The DJ as Modern Day Storyteller: Talking About Adam Banks’ Digital Griots

So you think your iPhone, some computer in the classroom, or the Blackboard online platform is just some neutral tool?  In this week’s episode of the READ, WRITE, & TEACH digital book club, I was joined by my colleagues Carmen Kynard and Roseanne Gatto so that we could discuss our reading of Adam J. Banks’ Digital Griots:  African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age.  It’s a book that interests me because as a writer and teacher who hopes to be professionally relevant in the years to come, I believe it’s important to be able to speak into digital spaces.  Early in the podcast Roseanne points us to these lines where Banks describes one of the goals of his text:

This book looks to scratch, to interrupt, to play a while in the grooves of two records–disciplinary conversations about African American rhetoric and those about multimedia writing–to begin to blend and loop them while posing one question:  how can African American rhetorical traditions and practices inform composition’s current endeavors to define, theorize, and practice multimedia writing? 

Adam Banks Digital Griots Kynard Sirc Rice Torgerson Gatto

Digital Griots by Adam Banks

Digital Griots is a call to action for every teacher who isn’t working to enable students  to enter into the digital space in a meaningful way.  This is a text that connects the role of the African griot storyteller to the role of the modern day DJ.  In this podcast you’ll meet my colleague Carmen, who is the director of First Year Writing at St. John’s University.  Carmen is mentioned several times in Digital Griots, including a reference to her article, “Wanted:  Some Black Long Distance [Writers]:  Blackboard Flava Flavin and other Afrodigital Experiences in the Classroom.”

My fellow composition teacher Roseanne wonders if as a white lady she’s got any business bringing a Jay-Z text into the classroom or teaching a hip hop themed course.   She also tells a pretty funny story about the time she and her friend went to a Buju Banton concert and were pretty much the only white people there.  (don’t worry if you don’t know Buju’s stuff; I didn’t either)  I’ll save the “punch line” to the story for those of you who listen to the podcast.  :)

Roseanne and Carmen join Banks’ in his “playful” challenge of Geoffrey Sirc and Jeff Rice.  Banks writes, “And while I see value in both Rice’s and Sirc’s arguments in favor of the ability to play freely in texts and techniques in the writing classroom, their desire to lift, sample, and loop concepts from black traditions freely for their their mere applicability without concern for the culture or context that produced them, the mixtape as rhetorical practice offers composition pedagogy and digital writing theory far more than a whimsical pursuit of the cool.”

Banks’ primary objection is stated here:  “Now how Rice is able to claim that he “invented” a rhetoric of something, much less a rhetoric of the cool (Rhetoric of Cool 5, 113), given Fab’s description and many of the texts he himself cites, I have no idea, though the various traditions he links together in his study of cool help make the book an intriguing one.  My playful rib aside…”  (118-119).  This is a section of the book that Carmen brings into our discussion.

As for myself, Banks’ Digital Griots furthers my understanding of what a POWERPLAY literacy can be.  Language can be used to access power; of course language can be used to oppress and control.  For all the reasons you understand that it’s important to read and write, those same reasons can be applied toward an understanding of how important it is for a writing teacher to help others into digital spaces where they can be heard.

If you’re a teacher or student, I’d like to hear from you about how technology is or is not being used in your classroom.  Do you see technology as a neutral tool that does what you want it to, or do you think that the tool has a lot embedded in it that seeks to direct  or influence you?  If you’re a technology user, especially in a classroom or literacy program, how much of the conversation in Digital Griots is ongoing in the spaces you inhabit?

Thanks to Roger D and C Milli for providing the music!

Some links that might interest you:

You can link to the podcast here or

you can search “Digital Book Club” on iTunes.

Thanks for reading!