Is Hamlet Overrated?

How to make teaching Shakespeare fun
Still struggling with making Shakespeare fun? This blog post gives tips on making Shakespeare engaging and interesting to even reluctant readers!

Over the years, I’ve taught Hamlet over a dozen times and to several different levels of learners. In my first AP Lit teaching position I taught it since it was already in the curriculum. I loved its complexity and discussion potential, but I easily tired of what I perceived was Hamlet’s whiny personality.

When I moved schools in 2010, Hamlet was in my Shakespearean Lit curriculum and Macbeth was our AP Lit Shakespeare text. Since then, Hamlet has moved into AP Lit, and back out of it again. Today, it lives in my Shakespeare course. My Shakespearean text in AP Lit is King Lear (for right now), and that’s only if we have time for it.

I’ve wavered back and forth on my opinions on Hamlet. It seems like it hit its AP Lit hey day from 1994-2000. In that time, it was a fixture on suggested titles for Q3. In my time as an AP reader, Hamlet was so frequently analyzed (and abused) that I began to roll my eyes at it. However, when done well, essays on Hamlet can be some of the highest-scoring in the bunch. Here are the benefits and alternatives to teaching Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Hamlet Unit Bundle on TpT
Hamlet Unit Bundle, available on TpT!

Note: In this post I share some links to Hamlet resources from my TpT store. All of these resources are included in my Hamlet bundle (they are not included in my AP Lit Full Course bundle, unfortunately). If you’re considering teaching Hamlet, this resource is geared for any level, not just AP!

The Benefits of Teaching Hamlet

Depictions of Grief

When I first began teaching Hamlet was overly dramatic, whining about his father’s death to avoid doing anything of purpose. Since then, I’ve really come around on our favorite Dane. Part of that transformation stemmed from witnessing my own father’s reaction to his mother’s death.

My grandmother passed away from cancer in 2005. She was preceded in death only a month earlier by my grandfather, who died from a massive heart attack while my grandma was in the shower. His death was so shocking and unexpected that our wounds were still raw when my grandma followed him only a month later, ironically on my 21st birthday. Several years later, I noticed my father grew irritated and moody at mentions of my grandma, my grandpa, or anyone else in his family. Relationships with his siblings grew more strained until they were officially estranged. I mentioned once to my other grandmother that he never seemed to get over his mother’s death. She responded, “Why doesn’t he just get over it? People die, you know!”

Hamlet: A Study of Grief
This free resource allows students to analyze Hamlet’s progression through the five stages of grief.

I’ve since watched my husband’s family grieve over the loss of my father-in-law, and in 2014 I lost my beloved grandfather, the man to whom I owe my love of story-telling. Grief is a universal feeling, however, everyone grieves differently. Some, like Gertrude, throw themselves into new adventures or even relationships. Others, like both Hamlet and my dad, need to feel that grief longer than others. And both are completely acceptable.

One of my favorite activities to pair with Hamlet is a discussion of the five stages of grief. In this free resource on TpT, students can track Hamlet’s progression through the five stages, and even discuss other Hamlet characters’ grief as well.

Range of Interpretations & Performances

Another benefit to teaching Hamlet is the rich variety of teaching possibilities it includes. It seems like almost every scene has multiple perceived meanings. Every line touches on at least one theme. There are so many quotes! So many big moments! And then, there’s the performances!

If you search for Hamlet on IMDB, you’ll find over 50 results. More than 50 performances you could share with your students. I like to show a variety of Hamlet interpretations to my students and let them pick a favorite. My three favorite to show in class are:

To be or Not to be Comparison Chart
This chart helps students track the different variations
of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech.
  • Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet starring Kenneth Branagh, 1996. Pure in dialogue, this movie skips no scenes or even lines, resulting in a very long film (over 4 hours!). It’s still rich in interpretation, however, moving the action to an updated baroque palace and making some bold choices in Ophelia and Hamlet’s relationship.
  • Franco Zefferelli’s Hamlet starring Mel Gibson, 1990. While I don’t believe the acting in this one is very strong, it’s setting appears to be in medieval Denmark as the play depicts. Hamlet’s soliloquy from the castle’s catacombs is also useful for explaining themes for struggling readers.
  • Gregory Doran’s Hamlet starring David Tennant, 2009. Tennant’s t-shirt wearing Hamlet is a bit more zany and approachable with teenagers. Its modern setting helps students see the relevancy with this play, and its play-within-a-play scene is truly fun.

When we get to “To Be or Not to Be,” I show the same speech from all three of these performances (plus sometimes Benedict Cumberbatch’s, if I can access it!). Students take notes on the subtle differences in setting, props, movement, inflection, and other decisions. The repetition and variations allow them to fully appreciate this powerful speech, and the complex feelings behind Hamlet as he contemplates suicide.

Psychological Analysis

It’s not hard for students to grasp that Hamlet is struggling with depression. Other than “to be or not to be,” Hamlet’s battle with self-doubt and uncertainty is present in every scene. However, Hamlet is not the only one experiencing mental health issues.

Hamlet Act IV Scaffolded Lesson
This scaffolded lesson guides students in a study of
Ophelia’s lines to Laertes, right before she kills herself.

Can we talk about Ophelia for a moment? Poor Ophelia, who is constantly steered around by the men in her life? She slept with Hamlet because he asked her to (note, that’s my own personal inference). Then, she dumped Hamlet because her father and brother told her to. But if that’s not enough, her father then uses her as bait to see if Hamlet is truly mad. This results in the infamous “Get thee to a nunnery!” line. Ophelia must feel so conflicted and anxious, yet she has no one to talk to. Remember, she dumped Hamlet and Laertes is off at school. By the time Laertes returns, Polonius is dead, Hamlet is a wanted man, and Ophelia has become completely unhinged. If there isn’t enough material to analyze Hamlet psychologically, students will certainly find plenty to discuss with Ophelia.

One activity you can do to study Ophelia in depth is a deep dive in her final conversation with Laertes in Act IV. If you’re teaching Hamlet, this resource, as well as other scaffolded activities, are available in my Hamlet bundle on TpT.

Alternatives to Teaching Hamlet

While Hamlet is excellent and arguably Shakespeare’s greatest play, it comes with drawbacks. For one, it’s Shakespeare’s longest play. Secondly, it isn’t easy. In fact, it’s quite hard. Increased difficulty usually means more time, so it won’t be one you can tackle in two weeks. Finally, Shakespeare’s plays come with the inevitable language barrier, which will lead to increased confusion. A strong teacher will need good strategies to break down these language barriers.

If you’re looking for some alternatives to Hamlet that are still by the bard, consider these excellent texts:

Othello

Othello and Desdemona painting

Despite my love for Hamlet, Othello is my all-time favorite Shakespeare play. I wish Hamlet explored Claudius’ villainy and motives deeper, but we’re left to explore those mostly through inferences and his single soliloquy in Act III. Conversely, Othello gives us one of literature’s most masterful villains. My students delight in tracking Iago’s manipulations, calling him the ultimate puppet-master by the play’s end. Pair that with Othello’s own self-doubt and uncertainty due to his new marriage and his race, and you get a rigorous and engaging Shakespearean play.

King Lear

King Lear movie poster

The only play that I consider “harder” than Hamlet is King Lear. While Hamlet has more subtext, Lear has subtext plus a bunch of extra characters. The plot lines alone can spin your head. Furthermore, Lear shares conflicts like madness, rights of kingship, parents vs. children, political plotting with Hamlet. But it also has issues like sibling rivalry, loyalty vs. betrayal, and a classic love triangle to complicate matters. I recommend viewing Richard Eyre’s King Lear (on Amazon Prime) if studying Lear. This film is masterful.

Macbeth

Macbeth movie poster

This is a great choice if a) you’re crunched for time, or b) your students have little exposure to Shakespeare. Macbeth is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, so it won’t take nearly the time that Hamlet will. Furthermore, its central theme of the corrupting influence of power is approachable and relevant with students. Although it may seem simple at the start, Macbeth is still rich in complexity and interpretation, making it an excellent addition to AP Lit. I highly recommend pairing it with Rupert Goold’s film starring Patrick Steward. This version is set in the Soviet Union with Macbeth resembling Joseph Stalin. It’s brilliant!

Twelfth Night

She's the Man movie poster

Why do we always overlook comedies? While my favorite Shakespearean comedy is Much Ado About Nothing, I don’t find it quite as complex as Twelfth Night when it comes to literary analysis. Twelfth Night brings a convoluted plot (hello secret identities), multiple love triangles, plus a fascinating depiction of orders of class in Shakespeare’s time. Of all the comedies, this is one considered the most “AP-worthy.” Plus, it gives you an excuse to show clips from She’s the Man, something my students love.

Conclusion

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In short, I don’t have a finite answer to the initial question. I think that answer depends on your students’ exposure to Shakespeare and their educational background. Hamlet is certainly not one size fits all, so while one class may adore it another may hate it. Another thing to consider is that the 2020-2021 school year has been filled with unknowns and a great deal of global tragedy. There is no shame in abandoning Hamlet, which discusses depression and suicide at length, for something lighter like a comedy. Or, in a different approach, it could be a great time to study Othello, Shakespeare’s only play with a black protagonist.

Inclusivity & Accessibility in AP English: A Recap

I just finished a six-week series on issues on inclusivity and accessibility in AP English Literature. When I speak of inclusivity I refer to representation of both students and authors in this course. In accessibility, I discuss issues of gatekeeping, differentiation, and workload for AP students. Here is a recap of the six blog posts in case you missed them.

4 Quick Questions to Determine if a Book is “AP-Worthy”

This blog posts presents four simple ways to determine if a book is considered rigorous enough for AP Lit. While showcasing challenging texts, it still embraces works that are engaging and not too high-brow.

Nonwhite Authors to Diversify Your Curriculum

One common request among AP teachers is for more texts that are more diverse and representative of our student bodies. This blog posts collects hundreds of novels, plays, short stories, poems, memoirs, and other selections by non-white authors to help diversify and enrich your AP curriculum.

The First Few Weeks: Differentiation & Work Ethic

This post presents a more practical presentation of my lessons from the first few weeks of AP English Lit. In it I explain how I establish rigor, build engagement, and lay the foundation for our work ahead.

12 Engaging and Rigorous Books for Reluctant Readers

This post shares 12 engaging but unconventional books for using in AP Lit. These books are perfect for reaching noncommittal, picky, or slow readers with rich and unconventional plots. While these may be more approachable than traditional “canon” books, each is rigorous enough to analyze in a high-scoring essay.

AP & Accessibility: Reducing Heavy Student Workloads

This blog posts discusses strategies and ideas for reducing the classic heavy workloads in AP English. Our students struggle with higher than ever levels of mental illness and anxiety, compounded with being involved in almost everything. These strategies will reduce busywork, help streamline student and teacher work, and ultimately create a better work environment for you and your students.

You Responded: Gatekeeping, Representation, and Inclusivity in AP

In this final blog post, I share fellow teachers’ opinions on the issues I’ve been discussing over the previous weeks. The survey data shows a decrease in gatekeeping, resulting in broader and more diverse student representation in AP classes. Furthermore, teachers share strategies for incorporating strategies of differentiation, diversity, and decreasing the workloads of our students.

Reflection

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As I look back on these posts on inclusivity and accessibility, I’m grateful for the opportunity to research and share some of these ideas and strategies for improving AP courses. However, I have learned a great deal myself. I have learned to be more considerate in selecting classroom texts. I’m beginning to move on from a lot of my “classic” curriculum and I’m reading newer and more diverse authors and perspectives. I’m hoping my voracious reading will begin a ripple effect in my students to pick up something new, something different, or something challenging.

For more teaching resources and strategies, subscribe to my email list and visit my TpT store. All of my AP Lit resources have been updated to reflect the new CED and are used in my own classroom!

AP & Accessibility: Reducing Heavy Student Workloads

This is my fifth installment in a series on representation in AP Lit, both in authors and in students. If AP classes remove their systems of gatekeeping (which they should), teachers will need to prepare to have more types of learners in their classes. We cannot assume that each of our students has taken an AP class before taking ours. We cannot assume that our students do nothing but homework all evening long. And we definitely can’t beat them with literature so hard that they leave our class hating it. For many of us, it’s time to reduce heavy student workloads.

This blog post will offer some strategies I use to keep the homework load low while keeping the rigor and engagement high.

The Problem: Assigning too much reading homework

One of the biggest crimes that AP Lit teachers commit is over-assigning reading homework. I’ve heard of teachers justifying up to 2 hours of reading per night, even counting weekends as 2 nights! This is unconscionable. When assigning reading or homework in general, never assume your students have nothing better to do than read. Many of our students are juggling the following commitments in addition to our AP Lit homework:

12 engaging and rigorous books for reluctant readers
To help build engagement for reluctant readers, check out this list of 12 unconventional titles for AP Lit.
  • part-time jobs
  • extra-curricular expectations
  • volunteer requirements
  • chores or expectations at home, such as baby-sitting siblings
  • other homework assignments
  • general hobbies, relaxation, and general teenage activities

To assume that our students have nothing better to do than read for AP Lit is not only selfish, it’s damaging. Research shows that our students suffer more from anxiety, depression, and other crippling mental illnesses than any other generation. Pressure to complete heavy burdens of homework can only compound those illnesses.

How to Fix It:

First, be clear with students on day 1 what kind of reading responsibilities they can expect in class. I usually tell my students that their homework will be limited to 30 minutes per night. I also clarify that not every night will have reading homework.

When reading long texts such as novels, portion out readings over several days or weeks. I avoid making a whole book due by a certain day. I believe most of our students lack the general time management skills to tackle this in responsible ways. One great tool for assessing the amount of time a reading takes is Read-o-meter. I use this for planning novel units and for assigning excerpts for homework. You simply copy and paste a text into the text box (PDFs of most texts can be found online), and it provides an estimated time for the average reader to complete the task. Then, I add at least 5-10 minutes to the estimate. Remember, most students probably don’t read at an English teacher’s pace! This is a great tool to reduce heavy workloads for high school students.

Read-o-meter example
Using the website Read-o-meter and an online PDF of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I learned that Chapter 1 takes the average reader 8 minutes to complete. I’d assume that my lowest or slowest readers will need about 13 minutes to read the chapter, especially if annotation or notes are required.

The Problem: Taking on too many long books

Trevor Packer Tweet about fewer long works

Another change that is happening in many AP Lit classes is the reduction of long works from 7-12 novels per year to only 3-5. When Trevor Packer first introduced this idea back in 2018 (see top tweet), I admittedly bristled at the thought. At the time I was teaching 6-8 long works a year and the notion of cutting that in half was ridiculous.

After some reflection and true evaluation of the CED, I realized that Mr. Packer had a point. My students went into each exam praying that their question would align with one of our 6-8 books, because if it didn’t they felt immediately lost.

How to Fix It

Upon reducing some of my long texts, I learned that fewer books meant a slower pace, and thus a deeper dive. My students no longer had to rush through books in a week or two but could afford to actively read, annotate, and reflect. With smaller reading assignments, I was able to integrate more writing and analysis tasks without overloading students.

Not only does this help reduce student workload, but it can better prepare them for question 3 and literary analysis in general. By introducing students to short fiction through short stories or excerpts, they get to prepare for many different writing prompts. The way I see it, long fiction prepares them for deep diving a text, but short fiction prepares them for all of the daily analysis practice they also need.

The Problem: Long Papers

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It’s a universal truth that English teachers always have too much grading to do. In AP Lit, it seemed that nightly and weekly grading sessions came with the job. In my first few years I was a fixture at Barnes and Noble for full afternoons. I spent that time grading timed writings and long papers from my AP Lit students. Not only were the long papers a drain on my personal life, they were sucking the time of my students as well.

As time progressed, I have learned that timed writings are here to stay. However, I don’t necessarily need to assign long papers in AP Lit. Now, I know some schools or districts require certain assignments, such as the college essay or a literary theory paper. But if you aren’t constrained by any requirements, I see no reason why long papers must be in the AP curriculum.

How to Fix It

To ease the paper-grading load, consider different assignments that can showcase analysis but ease your weekend work. These assignments can be projects, presentations, group work, discussions, Socratic Seminars, or discussion posts. Not only will this ease your grading time, it will help all levels of learners experience different assignments and assessment strategies. I still highly recommend timed writings, but feel free to tackle them how the AP readers do, grade according to the rubric, give some feedback, and move on. Save the detailed feedback for the in-class rehash.

The Problem: Grading on-demand essays takes forever

You know that feeling when you finally finish a stack of essays? You proudly return the essays to your students, prepared to field questions and give focused feedback, and instead they tuck the essay away and leave the room. This always frustrated me. Why do I spend hours grading essays, giving detailed feedback, for students not to even read it? My frustration compounded when I saw students making the same mistakes on the next timed writing, because they never saw my comment in the first place.

Reduce heavy workloads: AP Lit Help
Check out Susan Barber’s post about walking students through the essay process. While it may not reduce the number of essays you grade, it certainly improves the quality of essays you’ll have to grade.

How to Fix It

Once you’ve been an AP reader, you learn how quickly you really can mow through a pile of essays. If I get into the right mindset, I can get through a pile of 20 essays in less than an hour. However, this doesn’t allow me much time at all for feedback. If I want writing scores to improve, I need to tell students where they lost points and how they can improve.

These on-demand writing tips can improve your students' writing and reduce your grading load with insider tips
For more tips on integrating on-demand essays and reducing the grading load, check out this resource on Teachers Pay Teachers.

The way that I grade at an AP reader pace but still improve writing scores is through rehashes. A writing rehash is a group session that reviews writing feedback as a group rather than individually. When I grade a class’ timed writing responses, I have four items in front of me: my students’ essays, the rubrics, a post-it, and a stapler. I score each essay using the rubric, tally the score on the post it, staple, and move on. However, I also use the post it to make brief notes of themes or concepts we need to review.

Example

If you see the example below, this was an earlier assignment. We needed to review precision in analysis, avoiding summary, and making analytical commentary. You can also see that I incorporate writing workshop activities to help my students experience the feedback, rather than read it. I still offer individual feedback when a student needs it or veers way off course. Still, this method helps me grade faster and give student feedback in more practical ways.

Reducing heavy workloads through writing rehashes - slide 1
Reducing heavy workloads through student rehashes - slide 2
Reducing heavy workloads through writing rehashes - slide 3
These are some shots from a rehash after one of our earlier timed writings. I take brief notes as I score a stack of timed writings, then compile them into a PowerPoint that we go over as a group. I often use quotes from the essays themselves (without names), mostly of exemplary essays.

Another benefit of using rehashing is that I can use them to give focused feedback without requiring rewrites or extra work. This cuts down on both student and teacher workload, but doesn’t send the message that writing is secondary or unimportant. To learn more about how I use rehashing to improve student writing and save teacher grading time, check my blog post for AP Lit Help.

The Problem: Too much homework in general

We’ve already discussed assigning too much reading homework, but giving a lot of homework in general and lead to student overload. Not to mention, all that homework isn’t going to grade itself. When teaching an AP class, you will always feel like you’re not doing enough. Therefore, it’s easy to overcompensate for lost class time with assigning extra homework. (This pressure is compounded when teaching virtually, where students seem to learn at an even slower pace).

When creating homework, ask yourself: Why am I assigning this homework?

  1. Prove student understanding
  2. Complete work that didn’t get finished in class
  3. Check for reading
  4. Meet perceived standards of rigor for advanced placement

In my opinion, unless you’re meeting the criteria for numbers 1 or 2, homework is unnecessary. And even if you’re meeting criteria 1 or 2, there are ways to meet both without assigning homework.

How to Fix It

Let’s look at the four criteria again:

Reason 1: To prove student understanding

While student work, especially written analysis, can prove student understanding, it does not have to be done as homework. In fact, by introducing more in-class work analysis through discussion, you can gauge student understanding through formative observations. This results in more collaboration, less student work, and virtually no grading.

Reason 2: To complete work that didn’t get finished in class

Honestly, this is my number 1 reason for assigning homework. Often times I intend to get to something in class but we simply run out of time, so I scramble and give it as homework. Decisions like this often stem from a desire to stick to a schedule and avoid falling behind. To avoid this, I try to plan only 1-2 weeks at a time. If I don’t get to a particular activity, I table it for the following day or scrap it entirely so it doesn’t contribute to homework overload.

Reason 3: To check for reading

How to Read Literature Like a Professor Bell-ringers are a great way to gauge student understanding without quizzes or homework
I created these bell-ringers for How to Read Literature Like a Professor to check for student understanding and completion of readings. I grew tired of overburdening my students and my workload with daily quizzes. Plus, bell-ringers are faster, more efficient, and more engaging than quizzes.

While homework can be used to check for reading, there are other ways to check. Some use quizzes (but that’s more grading). I prefer bell-ringers. I allow 3-5 minutes to respond to a particular bell-ringer from a previous night’s reading. As they complete their work, I circulate the room and check their progress. It is often quite clear who did the reading and who didn’t. A quick debrief after each bell-ringer usually solidifies my suspicions and I’m able to determine who’s keeping up with our readings…and who isn’t. Other intro activities like entrance slips can be done verbally or quickly. This helps to reduce heavy workloads and give you the feedback you need.

Reason 4: To meet perceived standards of rigor for advanced placement

This is just silly. The mark of rigor isn’t workload, it’s critical thinking. If you’re being held to any standards of rigor they should be judged during class, not by workload.

One Last Thing

Reducing heavy workloads - Practice makes progress

Other than workload, another damaging practice among AP teachers is rigid grading practices. Many pride themselves in grading according to a strict scale for on-demand essays, systems where students who earn less than a 4 on the 6-point rubric get a C or lower. Some have even boasted about failing students who score low on these assessments. Others enforce graded pre-tests, mock exams on day 1, and other damaging systems designed to “scare” students from AP Lit. The idea is that those who are “less able” will drop the class and the teacher can continue to teach only the brightest of the bunch.

I’m beginning my 15th year of teaching and I cannot emphasize enough that this is not best practice. While students should know about the standards of rigor and expectations in AP Lit, this can be communicated in other, non-graded ways. Furthermore, the AP exam is a stressful event. To get students prepared for that exam, timed writings and practice tests should be designed as methods of practice. Do not score them on a system where only a perfect score gets an A. This leads to feelings of despair, unworthiness, and disengagement. The best teachers are the ones who look look for progress over perfection. Furthermore, good teachers take steps to reduce heavy workloads, both in their own lives and in their students’, to ward off burnout and increase engagement and growth.

The First Few Weeks: Differentiation & Work Ethic

This article is the third in a blog series focused on inclusivity in AP English Literature. This week’s installment will focus on differentiation your instruction to reach all levels of learners in AP Lit. In high achieving schools, AP classes are often reserved for only top level learners. However, this system of gatekeeping is not in the best interest of education. Not all top learners belong in AP English Lit, and many who aren’t “top level” can thrive in the class. Therefore, my policy is: if you are willing to do the work, you belong in the class.

These ideas are especially for teachers who don’t have prerequisites, entrance exams, or other structures in place to limit AP students. While all are welcome in AP classes, it can be difficult to advance the students who are already strong writers while simultaneously reaching students who are less enthusiastic about the class. These strategies will engage both your voracious and reluctant readers, as well as improving students’ writing at all levels.

First Day Activity – Active Reading, Discussion, and Critical Thinking

I’ve already devoted an entire blog post to my first day lesson, which you can read about for full details. The main goal of my first day is to demonstrate three of the main four skills of AP Lit as I see them: close reading, Socratic discussion, and critical thinking. The only skill we don’t hit immediately is writing, and that is only because writing is SUCH A BIG SKILL that it needs multiple days of its own. This lesson gives tips on annotating to improve their close reading, helps them move beyond “I agree” and “I noticed” discussion strategies, and learn to think critically about texts that they read. To see the full details of my first day lesson you can read this full blog post.

My AP Lit First Day Lesson
This blog post details my first day of class in AP Lit, where I focus on active reading, discussion, and critical thinking.

Using How to Read Literature Like a Professor to Analyze Television & Film

Most readers know that I like to begin the year with Thomas C. Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I prefer to read it in class, if time allows, but many prefer to use the book as summer reading. I love this book because he explains the basics of literary analysis, connecting things from fiction to real life with concrete examples and identifying patterns.

In my experience with HTRLLAP, most students find the book very intimidating. While the lessons inside are still useful, Foster’s text can make students feel underprepared or ill-equipped for literary analysis, especially when it comes to writing. In order to combat this, I like to take Foster’s lessons beyond his examples. I often piggyback off his examples using young adult texts, titles that are common in grades 8-10, and even television and film.

Example

Here’s an example. I had a student one year who kept saying he was the “dumbest kid in class.” Of course he wasn’t, but he felt that way. He had never read any of the titles mentioned in the text and, frankly, Foster was losing him. However, in class one day I related Foster’s chapter on “marked characters” and asked them to identify examples not from literature, but from television shows. Suddenly this student came alive with ideas from Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Lost, and other shows. Over the next few days he kept running into class telling me other ideas from HTRLLAP that he noticed in television shows. Eventually he became so engrossed in the process that his family asked him to watch tv in a different room, as they grew tired of his constant interruptions of literary analysis.

Now obviously I had to coerce this student to begin applying these principles to literature, as I didn’t want him writing an essay on a television show for the AP exam. But the strategy of applying HTRLLAP to film, television, and even songs makes Foster’s lessons easier for all students to understand. They then have a firm foundation that they can take with them as we begin literary analysis of short fiction and novels.

Picking Poetry – the Riddle Factor

Like most of the AP teachers I know, I usually try to introduce poetry as early as I can. For the last few years my first poem has been “Metaphors” by Sylvia Plath. I choose this poem because it’s a riddle, and a fairly difficult one at that. I read the poem aloud for them, tell them it’s a riddle, and then set them free to guess. When one student finally guesses that it’s a riddle for pregnancy, we break the poem down image by image, line by line, compounding the difficult “clues” for Plath’s poem.

I love this lesson because my students usually approach poetry with groans and dread. They never “get it,” the teacher finds more in the poem than the author meant (debatable), poems are boring, etc. However, Plath’s poem is short, inviting, and provocative. This lesson tells students that not all poems have to be dry or boring, and it invites them to explore more throughout the year.

While students should explore a range of poems, styles, and authors, I like to pick simpler or more narrative poems for differentiation and scaffolding in AP Lit. Along with “Metaphors,” here are some other introductory poems I choose:

  • “The Black Walnut Tree” by Mary Oliver
  • “Out, Out–” by Robert Frost
  • “The Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall
  • “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes
  • “My Father and the Fig Tree” by Naomi Shihab Nye
  • “Lot’s Wife” by Anna Akhmatova

Student Achievement Structured Around Goals

SMART Goals - Differentiation in AP Lit

One thing that has never changed in all my years of teaching AP Lit is the use of student-designed goals. I did this from day 1 and I still do it each year. After we go through the expectations of the course, I ask students to create three goals for themselves. I require them to use SMART goals, a system you are probably familiar with. If not, SMART goals (see graphic) help students set goals that they can measure along the journey, not just at the end of the year. To help students form SMART goals we usually have to address perceived weaknesses. If I have reluctant readers in the group, sometimes they make a goal to simply finish every book.

Examples of strong SMART goals are:

  • Read every assigned reading on time.
  • Use all of my allotted writing time, not finish early and turn it in as-is.
  • Select one book over 500 pages for independent reading and read every single page.
  • Write down my comments before sharing them in each discussion.

Examples of weak SMART goals are:

  • Earn a 5 on the AP Lit exam (not measurable or timely, as scores come out mid-July).
  • Try hard (not specific or measurable).
  • Ace every test (probably not very realistic or attainable).

We also implement goal-setting after each timed writing and PPC multiple choice exam. I created trackers for students to record their score, what they need to improve on, and what goals they should set to improve on their next assessment. The idea is to use this data and these goals each quarter to help students measure their progress towards their SMART goals and their overall growth in writing, active reading, and critical thinking.

Student tracking data and setting goals
After each Performance Progress Check on AP Classroom, my students fill out their score data and set goals for their next PPC. We have another tracker that we use after each timed writing. Both are FREE downloads from my TpT store.

Strategies for Scaffolding Writing

When it comes to differentiation in AP Lit, writing is by far the hardest variable to scaffold. Here are some strategies I use in the first few weeks to learn my students’ abilities and help move them down the path towards strong analysis.

Gradual Timed Writing Practice

As many AP Lit teachers do, I assign my students to read a novel for summer reading. Our assessment for our summer reading is a timed writing. I give students released prompts from the actual exam, or create my own modeled after those questions if the perfect prompt isn’t available. Instead of limiting them to 40 minutes I allow the whole class period, but that is the only additional help I offer.

When it comes to reading the essays, I score them according to the criteria of the rubric, offering as much feedback as possible. However, I do not write a score on the finished essays. The next day, I pass back the essays with my feedback. I put students into small groups (grouped with a mixture of high, medium, and low scores) and let them share highs and lows of their own essays. Following our small group discussions we return to a whole class. Together, we brainstorm some things we learned from our first timed writing as a whole class.

The most important part of this process is allowing students to rewrite their essays. This is the only time I allow a revision, but it is so important. This allows students who misread the prompt or wrote full summaries to start from scratch. It likewise offers mid- and high-scoring students an equal chance to sharpen their analysis. I score this essay again and log these scores in as final.

Always Remember: APE

Probably the most common writing misstep I see in the first few weeks is students’ reliance on summary rather than analysis. Even after we discuss the difference between summary and analysis, I’ve found that students often revert due to adrenaline, confusion, or simply being at a loss of what to say. It’s frustrating for all of us. Students know they aren’t supposed to summarize, they know the difference between analysis and summary, and yet they still do it all the time. One tool I’ve created to combat summary is based on APE, which stands for Assert Prove Explain.

I did not coin this acronym, it has in fact been around for a while. I did, however, create a handout and bookmark to help students remember this strategy as they ease into analytical writing. Remember, not all of your AP students have taken an advanced placement course before. So while some understand what we mean by balancing analysis with textual support, many don’t have the tools to do this quickly. Therefore, teaching students to assert, prove, and explain helps them get into the rhythm of analysis. Once they get the hang of analysis supported by proper textual support, then you can begin to work on creating a true line of reasoning, growing complexity, stronger literary elements, and sophisticated writing voice.

Summary Versus Analysis

Line of Reasoning mapping
This was our model essay. I didn’t do this activity in the beginning of the year because I HADN’T THOUGHT OF IT YET. I certainly will in the future!
Highlighting for Analysis - Differentiation in AP Lit
This was a student’s essay. This was one of my top writers but even she struggled with balancing textual support (the red) with analysis (the yellow).

The war against summary is not easily won. It’s even more frustrating when students don’t realize they’re summarizing.

Last year I tried a more hands-on approach to help students identify their own summary. At the end of our timed writing rehash, I distributed a high-scoring released essay from the College Board. Then, I asked students to use markers, highlighters, or different color pens to mark the following in a text:

  • Mark the thesis in green. Mark references to the thesis or the continued line of reasoning in green as well.
  • Label all textual support in red.
  • Identify the student’s analysis (the “so what”) in yellow.
  • (Sometimes I have them identify all references to literary techniques in a fourth color, but this may be better saved until later in the school year).

The class marked up their sample essays and we debriefed it as a whole group for a moment. After that, I asked students to do the same process on their own essays. Before I even asked them to do this, many students were already realizing their mistakes. Many groaned as they marked long portions in red with nary a yellow in sight. This exercise proved so helpful that I hung the sample essay in our room for students to access.

Work Ethic

As I finish this up, I’m realize that I may come off as a very accommodating teacher. God forbid, the word “easy” may even be used. I do want to clarify a major foundation of my teaching strategy. While I do not require that my students have a high GPA, there is one trait they must possess.

In order to succeed in my class, my students better have grit.

This is another important foundational component of the first few weeks. If my students come to class unprepared, I make it very clear that I cannot help them. I’ve had plenty of super-smart students attempt to coast through AP Lit. And yes, these students are often very strong writers and get great scores on their standardized tests. However, in my 14 years of teaching AP Lit I’ve learned this about these kids: the way they write in September is the way they’ll write in May. These students will exit with a strong GPA and equally high standardized test scores, but they won’t grow.

Growth Over Scores

Just this last year I had a student take my course, telling me he’d drop it after just the first day. He told me he was too dumb and too lazy, to which I argued that he certainly was not. Somehow I convinced him to stay, but we had to have the same conversation at our semester break. This student had been putting in great work, but was still doubting himself. This doubt compounded when he saw that he often scored lower than his classmates. Once again, I convinced him to stick with it. His spirits were especially low during our distance learning months, so much so that I even FaceTimed him to help him register for the test.

When I finally got my scores last week, I had some very high scores, none of which were very surprising. But I literally did a happy dance when I saw that my doubtful student earned a 3. That score meant more to me than all of the others. Not only did he develop in his reading and writing, this student learned that hard work yields growth and success.

Inclusivity in AP Lit

To conclude, this is a basic overview of some of the strategies I use for differentiation in AP Lit. I try to use our first month to cultivate an atmosphere of hard work and inclusivity. I recently developed three norms to describe our class:

  1. Everyone is welcome.
  2. Everyone’s voice is worthy.
  3. Everyone tries.

To read my previous posts on the topic of inclusivity in AP English Lit, check these out:

4 Quick Questions to Determine if a Book is “AP-Worthy”

Non-white Authors to Diversify Your AP Lit Curriculum

Non-White Authors to Diversify Your AP Lit Curriculum

BIPOC, Latinx, Asian, Native American, and world authors are not new to the scene. They are not “trendy.” They’ve been around for ages. Unfortunately, many teachers (myself included) have not been concerned enough over their representation in the literary canon or the AP Lit curriculum in general.

For many of us, that changed this summer.

I live in St. Paul, Minnesota. The murder of George Floyd was an eye-opener to the oppression of black people for many residents in my area and around the world. This is especially true as his murderer, officer Derek Chauvin, lives just down the road from my own home. I spent this summer reading and researching racial oppression in my country, both in the past and in the present. It’s true, I am a white woman and that this may be unknown territory for me. However, I have teachers who look to me for guidance. I want to do right. I want to be helpful. This is my best attempt.

Inclusivity in AP Lit: 2nd Installment

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This is the second installment in a six-part series on inclusivity in AP English Literature. I use “inclusivity” to refer to both the authors in the curriculum and the students in the classroom, but I’ll expound more on that in a later post. Week 1 focused on re-defining the meaning of “AP Worthy” when it comes to choosing books. You can read that post here.

This article is simply a hub to record fiction, plays, novels, poetry, and nonfiction by authors for AP Lit who are not white. You can use this list to expand your reading list beyond white authors, both personally and for your students. Furthermore, you can use it to explore more works by some of your favorite authors. For example, did you know Zora Neale Hurston wrote stories, poems, and nonfiction? There’s more to most authors than their 1-2 famous works!

Here are some of the best recommendations I can offer, and I will continue to update this list in the future. I’ve included Native American and indigenous authors, Latinx authors, and other authors from Asia, Africa, and around the world.

To clarify, I have not read all of these texts (can anyone?). However, they are based on the recommendations of AP English Literature teachers, titles from released AP English Lit exams or the College Board website. I’ve gathered recommendations from admirable movements and organizations, including #disrupttexts, #thebookchat, and #teachlivingpoets. I’ve also included links to any resources on my TpT site that I have available to help teach these authors if you’re interested.

Novels

Jesmyn Ward in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
Ward’s Salvage the Bones was a game-changer for me. She’s quickly becoming one of the most influential voices in fiction.
Khaled Hosseini in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
People didn’t know that there was literature coming out of Afghanistan until Khaled Hosseini came along.
  • Acevedo, Elizabeth – The Poet X
  • Achebe, Chinua – Things Fall Apart
  • Adeyemi, Tomi – Children of Blood and Bone
  • Aditchie, Chimamanda Ngozi – Purple Hibiscus or Americanah
  • Allende, Isabel – House of Spirits
  • Almada, Selva – The Wind That Lays Waste
  • Alvarez, Julia – How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents or In the Time of the Butterflies
  • Anaya, Rudolfo – Bless Me, Ultima
  • Baldwin, James – Giovonni’s Room, Another Country, or Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Butler, Octavia – Parable of the Sower or Kindred
  • Cao, Lan – Monkey Bridge
  • Cisneros, Sandra – The House on Mango Street
  • Chang, Jung – Wild Swans
  • Clarke, Breena – River, Cross My Heart
  • Cleage, Pearl – What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi – The Water Dancer
  • Danticat, Edwidge – Breath, Eyes, Memory, The Farming of Bones, The Dew Breaker
  • Desai, Kiran – The Inheritance of Loss
  • Dias, Junot – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  • Dimaline, Cherie – The Marrow Thieves
  • Divakaruni, Chitra Banerjee – One Amazing Thing (excerpt used in 2020 AP Lit exam)
  • Edugyan, Esi – Washington Black
  • Ellison, Ralph – Invisible Man
  • Eng, Tan Twan – The Gift of Rain (excerpt used in 2020 AP Lit exam)
  • Erdich, Leslie – Love Medicine, Tracks, or Round House
  • Esquivel, Laura – Like Water For Chocolate
  • Gaines, Ernest – A Gathering of Old Men
  • Giasa, Yaa – Homegoing
  • Haley, Alex – Roots: The Saga of an American Family

“I am increasingly convinced that AP English Literature and Composition by its very nature privileges whiteness and a white view of literature. I would argue similar problems plague most Advanced Placement classes.” – Arthur Chiaravalli

  • Hami, Mohsi – Exit West
  • Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins – Iola Leroy (also called Shadows Uplifted)
  • Herrera, Yuri – Signs Preceding the End of the World
  • Hosseini, Khaled – The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • Hughes, Langston – Not Without Laughter
  • Hurston, Zora Neale – Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo – The Remains of the Day or Never Let Me Go
  • Kim, Richard E. – The Martyred
  • King, Thomas – Green Grass, Running Water
  • Kingston, Maxine Hong – The Woman Warrior
  • Kogawa, Joy – Obasan
  • Jen, Gish – Typical American
  • Jin, Ha – Waiting or A Free Life: A Novel
  • Johnson, James Weldon – The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (excerpt used in 2020 AP Lit exam)
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa – The Namesake
  • Lalami, Laila – The Other Americans (excerpt used in 2020 AP Lit exam)
  • Larsen, Nella – Passing or Quicksand
  • Lee, Chang-Rae – A Gesture Life or Native Speaker
  • Lee, Min Jin – Pachinko
  • Murakami, Haruki – Kafka on the Shore or Norwegian Wood
  • Marquez, Gabriel García – 100 Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera, or Chronicle of Death Foretold
  • Marshall, Paule – Brown Girl, Brownstones or Praisesong for the Widow
  • Mathis, Ayana – The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
  • McKay, Claude – Home to Harlem
  • Momaday, N Scott – House Made of Dawn

Another AP Lit teacher discusses the underrepresentation of Latinx authors in this excellent blog post.

  • Morrison, Toni – Beloved, Song of Solomon, Sula, or The Bluest Eye (personal favorite: Beloved)
  • Mukherjee, Bharati – Jasmine
  • Naipaul, V. S. – A Bend in the River
  • Naylor, Gloria – The Women of Brewster Place, Mama Day or Linden Hills
  • Ng, Celeste – Everything I Never Told You or Little Fires Everywhere
  • Ng, Fae M. – Bone: A Novel
  • Nguyen, Viet Thanh – The Sympathizer
  • Okada, John – No-No Boy
  • Olivarez, José – Citizen Illegal
  • Orange, Tommy – There, There
  • Petry, Ann – The Street
  • Rao, Shobha – Girls Burn Brighter
  • Roy, Arundhati – The God of Small Things
  • Rulfo, Juan – Pedro Paramo
  • Rushdie, Salmon – Midnight’s Children or Free Radio
  • Saadawi, Ahmed – Frankenstein in Baghdad
  • Sapphire – Push
  • Saramago, José – Blindness
  • Selvon, Sam – Moses Ascending
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon – Ceremony
  • Smith, Zadie – White Teeth
  • Syal, Meera – Anita and Me (excerpt used in 2020 AP Lit exam)
  • Tan, Amy – The Bonesetter’s Daughter or The Joy Luck Club
  • Thurman, Wallace – The Blacker the Berry
  • Villarreal, Jose Antonio – Pocho
  • Walker, Alice – The Color Purple
  • Ward, Jesmyn – Sing, Unburied, Sing or Salvage the Bones
  • Whitehead, Colson – The Underground Railroad or The Nickel Boys
  • Wideman, John Edgar – Sent For You Yesterday
  • Wright, Richard – Black Boy and Native Son
  • Yapa, Sunil – Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of Your Fist
Haruki Murakami in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
Haruki Murakami’s works are a unique and creative take on magical realism (which is already unique and creative on its own!).
Toni Morrison  in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
read Beloved when I was a new hire in 2006. It changed my life forever, and for me, it begins and ends with Toni Morrison.

Plays

Lorraine Hansberry in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
What if Lorraine Hansbury hadn’t died when she was 34? What accomplishments might she have achieved?
  • Fuller, Charles – A Soldier’s Play
  • Hansberry, Lorraine – A Raisin in the Sun (personal favorite)
  • Jacobs-Jenkins, Branden – Appropriate, An Octoroon, Gloria, or Everybody
  • Jones, Leroi (also known as Amiri Baraka) – Dutchman
  • Levy, Andrea and Helen Edmundson – Small Island
  • Milner, Ron – Checkmates
  • Nottage, Lynn – Sweat
  • Orta, Marisela Treviño – Shoe
  • Parks, Suzanne-Lori – Top Dog/Underdog
  • Shange, Ntozake – For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf
  • Smith, Anna Deavere – Fires in the Mirror
  • Valdez, Luis – Zoot Suit
  • Wilson, August – Fences or The Piano Lesson

Poems

Naomi Shihab Nye in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
“My Father and the Fig Tree” is a wonderful poem to introduce symbolism in poetry with your students. In fact, all of Nye’s poetry is popular and relatable with kids today.
Langston Hughes in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
Seriously, is there a Langston Hughes poem that isn’t a game-changer? The man is an icon.

  • Alexie, Sherman – “Evolution” and “On the Second Anniversary of My Father’s Death” (personal favorite: “Evolution”)
  • Angelou, Maya – Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water ‘fore I Diiie (collection of poems) “Phenomenal Woman” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
  • Asghar, Fatimah – “If They Should Come For Us”
  • Baldwin, James – “Untitled”
  • Braithwaite, Edward Kamau – “Ogun”
  • Brooks, Gwendolyn – “We Real Cool,” “The Bean Eaters,” “Kitchenette Building,” or “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed” (personal favorite: “We Real Cool”)
  • Brown, Jericho – “Dear Dr. Frankenstein” or “Say Thank You Say I’m Sorry”
  • Clifton, Lucille – “mulberry fields,” “won’t you celebrate with me,” “forgiving my father,” and “sorrows” (personal favorite: “mulberry fields”)
  • Coleman, Wanda – American Sonnets (poetry collection)
  • Cullen, Countee – “Incident”
  • Diaz, Natalie – “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation”
  • Dixon, Melvin – “Heartbeats”
  • Dove, Rita – “Ars Poetica”
  • Dunbar, Paul Laurence – “We Wear the Mask,” “The Paradox,” or “Douglass”
  • Giovanni, Nikki – “Nikki-Rosa”
  • Handal, Nathalie – “Caribe in Nueva York”
  • Harjo, Joy – “How to Write a Poem in a Time of War”
  • Harper, Michael S. – “American History”
  • Harvey, Yona – “Hurricane”
  • Hayden, Robert – “Those Winter Sundays” or “Middle Passage”
  • Hayes, Terrance – “We Should Make a Documentary About Spades”
  • Hughes, Langston – “Theme for English B,” “I, Too, Sing America,” “Cross,” “Harlem,” “Mother to Son,” or “Song For a Dark Girl” (Personal favorite: all of them)
  • Johnson, James Weldon – “A Poet to His Baby Son”
  • Joseph, Allison – “Thirty Lines About the ‘Fro”
  • Komunyakaa, Yusef – “Facing It”
  • Lee, Li-Young – “A Story” and “I Ask My Mother to Sing”
  • Lorde, Audre – “Coal”

Click here to read my top 10 poems to teach in AP Lit.

  • May, Jamaal – “There Are Birds Here” or “A Brief History of Hostility”
  • Nelson, Marilyn – “How I Discovered Poetry” or “Bedside Reading”
  • Neruda, Pablo – Any poem!
  • Nezhukumatathil, Aimee – “Baked Goods”
  • Nye, Naomi Shihab – “Defining White” and “My Father and the Fig Tree” (personal favorite: “My Father and the Fig Tree”)
  • Olivarez, José – “I Walk Into Every Room and Yell Where the Mexicans At”
  • Randall, Dudley – “Ballad of Birmingham” (personal favorite)
  • Rankine, Claudia – Citizen: An American Lyric (book-length poem), “Coherence in Consequence” or “Weather”
  • Rushdin, Kate – “The Bridge Poem” or This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
  • Sanchez, Sonia – “This is Not a Small Voice”
  • Senior, Olive – “Plants”
  • Shakur, Tupac – The Rose That Grew from Concrete (poetry collection)
  • Shire, Warsan – “Backwards” or “The House”
  • Smith, Clint – Counting Descent (poetry collection) or “The Drone”
  • Spriggs, Bianca Lynn – “What Women Are Made Of”
  • Trethewey, Natasha – “Incident” or “Miscegenation”
  • Troupe, Quincy – “Flying Kites” or “Poem For My Father”
  • Truth, Sojourner – “Ain’t I a Woman?” (personal favorite)
  • Walcott, Derek – “Omeros” (epic poem) or “XIV”
  • Walker, Alice – “Women”
  • Walker, Margaret – “Childhood,” “For My People,” or “Lineage”
  • Wheatley, Phillis – “On Being Brought from Africa to America”
  • Woodson, Jacqueline – Brown Girl Dreaming (novel told through poetry)
Lucille Cliften in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
“mulberry fields” was completely riveting the first time I read it. And now I’m stopped in my tracks by every Lucille Clifton poem.
Li-Young Lee in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
I was first introduced to Li-Young Lee when I scored for the 2011 exam and his poem “A Story” was the prompt. Since then, I’ve been more and more impressed with his subtle but powerful imagery.

Short Stories/Short Fiction

Sandra Cisneros in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
Read “Eleven.” Read Mango Street. Read “My Name.” Read all Cisneros, now.
Jhumpa Lahiri in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories are a big hit with many students. They’re easy to relate with but also complex and great for written analysis.
  • Achebe, Chinua – “Dead Men’s Path”
  • Alvar, Mia – “The Miracle Worker”
  • Alvarez, Julia – “Antojos”
  • Angelou, Maya – “Steady Going Up”
  • Baldwin, James – “Sonny’s Blues” or “Exodus”
  • Bambara, Toni Cade – “Talkin bout Sonny,” “Maggie” or “The Organizer’s Wife”
  • Bennet Jr., Lerone – “The Convert”
  • Boehm, Lucille – “Condemned House”
  • Bontemps, Arna – “A Summer Tragedy”
  • Brown, Frank London – “A Matter of Time”
  • Brown, Sterling – “And/Or”
  • Butler, Emma E. – “Polly’s Hack Ride”
  • Butler, Octavia – “Bloodchild”
  • Dorsey, Gertrude H. – “An Equation”
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. – “The Comet,” “Jesus Christ in Texas” or “On Being Crazy”
  • Chestnutt, Charles W. – “The Passing of Grandison,” “Uncle Wellington’s Wives” or “The Goophered Grapevine”
  • Cisneros, Sandra – “Eleven,” “My Name,” or Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories (collection of short stories) (personal favorite – “Eleven”)
  • Clarke, Breena – “The Drill”
  • Clarke, John Henrik – “The Boy Who Painted Christ Black”
  • Collier, Eugenia W. – “Marigolds”
  • Danticat, Edwidge – “New York Day Women”
  • Davis, Arthur P. – “How John Boscoe Outsung the Devil”
  • Davis, John P. – “The Overcoat”
  • Due, Tananarive – Ghost Summer (collection of short stories)
  • Dunbar, Paul Laurence – “The Scapegoat” or “The Lynching of Jube Benson”
  • Ellison, Ralph – “Afternoon”
  • Erdich, Louise – “Red Convertible”
  • Evans, Danielle Valore – Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (collection of short stories)
  • Fajardo-Anstine, Kali – “Sugar Babies” or “Remedies”
  • Fauset, Jessie – “Mary Elizabeth”
  • Fisher, Rudolph – “The City of Refuge”
  • Fuller, Hoyt W. – “The Senegalese”
  • Gains, Ernest J. – “The Sky is Gray”
  • Hairston, Loyle – “The Winds of Change”
  • Hamer, Martin J. – “Sarah”
  • Himes, Chester – “Mama’s Missionary Money”
  • Hughes, Langston – “Feet Live Their Own Life” or “One Friday Morning”

Did you know? Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was the first black woman to publish a short story back in 1859.

  • Hurston, Zora Neale – “Muttsy” or “The Gilded Six-Bits”
  • Jones, LeRoi – “The Screamers”
  • Jordan, Jennifer – “The Wife”
  • Kelley, William Melvin – “Cry For Me”
  • Killens, John O. – “God Bless America”
  • Kincaid, Jamaica – “Girl” (personal favorite)
  • la Guma, Alex – “The Lemon Orchard”
  • Lahiri, Jhumpa – The Interpreter of Maladies (collection of short stories)
  • LaValle, Victor – “The Ballad of Black Tom” or Slapboxing with Jesus (collection of short stories)
  • Lowe, Ramona – “The Woman in the Window”
  • Marquez, Gabriel Garcia – “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”, “One o f These Days,” or “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World”
  • Marshall, Paule – “Reena”
  • McBride, James – Five Carat Soul (collection of short stories)
  • McCay, Claude – “He Also Loved” or “Truant”
  • McPherson, James Alan – “On Trains”
  • Moore, Alice Ruth (also called Alice Dunbar Nelson) – “A Carnival Jangle”
  • Morrison, Toni – “Recitatif”
  • Murakami, Haruki – “Samsa in Love”
  • Murray, Albert – “Train Whistle Guitar”
  • Nettel, Guadalupe – Bezoar (collection of short stories)
  • Nichols, Laura D. – “Prodigal”
  • Offord, Carl Ruthven – “So Peaceful in the Country”
  • Orozco, Daniel – “Orientation”
  • Packer, ZZ – “Speaking in Tongues”
  • Penso, Kia – “The Gift”
  • Petry, Ann – “The Bones of Louella Brown” or “Solo on the Drums”
  • Ries, Adeline F. – “Mamma: A Story”
  • Robotham, Rosemarie – “Jesse”
  • Schweblin, Samantha – Fever Dream or Mouthful of Birds (short story collections)
  • Senna, Danzy – “The Care of the Self”
  • Shawl, Nisi – “Black Betty” or “The Water Museum”
  • Smith, John Caswell – “Fighter”
  • Suarez, Virgil – “A Perfect Hotspot”
  • Tellez, Hernando – “Lather and Nothing Else”
  • Tervalon, Jervey – “Picture This”
  • Toomer, Jean – “Becky”
  • Vroman, Mary Elizabeth – “See How They Run”
  • Walker, Alice – “Flowers,” “Elethia,” or “Everyday Use” (personal favorite – “Everyday Use”)
  • Wang, Xuan Juliana – Home Remedies (collection of short stories)
  • West, Dorothy – “The Typewriter” or “Mammy”
  • Wright, Richard – “Uncle Tom’s Children” or “Bright and Morning Star”
  • Yerby, Frank – “The Homecoming”
  • Yu, Charles – Sorry Please Thank You (collection of short stories)

Memoirs

Trevor Noah in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
Born a Crime is a wonderful memoir for students down to 9th grade. It presents Noah’s struggle living under apartheid with humor and heart.
  • Angelou, Maya – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Ashe, Arthur – Days of Grace
  • Eire, Carlos – Waiting for Snow in Havana
  • Fisher, Antwone – Finding Fish: A Memoir
  • Hurston, Zora Neale – Dust Tracks on a Road
  • Laymon, Kiese – Heavy: An American Memoir
  • Mathabane, Mark – Kaffir Boy
  • Mchado, Carmen Maria – In the Dream House
  • Noah, Trevor – Born a Crime (personal favorite)
  • Satrapi, Marjane – Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
  • Ung, Luong – First They Killed My Father
  • Wideman, John Edgar – Brothers and Keepers
  • Yang, Kao Kalia – The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot* (this author is white, but the subject and discussion on oppression and disregard for the Lacks family and black Americans in general makes it worthy of inclusion)

Nonfiction

Ibram X. Kendi in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
Ibram X. Kendi is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. His books and essays are instructive and riveting, and his social media presence is a pleasant mix of humility and passion. I accessed his recommendations on his website as well to supplement this nonfiction list.
  • Aditchie, Chimamanda Ngozi – We Should All Be Feminists
  • Baldwin, James – The Fire Next Time, “Notes of a Native Son,” or “Nobody Knows My Name” (essays)
  • Coates, Ta-Nehisi – Between the World and Me
  • Du Bois, W. E. B. – The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, The Souls of Black Folk, or The Emerging Thought of W. E. B. Du Bois: Essays and Editorials from “The Crisis”
  • Edim, Glory (editory) – Well-Read Black Girl (collection of essays)
  • Ellison, Ralph – Shadow and Act
  • Haley, Alex – The Autobiography of Malcolm X
  • Hughes, Langston – “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”
  • Hurston, Zora Neale – “I Love Myself When I am Laughing and Then Again When I am Looking Mean and Impressive”
  • Kendi, Ibram X. – How to Be an AntiRacist or Stamped From the Beginning
  • Joseph, Peniel E. – Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America
  • Lorde, Audre – Sister Outsider
  • Luiselli, Valeria – Tell Me How it Ends or Sidewalks
  • Morrison, Toni – Playing in the Dark or What Moves at the Margin
  • Naipaul, V. S. – Middle Passage
  • Reynolds, Jason and Ibram X. Kendi – Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You: A Remix of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning
  • Roberts, Dorothy – Fatal Invention
  • Stevenson, Bryan – Just Mercy
  • Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta (editor) – How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective
  • Walker, Alice – “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston”

Misc.

Martin Luther King Jr. in AP English Literature - nonwhite authors for AP Lit
I know this one seems obvious, but have you considered pairing it with a contemporary text or poem?
  • Aditchie, Chimamanda Ngozi – “The Danger of a Single Story” (TED Talk)
  • Collins, Kathleen – The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy and Losing Ground (film narratives)
  • DuVernay, Ava – 13th (film)
  • Glover, Donald (aka Childish Gambino) – “This is America” (music video)
  • Haley, Alex – Roots (television miniseries)
  • Hannah-Jones, Nikole – The 1619 Project (interactive website by The New York Times)
  • Hurston, Zora Neale – Barracoon – (collection of interview questions)
  • King, Martin Luther – “I Have a Dream” speech
  • Peck, Raoul – I am Not Your Negro (James Baldwin documentary)
  • Smith, Clint – “How to Raise a Black Son in America” (TED Talk)

This list took me a full week to compile but I’m sure I missed some great additions. Please comment below or email me with suggestions of other authors for AP Lit and I’ll add them to the list!