected level of formality, and the rationale behind the event. In this case, the event is pretty casual and is intended to celebrate African American writing and to give people a chance to learn more about it. You might also consider related activities, issues, and trends in the larger community and think about whether you want your presentation today to relate to contexts outside this event.
    • Why are you speaking to this audience at this time?
      Consider your goals in reading a piece of literature today (beyond the fact that your professor encourages it!). What makes your participation necessary or valuable? (That is, what is your exigence?)
  • Selecting a piece
    Once you have an idea of the situation and what it calls for, you can start thinking about what you would like to read. Any work by an African American writer is welcome, whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or something else entirely.

    In general, poetry works well, because poems can stand on their own, as do other short, complete pieces.  You can also choose to read a short selection from a longer work.

    These questions might be helpful in deciding whether a piece will work well:

    • Can you read a ten-minute section of this? Some pieces just don’t lend themselves well to being excerpted. If hearing only three pages of a story will leave your listener puzzled, rather than intrigued, then it’s not a good choice.
    • Which section will work best? In general, you’ll want to choose a selection that gives an idea of the overall character of the work, that does not require extensive knowledge of what comes before it, and that has logical beginning and ending points (that is, you don’t want to start reading in the middle of a scene of action or cut off in the middle of a scene).
    • Does this work sufficiently represent what you want to share with your audience? If you want to introduce them to a new author, for example, you’ll want to choose a piece that showcases that author’s strengths.
  • Preparing your words When you’ve found a piece to read, you’ll need to consider what the audience will need to hear from you. Before you read the piece aloud, provide a little information about the author and the piece. Having assessed the audience, you can figure out how much they’ll need to know.  Assume that they don’t know much about your author or work. They won’t need a full biography, but it can be helpful to provide some context, including the time period in which the author wrote, any significant themes in his or her work, and major works that the audience might want to look up if they enjoy this piece. If you’re reading from a longer work, you’ll also want to provide enough context so that the listeners understand the excerpt. That may include introducing characters and giving a very brief summary of what has happened so far (as in a sentence, not a full book report).

    Once you know what you want to say, you can organize it into a brief introduction. Plan to spend no more than a couple of minutes introducing the text (that’s about a page of double-spaced, typed words).

  • Practicing your presentation When you have decided what you want to read and how you want to introduce it, you can start practicing.  This is an informal presentation, so it doesn’t have to be perfectly polished, but you do want to run through it at least once to make sure that it fits into your time slot and that there aren’t words and phrases that you stumble over as you read. If you are reading from a book, you might want to photocopy the pages you plan to read, so that you don’t have to carry a big text up to the podium and to reduce the chance that you’ll lose your place.

    Practice it out loud. You want to hear how the words will sound to your audience. Also, you’ll read more slowly out loud; don’t try to time yourself as you read silently. Practice looking up from the page from time to time, so that you’ll be able to make eye contact with your audience. You might want to make little marks on the page to remind yourself where you should pause and where you can look up. The more eye contact you make, the more engaging your piece will seem.

    You’re finished practicing when you’re comfortable reading and your presentation is about ten minutes (it doesn’t have to be exact; we’ll give you extra time if you need it).

  • Getting ready to speak Arrive earlier than your scheduled time. Not only will you want to have time to gather yourself and have a cookie before you present, but you’ll also want to watch other presenters to get a sense of what’s expected of you.

    If speaking in front of people makes you nervous, try whatever relaxation technique works for you–deep breathing, visualizing success, stretching, or anything that will calm you. Remind yourself that this is an informal gathering of your friends and neighbors. They’re interested in hearing about this author and this work. You’ve chosen something good to share with them, and they want to hear it.

  • Presenting to your audience When you go to the podium, take a deep breath and look at your audience. There’s a microphone for you to use, and there’s water if you need a sip. Look over your pages to make sure they’re in order, introduce yourself, and tell us about your piece.

    Remember to breathe as you read. Pause between sentences; if you read very fast, the audience won’t be able to keep up. Look at the audience now and then.

    When you’re finished, remind the audience of the author and title, so that if they found your reading particularly interesting, they’ll be able to look up the book later.  Thank them, smile, and go have a cup of coffee while the next person reads.

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