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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Anthropology


Tiffany Jones

Congratulations on being named a Research Fellow of the Institute for African American Research!

Many scholars have responded to the denigration of African American Language (AAL) by highlighting the ingenuity embedded in African American Verbal Art Traditions (VATs) (Smitherman 1977, Rickford and Rickford 2000, Green 2002). As these poetic skills are celebrated both inside and outside of the community, such work forges a positive depiction of AAL and its speakers. However, this scholarship has yet to show how one achieves poetic proficiency and ‘insiderness.’ This research will document the path to cultural competence in one verbal art form. By using (auto)ethnographic methods, I will immerse myself in a tight-knit Spoken Word community, a D.C. chain known as Busboys & Poets. This site is one of the few dedicated solely to Spoken Word socialization (i.e., where virgin poets are groomed) and artistry authentication (where virtuous poets practice, showcase, and validate their skills). Having access to record live events, interview/shadow poets, and undergo mentorship as a novice poet, my work will observe artists’ transition from virgin to the virtuous and culminate with producing the first ethnographic film dedicated to Spoken Word. This study serves as scholastic advocacy for all AAL VATs while applying broadly to Linguistic Anthropology, a discipline that investigates performance as ‘belonging.’