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Free Resources: Teaching Poetry and the Story of Emmett Till, from and Houghton Mifflin

Posted Apr 19, 2005
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August 2005 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Emmett Till's murder. In 1955, people all over the U.S. knew that Emmett Louis Till was a 14-year-old African-American boy lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi. The brutality of his murder, his open-casket funeral, and the acquittal of the men tried for the crime drew tremendous attention.

The fiftieth anniversary will be marked with reflection on how far our country has come toward equal rights and equal justice for all, and how far we have yet to travel., in collaboration with Houghton Mifflin Company, has created an online resource that stimulates discussion about this event, an Authors Up-Close program featuring award-winning poet Marilyn Nelson. The multimedia, cross-curricular resource for middle and high school English, social studies, and history classes is available free on the Web at

A new poem, "A Wreath For Emmett Till" (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005), written by Ms. Nelson, is the centerpiece for TeachingBooks' program. The poem is composed in a striking and unusual poetic form, a heroic crown of sonnets. The poet describes this format as follows in a written interview that is part of this TeachingBooks resource:

A heroic crown of sonnets is a sequence of 15 sonnets, which are interlinked like the normal crown of sonnets, except that in the heroic crown the last sonnet is made up of the first lines of the previous 14 sonnets. My crown is slightly different because the last sonnet is also an acrostic. So the first letters of each line, if you read down, spell out the phrase, ‘RIP Emmett L. Till.'

The program enables students to listen to Ms. Nelson read, in its entirety, her astonishing and haunting poem. Also included are audio interviews with Ms. Nelson and the book's publisher, an in-depth written interview, and links to numerous resources to teach about Emmett Till and to teach about poetry.


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