Students filled the Dodge Conference Room Monday night to listen to Seth Harwood speak about the first-year student summer reading assignment, The Beautiful Struggle. Instead of going in depth about the concept of a “beautiful struggle,” Harwood discussed the chapter titles in an event called “The Beautiful Music” to a room full of English and writing students.
Harwood was not always into writing. He was an economics major at Washington University in Saint Louis. He then went on to take classes in creative writing, which inspired him to get his MFA at the University of Iowa.
What made the discussion so unique on Monday night was talking about every song and rapper referenced in the book throughout the eight chapters. Every chapter’s title in the book was lyrics from a rap or hip hop song from the late ’80s or early ’90s. Harwood discussed how during this time period, Rap and Hip Hop had just started to evolve. This was the same time period that the main character and author, Ta-Nehisi Coates, had started to evolve too. In The Beautiful Struggle, Coates explained the struggles of growing up in Baltimore.
“The music that gets reflected in the chapter titles shows a parallel line of the education that this boy went through, moving through the knowledge of the streets, to the consciousness that his father is trying to push on him through these books,” Harwood said.
He discussed how the rappers had gone through struggles in their life, and these struggles related to Coates. Every rapper had a different style, and the lyrics used as the chapters’ title gave a preview for what the chapter was about.
Not everyone who read The Beautiful Struggle the first time picked up all the song references. Harwood was able to notice the references while watching his wife read the book on the plane. He looked over and saw that the chapter titles reminded him of the songs he grew up listening to.
“I got 7 out of 8. Basically I grew up listening to these songs like crazy in high school and junior high. I could probably recite all the songs from memory pretty well,” Harwood said.
This inspired Harwood to read the book to see how the music connected to the chapters.
After attending the presentation, freshman Michelle Erlikh said she didn’t understand what the chapter titles meant at first but “it was cool and interesting that Ta-Nehisi Coates used lyrics from Rap and Hip-Hop that he listened to growing up, it helped me understand the book more.”
Whether students attended the presentation to discuss music or attended to understand the book more, everyone left the Dodge Conference room with a better understanding about the struggle of growing up a black male in the city of Baltimore.