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“Shakespeare was the first MC”

Five Things to know about Devon Glover

When Devon Glover isn’t working as an emcee on Flocabulary projects, he works at an after-school program in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood. In addition, he recently collaborated with a Broadway producer to create The Sonnet Man, a collection of Shakespearean sonnets in hip-hop form. Devon was a math major in college but had to leave a semester before graduation to help his mother and brother with some personal issues. His inspiring story was featured this January on The Today Show.

Devon sat down with Flocabulary this week to tell us Five Things about himself:

1. Tell us about The Sonnet Man project you just worked on. What were the challenges of combining Shakespeare and hip-hop?

While reading a few of Shakespeare’s plays, I found that Shakespeare wrote to a rhythm. His use of iambic pentameter was unbelievable. I believe Shakespeare spoke his own type of slang in his time. Some believe Shakespeare was the first MC: a lot of his characters spoke in rhyme, and his wordplay was great.

A Broadway playwright, Arje Shaw, had the wonderful idea of bringing Shakespeare to schools and theaters, and he began with the smallest of Shakespeare’s works: his sonnets. Due to my experience with Flocabulary and working with students, it was just a great fit for us to work together and form the Sonnet Man. It’s a way to enjoy Shakespeare’s words in music form, and to modernize his words for today. A hip-hop collaboration between the Bard and myself.

2. What advice do you have for students reading Shakespeare for the first time?

Don’t be afraid to form your own thoughts and opinions about his works. There are multiple themes in his plays and poems, so there is a lot you can say. And remember, those words were written in the 1600s. Though the words are beautiful, some may be difficult to understand–some of those words can’t even be found in today’s dictionaries! So take your time. It’ll be worth it.

3. You were recently featured on The Today Show – what was that experience like?

It was a surreal experience. I didn’t know what to expect while sitting on the couch with Kathie Lee and Hoda. I also got to entertain a couple of actors and other guests who watched us rehearse.

4. You’ve lead workshops for Flocabulary to help students develop their voices as poets and spoken word artists. Why do you write rhymes yourself?

I write rhymes for lots of reasons. It’s a way for me to vent out my thoughts-whether it’s happiness or frustration. A lot of music inspires me to write rhymes. My rhymes are like my own journal.

5. What’s something that’s been on your mind recently?

The school system in NYC has been on my mind. I’ve been researching about social promotion (promoting a student because of age) and whether that is good for the student and school system.

Charter schools are also really interesting to me. There are a lot of new charter schools opening throughout Brooklyn-either sharing a building with a public school, or simply taking over. There are a lot of public schools closing down, forcing students to transition to other schools-which I don’t believe is good. In addition to working for Flocabulary, I also work for an afterschool company in a building that has 4 different schools. Each school and company is implementing its own way of teaching. To be honest, I don’t know which system works best. But there are lots of problems that arise when lots of schools share the same building.

The challenges we face in education are intense – but I’m glad to be doing my part to help!