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The Room Is On Fire: The History, Pedagogy, and Practice of Youth Spoken Word Poetry

reviewed by Aaliyah Baker - December 20, 2018

coverTitle: The Room Is On Fire: The History, Pedagogy, and Practice of Youth Spoken Word Poetry
Author(s): Susan Weinstein
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: B07DFRZRZL, Pages: 210, Year: 2018
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Susan Weinstein’s The Room is on Fire: The History, Pedagogy, and Practice of Youth Spoken Word Poetry is uniquely positioned to reach a wide audience in higher education and beyond. The author explores youth spoken word poetry through a sociocultural lens, focusing on how this art form is rooted in the analysis of and resistance to power and privilege. This book is likely one of the first of its kind to chronicle the history of youth spoken word poetry as a conceptual framework for critical pedagogy and consciousness-raising. If the goal of education is to think critically about pedagogy and within frameworks for understanding collective struggle, this book is certainly an important contribution. It can be used to connect theory to practice for practitioners, scholars, and students.


In Chapter One, entitled “Who’s Who,” Weinstein takes the necessary approach of defining youth spoken word teaching artists as critical scholars, “critical to their own self-definition as socially and politically engaged individuals for whom effecting real change is a deeply felt personal need” (p. 6). The attempt to define who’s who in the field and practice of youth spoken word poetry provides an important conceptual overview of teaching for social justice. Chapter Two offers a unique, nuanced exploration of the pedagogy and practice of youth spoken word poetry. Included in the beginning of this chapter is the spoken word performance entitled “Somewhere in America,” which pulls the reader into the realm of vulnerability and critical reflection.

Chapters Three and Four bring awareness to levels of momentum and interruption in a field deeply rooted in the consciousness of marginalized populations. While I can appreciate the inclusion of the branch of knowledge dealing with the epistemology and chronology of events, the conflicts highlighted in Chapter Four could potentially bring the reader to a sudden halt, derailing the enthusiasm generated by the previous chapters. Nonetheless, the significance of the history and origins of spoken word poetry as described in these chapters can foster profound reflection on the theoretical and interpretive frameworks of language, literacy, and power. Overall, these chapters provide an excellent synopsis of some of the challenges in the field, but may fall short in offering an adequate explanation of power and privilege differentials based on racialized notions of the other.

Chapter Five works to dispel misconceptions about poetry slams while emphasizing the need to maintain the sacredness of the experience in the absence of commercialization. Also included is a powerful description of the experience of spoken word as expressed by spoken word youth poets themselves. Subsequently, Chapter Six brings the reader to the present day and describes sustaining practices that are necessary for supporting spoken word youth artists.

The validation of language as a cultural attribute can play a role in developing critical consciousness and empathy towards cultural diversity, thus promoting culturally responsive practices. In The Room is on Fire, Weinstein invites us to become aware of the scholarship on and implications of a practice grounded in collective struggle. This book makes a significant contribution to an otherwise understudied phenomenon in language, culture, and social and political power.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 20, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22616, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 9:04:56 PM

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About the Author
  • Aaliyah Baker
    Cardinal Stritch University
    E-mail Author
    AALIYAH BAKER is an assistant professor in the College of Education and Leadership at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, WI. She began her career in education as a classroom teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. Her research interests include critical race theory, multicultural education, sociocultural theories of learning, and the role of race, class, and gender in educational achievement and experiences in schools. Dr. Baker has conducted research within the scope of education, society, culture, and learning in Morocco and South Africa as a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant recipient. She has published in the Wisconsin English Journal and has presented her research findings at national and international academic conferences. Dr. Baker maintains strong partnerships with K-12 schools by developing and supporting curriculum and instruction that meets the increasingly diverse needs of students and identifies pedagogical practices that build capacity for cultural competence and humility.
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