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AFL in the Schools

The Ekphrasis Project:

Inspired by the Greek word, ekphrasis - 'an artistic description of art', Artists for Literacy now helps teachers inspire the creation of art about books. These activities deepen students' connections and experiences with the literature they are expected to read in class.

A Case Study:  San Francisco's High School of the Arts (SOTA) Adopts AFL's Ekphrasis Project


AFL met with Susan Stauter, Artistic Director of San Francisco Unified School District to offer two 9th-grade English classes 4 weeks of intensive work creating songs inspired by literature. Our goal was to assess how deep artistic engagement with a book can lead to better comprehension, increased critical thinking around the themes of the book, and an overall increase in the desire to finish the book and continue reading other books. Here's a copy of our curriculum for this specific class.

Planting Seeds in Fertile Ground

Our work drew out the artistry of both the students and the teacher (Mr. Keith Carames) at SOTA. Kindred, by Octavia Butler, came alive in the classroom. But don't take our word for it. Read the testimonials from the students themselves. This pilot helped AFL perfect the pedagogy of the Ekphrasis Project. We are now creating teaching modules that will help teachers of students at ALL levels of learning and artistry to benefit from arts-based learning.

Summary of Kindred

In Octavia Butler's novel, Kindred, a modern black woman called Dana, living in Los Angeles in 1976, is thrown backwards in time whenever her white, slave-owning ancestor's life is threatened. Beginning in Rufus' childhood in 1815, she is repeatedly called upon to preserve him, so that she might one day be born. Patterned after slave narratives like those of Frederick Douglass and Harriet A. Jacobs, Kindred gives the reader an immediate experience of slavery and the scars it has inflicted on American society.

“Here Come the Whips and Chains”

Inspired by the novel Kindred by Octavia Butler
© 2004 SOTA / Mr. Carames’ 9th Grade English Class / Period One

Here come the whips and chains / still inflicting timeless pain
Hate on a date with prejudice / so much you can’t measure it
Here come the whips and chains / still inflicting timeless pain
The only thing that changes is the name…
The pain I feel is so unreal

Every time you disappear / I wish that you were here
There was love, there was trust – there was even lust
I am Rufus – I win with a grin
As you cry, I sip gin

One day I look behind
160 years have passed
No one told me “Dana Escape”
I missed the open gate

Here come the whips…
Oh no – my life’s at risk
Call Dana back from ‘76 to make sure I still exist
To keep up the family line
So she can live in her own time

I’m passing through time (which world is yours which world is mine?)
I’m passing through sanity
This feels so unreal but can it be??

Here come the whips and chains...

“It’s Not About Black or White”

Inspired by the novel Kindred by Octavia Butler
© 2004 SOTA / Mr. Carames’ 9th Grade English Class / Period Two

We claim to be a united nation
But all we teach is segregation
Let’s get together (let’s get together..)
Unite our frustration (let’s get together..)

How do we learn to trust
When we come from a world that has been so unjust?

—[spoken] Actions speak louder than words—
Talk about change and you don’t even know it
You preach equality
And you don’t even show it!

But we won’t let our agony keep us down
We’ll show a smile in place of a frown
But our smile doesn’t mean we’re content
cause in our minds everything is bent


Touch of pain / color of my skin / scar of the cane / burning within
Everyone has an understanding of what they think we should beBut justice is about Equality

it’s not about black and white
so many colors mixed in the fight
people so afraid of assimilation
‘cause they know it’s the end of segregation

How can the world hope to heal its wounds with the world afraid of change?