In this webisode, StudentSpeak goes behind the scenes to watch how students at YOUmedia, the Chicago Public Library’s digital space for teens, are using Toni Morrison’s book “A Mercy” to create new media projects around themes of slavery and empowerment.

“It’s been cool to see how a vast array of work has come from this one book,” says 15-year-old Dominique, who recorded her own original poetry based on "A Mercy" in YOUmedia’s recording studio.

Many of YouMedia’s students found personal resonance in the book, which explores racism and slavery in early America. Their work includes everything from digitally designed alternative book covers to audio narratives and spoken word performances in which students reimagine dialogue between characters in the novel.

“To make that connection was just a dream,” said Thaddeus, a 16-year-old musician and producer who’s a regular at YOUmedia’s downtown space at the Harold Washington Library. “To be able to read a book that you wouldn’t normally read, and then it has so much of an effect on you that you can put your own musical emphasis on it.”

Mike Hawkins, the lead mentor at YOUmedia, says the project is important because it can serve as a model for participatory learning and literacy programs.

“Not only are they reading books, but they are making these great projects, these media projects around books,” Hawkins told Spotlight. “The special piece of that, for me, is that it’s something that could be replicated in schools. I hope literacy teachers take heed and open up the doors of what it possible.”

Stay tuned for the next StudentSpeak webisode as YOUmedia teens showcase their projects and record their work to give to the author.

Plus: Morrison this week received the Carl Sandburg Literary Award from the Chicago Public Library and its foundation. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Morrison weighs in on her popularity, libraries and whether people are reading differently since the advent of e-readers: "I think they are. Quicker, faster. I have an iPad, which I love, but there are only certain kinds of books I want for that, books that I don't have to dwell on. I like to write in the margins on books that are more substantial. Perhaps that's an old editing habit."

StudentSpeak, a video series produced by Spotlight, goes behind the scenes to show how teens use digital media in their daily lives. View previous webisodes here: spotlight.macfound.org/btr/category/studentspeak/

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