Brother authors

A summer writing institute for adolescent black males based at UIC is advancing literacy around the country.

Scholastic Inc. recently launched “On the Record,” a middle-school school curriculum developed by Alfred Tatum, director of the UIC Reading Clinic. Last year, Scholastic published Tatum’s “ID,” a writing curriculum for high school.

Tatum based both programs on the principles of his African American Adolescent Male Summer Literacy Institute, featured last fall in a PBS special, “Too Important to Fail,” by journalist Tavis Smiley.

Each summer, Tatum selects 15 male students aged 12 through 17 for the month-long workshop. He chooses students of varying achievement levels for their love of writing and empowers them to mentor each other as “brother authors.”

Now in its fifth year, the institute has another mentor in Preston Davis, a 2009 alumnus of the institute who is majoring in illustration at Northern Illinois University.

Tatum gives each student 15 books that “demonstrate the range of writings by African American males who shaped America’s imagination of itself and broadened the roles of black males across the landscape,” he said.

In recent years, his choices have included Black Boy by Richard Wright, The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer.

“I use the texts to show the power of writing prudently and unapologetically to mark one’s life and times. Students are then challenged to write for the benefit of others and themselves,” Tatum said.

Previous classes have traveled to Harlem, where young-adult novelist Walter Dean Myers critiqued their work. They have learned from visitors like Derrick Barnes, popular children’s book author, and Clinton Smith, spoken word poet.

“Violence turns up in their writing, but I want to nurture resilience,” Tatum said.

“We ground our writing on four platforms: defining self, nurturing resilience, engaging others and building capacity.”

Writings by Tatum and current students can be read online.

Support for the institute comes from Scholastic Inc.

Excerpts from Tatum’s appearance on “Tavis Smiley Reports: Too Important to Fail” are available online.