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Literary Riot: Goodnight America, Has Bigotry Won?

Support Provided By
Get Lit Logo

In collaboration with Get LitGet Lit – Words Ignite unites classic and spoken word poetry to empower youth and inspire communities. By engaging youth in literature in and after school, Get Lit allows teens to become engaged in their own futures and unearth their potential. "Claim your poem, claim your life.”

Alex Gruenenfelder
Larchmont Charter School at La Fayette Park, 14 years old

“Home” by Warsan Shire

Why did you choose your classic poem?
I chose my classic poem, “Home” by Warsan Shire, because I was watching a friend in my Get Lit school poetry unit struggle to work with it. While helping him, I fell in love with the poetry and was captivated by how beautiful it was. My favorite line was actually placed on the back of my poetry team shirt, “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” I thought that was such a brilliant way of addressing issues like that, especially with the 2016 election year and everything going on with Donald Trump. Once I was on the Get Lit team, I immediately knew this poem was the one I wanted to work with even though I didn’t know what my response was going to be to it. Not only did it seem like a great time to be performing this poem, I really connected to it because of all of the politics that were surrounding me at the time. 

What inspired your response poem?
My response, “Goodnight America”, developed after I wrote three different poems. One was called “Border”, which was a short rhyming poem inspired by Donald Trump’s thoughts to build a wall on the border. The other two I don’t remember the names of, but my head coach and English teacher, Mr. Power, told me “Combine these. It will be great if you combine them.” So, I did. The final poem was really inspired by everything happening with Trump and the responses from Cruz, Kasich, and the other candidates who were around at the time. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this is less about party affiliation and which candidate you like, but an American problem. That idea is really what inspired my poem. Unlike the classic poem, which seems to focus more on all the problems with the refugees in the Middle East, my poem focuses on our own immigration problems and the problems with our civilians and racism here in America.

How has the Get Lit program helped you develop and share your poem?
I think the Get Lit program really helped me evolve, whether reciting my classic or writing my response poem. I am actor. I like acting and it was really interesting going inside other specific people and trying to capture that emotion while also going in depth with myself and my own emotion. When I started Get Lit, I was fine with performing in front of an audience. It was opening up about my emotions through my writing that I didn’t want to do but I eventually did and Get Lit really ended up making me very extroverted.

Do you feel like the Get Lit program and poetry as a whole has helped and allowed you to have a voice that you otherwise may not have had?
Get Lit has given me a great voice, especially as a teenager. It has also given me a great political voice in issues of race and immigration. By addressing the topics that I have been able to address in my poetry, such as immigration issues that impact non-white people and this idea that we are creating a racial divide in this country that should not be there, I have been brought into a lot of conversations with a lot of unique people. I am really grateful that I was able to get that experience from Get Lit.

How has Get Lit helped you breakdown borders and stereotypes?
I think Get Lit has helped me breakdown borders and stereotypes that I wasn’t necessarily holding, but ones that I was definitely seeing in the world. While almost everyone in the program is a teenager in High School, the poetry teams are very diverse. Yet, everyone is still talking about the same issues and worried about the same things. So, I think Get Lit really helped because not only was I surrounded by a lot of people who broke down stereotypes, but also because we formed some sort of community with people from diverse backgrounds. For example, when I met people at the poetry slam event, there was an instant connection and bond just because we were both doing poetry and we were both a part of Get Lit. I think that is a great experience and one that everyone should go through because it really does help get rid of stereotypes, prejudices, and those borders that society has created.

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