Get Lit participants
LA Weekly screenshot

A Los Angeles-based nonprofit is helping local high school students to learn to love and appreciate poetry, and recently turned a group of them into published poets.

Get Lit, founded in 2006 by Diane Luby Lane, is an organization that brings poetry into schools and “fuses classic and spoken word poetry to increase teen literacy and cultivate enthusiastic learners emboldened to inspire social consciousness in diverse communities.”

According to its website, the curriculum crafted by Get Lit is currently taught in almost 100 schools, and is aligned to Common Core standards in both English and performing arts, making a valuable program for both students and teachers.

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Luby started her program in two high schools in Los Angeles, but the program has since grown to incorporate more schools, a professional performance troupe comprised of high school students who have participated in the program, a drop-in program on Saturdays for youth to hone their writing and performance skills, and a leadership program for graduates of the original program that go on to college.

Luby told LA Weekly that it wasn’t easy getting her program into Los Angeles schools.  

“Schools will say, ‘You don’t know our students, they’re not gonna like this stuff,’” Lane said. “And they did. They did! It makes me so angry because we decide, ‘Well, if you’re going to go to classes, you better bring hip-hop here because that’s what the kids like.’ We just dumb stuff down.”

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Lane told LA Weekly that while she sees the significance of acknowledging contemporary work, Get Lit is about exploring how timeless pieces of poetry can be brought into modern conversation; kids know Kendrick Lamar, and they should know Walt Whitman as well.

“It’s just that it’s all good, and it’s all vital, and we shouldn’t decide what certain kinds of people are going to like,” Lane said.

In October, the nonprofit published a book by the Get Lit Players titled “Get Lit Rising,” telling the stories of nineteen teen poets including teens who are homeless, autistic, have parents in jail, battle with weight and body issues and more, and how they are using poetry to “pursue lives of promise and to reach out to friends, families and communities.”

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Lane told LA Weekly that the Get Lit program has impacted schools in various Los Angeles neighborhoods, reaching the “richest kids possible,” as well as “students that don’t speak any English.”

The Get Lit website notes some scary educational statistics including the fact that 1 in 4 children in America group up illiterate; the state of California is ranked 46 out of 50 in teen literacy; and the Los Angeles Unified School District has a 34 percent dropout rate.

To that end, the nonprofit’s mission statement speaks for why it is here:

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“We use poetry to increase literacy, empower youth, and inspire communities.”

Read more at LA Weekly and the Get Lit website.