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Language Arts / Theater / Film

1. Web Sites: Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English (BCTE), folk tales, digital texts, biography, poetry, African Languages, Harlem Renaissance, Ebonics resources, and film history.

2. Lesson Plans & Discussion Guides

3. Books Book selection guides, biography, anthologies

4. Posters (Opens a new pages)

5. Videos: Many with guides

6. Spoken Word CDs: Don't just talk about James Weldon Johnson...listen to him!

7. Reading Events: African American Read-in, Poetry Week and more.

 

Web Sites

Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English

Recommended book lists, events and support.

African Languages

"What language do they speak in Africa?" This site provides resources for the many languages spoken across the continent.

Deep In The Bush

"The stories used in this lesson were collected by the author while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia, West Africa. They have been kid- tested and approved around the world with students from kindergarten through grade eight."

Literature and Life: The Givens Collection, PBS Online

Explore the rich variety of African-American literature in these five chapters, beginning with the poetry and slave narratives of the late 18th century and culminating in the work of vital contemporary artists. Includes texts, online study guide and other resources.

Gale's Synopsis of Selected Literary Works: Black History Month

Brief plot summaries of thirty-five works by contemporary and historical African American writers.

Writing Black: Texts & Resources on the Web

Thirty-five historical and contemporary authors represented, with links to texts and interviews online

Women of Color, Women of Words

African American women playwrights. This content-rich site is difficult to navigate because it lacks descriptive text links. Scroll your icon over the keypad to the right, and the destination will appear in your location bar. For example

Biographies: African American Women Writers of the 19th Century
Digital Schomburg Collection

Biographies of 37 writers. This site also contains texts.

Academy of American Poets

You can search this site by poet's name (for biographical information) or by poem title (for texts.) In some cases, the poems are also available as sound files.

Modern American Poetry
A Multimedia Companion to Anthology of Modern American Poetry. Oxford UP, 2000.
Site provided by Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Biographical notes, chronologies, photographs, illustrations, interviews and excerpts from primary and secondary sources. Includes the following African American poets:
Amiri Baraka 1934-
Gwendolyn Bennet 1902-1981
Arna Bontemps 1902-1973
Gwendolyn Brooks 1917-
Lucille Clifton 1936 -
Rita Dove 1952 -
Countee Cullen 1903-1946
Paul Laurence Dunbar 1872-1906
Alice Moore Dunbar-Nelson 1875-1935
Angelina Weld Grimke 1880-1958
Robert Hayden 1913-1980
Langston Hughes 1902 - 1967
Georgia Douglas Johnson 1880 - 1966
James Weldon Johnson 1871 - 1938
Audre Lorde 1934 - 1992
Claude McKay 1890 - 1948
Thylias Moss 1954 -
Harryette Mullin
Ishmael Reed 1938 -
Anne Spencer 1882 -1975
Jean Toomer 1894 - 1967
Margaret Walker 1915 - 1998
Richard Right 1908 - 1960

Selected Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance

Full texts of poetry & prose, and images by Harlem Renaissance writers and artists, in addition to a resource guide to selected women writers of the Harlem Renaissance. An online discussion group about the Harlem Renaissance.

Charles W. Chesnutt Digital Archives at Berea College

Chesnutt, one of the first black writers, was raised in Fayetteville, NC, and based his stories on plantation tales of the region.

Ebonics Resources Online

An annotated list of links to web sites and online articles related to the Ebonics debate. Maintained by the USC Center for Multilingual Multicultural Research.

Writings on the "Ebonics" Issue since 1996

Full-text of his articles and links to related sites on Black or African American Vernacular English.

African Americans in Motion Pictures, The Past and The Present

Timeline, biographies, and an extensive bibliography by topic, actor and film. (No images)

Midnight Ramble

Images and stories of black films ("race movies") from WWI to the 1940's.

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Lesson Plans & Discussion Guides

African American Literature in Art
Art Institute of Chicago: Art Access
High School, Estimated Time: 2 class periods. Does not require student internet access

"Students compare art and literature by examining a contemporary painting by Glenn Ligon and the essay by James Baldwin that inspired it. Students then write an essay about a personal experience that relates to the theme of being an "outsider."

Black Poetry in Motion
School District of Philadelphia African American Studies
Grades 5-8, 3-4 Lessons
Does not require student internet access

Introduces children to the work of various African American poets, encourages them to interpret the poetry through story, song, art or other presentation.

Exploring the Underground Railroad Through Literature
School District of Philadelphia African American Studies
Grades 5-8, 3-4 Units
Does not require student internet access

Students compare and contrast several fictional and non-fictional accounts from the Underground Railroad era, and create their own works.

What's in a Quote?
School District of Philadelphia African American Studies
Grades 5-8, 3-4 Units
Does not require student internet access

Students use quotes by important African Americans, to increase their understanding of how the quotes relate to both the historical times and their personal lives today.

From Remus to Rap: A History in Theory and Practice of African-American Storytelling
Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
Grades 6-12
Does not require student internet access

"The unit traces the development, in form and content, of the African-American storytelling tradition. Beginning with the folktales told by the slaves and continuing through to the contemporary phenomena of Rap, a close examination will be made as to why these stories were told and what they hoped to achieve."

African-American Poets Past and Present: A Historical View
Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
Does not require student internet access

The stated age level for this very comprehensive plan is grades 2-5, but I include it because it provides an excellent foundation (background, bibliography) and would be easily adapted for middle school or older. (And I think "2-5 "is probably a typo!)

Critical Thinking: Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream"
AskEric
Grade Level(s): 9, 10, 11, 12
Does not require student internet access

Includes background information on the Civil Rights Movement. "The lesson has individual sections divided into vocabulary development, rhetorical structures (figures of speech), understanding the speech, relating to the speech, and an optional opportunity for students to record the speech."

Ralph Ellison: Invisible Man
PBS American Masters
Grade Level(s) 11-12
Student Internet access helpful, but not required.

In The Invisible Man ,Ralph Ellison wrote about the experience of being ignored, bringing to light a powerful meditation on race and social structure. This novel was included in the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, in the top 20. Being an outsider, being outcast, being ignored - all are feelings most people can relate to. Ellison related this personal experience to a greater societal structure, using characters and imagery to do so. In this lesson plan, students will use similar tools to explore the theme of invisibility in the book, in their own lives, and in their communities.

Coretta Scott King Award Books

Presented annually for the past 30 years to author and illustrators of African descent, these award books represent a rich collection.

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Books

Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English

Recommended reading lists, events and support.

Black History in the Pages of Children's Literature. Rose Casement. Scarecrow Press, 2007. Available at Amazon.com

Author Rose Casement provides a complete historical timeframe from pre-colonization to the present, with chapters specifically covering the colonization of North America, the years of slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the role African Americans played in westward expansion, the Jim Crow years, and contemporary stories that depict the present. Accompanying each chapter's bibliography are notations as to the recommended grade levels for the books presented. A glossary of terms and an index are also provided for clarification and easy access to specific areas of study.

Black Books Galore! Guide to Great African American Children's Books. Donna Rand, Toni Trent Parker, Sheila Foster. New York: Wiley, 1998. Amazon.com

Insightful reviews of 500 books, categorized by age and ability. Includes information about language, such as whether a book uses dialect or contains "The N word."

Black Books Galore!: Guide to More Great African American Children's Books by Donna Rand and Toni Trent Parker. New York: Wiley, 2001. Amazon.com

Reviews of 400 more books, plus reading plans for historical events, major holidays, and seasons. Includes a listing of award winners, and related web sites.

 

Hine, Darlene Clark, ed. Facts on File Encyclopedia of Black Women in America: Literature. New York: Facts on File, 1997. (Middle School - Adult.) Read more at Amazon.com

Hine, Darlene C. and Kathleen Thompson, editors. Facts on File Encyclopedia of Black Women in America, Volume IX: Theater Arts and Entertainment. Edited by Darlene C. Hine and Kathleen Thompson. Facts on File 1997. (Middle School - Adult.) Read more at Amazon.com

Haskins, Jim. Toni Morrison: The Magic of Words. Brookfield CT: Millbrook Press, 2001. (Grades 4-8) Read more at Amazon.com

Toni Morrison became the first African-American woman to win any Nobel Prize and the first African-American to win the Nobel Prize in literature. This book chronicles her life and times, and in some ways is more about those times than her life.

 

 Audible.com has related audiobooks, including Say It Plain: A Century of Great African-American Speeches.
Get one audiobook free! (Search keywords "black" or "African American")

Gable, Craig, Editor. Ebony Rising: Short Fiction of the Greater Harlem Renaissance Era. Indiana University Press, 2004. (High School -Adult) Order at Amazon.com

I like everything about this collection: the fact that it encompasses 52 stories covering over 27 years and a wide variety of content and styles; is gender balanced; presents works by both the famous and the lesser knowns beyond the actual boundaries of New York (plus lesser-known stories by the famous); and its chronological arrangement that allows the era to "grow." With the help of the author's preface, I dove right into the stories not previously anthologized, like Mercedes Gilbert's hilarious "Why Adam Ate the Apple" (with the memorable line "He started to rave, and jes' raised Cain.") I was not disappointed. Additional useful resources include a history of the era and a checklist of common issues, topics and plot components. This indispensable resource for the study of American literature belongs on every library shelf.

Sullivan, Charles ed. Children of Promise: African-American Literature and Art for Young People. New York: Harry Abrams, 2001. (Middle School) Read more at Amazon.com

Claiming 100 poems, folk songs and literary excerpts along with 80 color and b/w illustrations, this book presents an attractive and appealing introduction for children. It provides brief biographical notes (1-2 sentence) and many of the poems and prose are simply snippets, but it's designed to whet the appetite for something more, something it does admirably.

Dance, Daryl Cumber. From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore. . New York: Norton, 2002. Read more at Amazon.com

Rumors, riddles, superstitions, recipes, song lyrics, sermons, art objects (quilts, tramp art) and stories. An anthology of folklore and commentary on African-American culture by the likes of Frederick Douglass, Jelly Roll Morton and Jacqui Malone.

Gates, Henry Louis Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, editors. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. New York: Norton, 1997. Includes an audio CD of some selections. Read more at Amazon.com

Covers six periods of black history: slavery and freedom; Reconstruction; the Harlem Renaissance; Realism, Naturalism and Modernism; the Black Arts Movement and post-1970s. In addition to expected works like poetry, short fiction, novels and drama, it includes (and therefore recognizes as part of the "canon") oral tradition in both music and spoken word: from spirituals to rap, from folktales to sermons.

Hamilton, Virginia.The People Could Fly : The Book of Black Folktales. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. New York: Random House, 2000. Ages 9-12 .Amazon

24 stories of Bruh Rabbit and Bruh Bear, He Lion, Tar Baby, magicians, slaves and free people. This new edition includes a CD featuring eleven selections, some read by actor James Earl Jones.

Hudson, Wade & Cheryl Willis Hudson. In Praise of Our Fathers and Our Mothers: A Black Family Treasury by Outstanding Authors and Artists.. East Orange, NJ: Just Us, 1997. (Middle-High School) Amazon.com

This is a personal and inspiring anthology of poetry, essays, interviews, photographs and paintings from nearly fifty contemporary African American writers and artists. A celebration of the strength and resiliance of the African American family.

Rollins, Charlemae Hill (Compiler), Ashley Bryan (Illustrator). Christmas Gif': An Anthology of Christmas Poems, Songs, and Stories Written by and About African-Americans . New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1993. (Middle School) Available at Amazon.com Amazon.com

This joyful classic first published in 1963 includes the work of Paul Laurence Dunbar, Zora Neale Hurston, and Langston Hughes, now augmented with forty-five beautiful linoleum-block illustrations. Thirty-five entries, including songs, poems and recipes.

Sullivan, Charles, ed. Children of Promise: African American Literature and Art. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991. Middle School. Read more at Amazon.com

An illustrated introduction to the art and literature by and about (ie. all the authors are not black) African Americans. Includes nearly 100 poems, songs, and text excerpts, 80 historical photographs and reproductions of paintings and sculpture by well-known African-American artists.

Wideman, John Edgar. My Soul Has Grown Deep: Classics of Early African American Literature. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2001. Read more at Amazon.com

12 complete texts based upon original editions, with biographical essays. Includes selections from "Poems on Various Subjects" by Phillis Wheatley and "Lyrics of Lowly Life" by Paul Laurance Dunbar.

 

Haskins, James. Black Theater in America. New York: Crowell, 1982. Middle School. Out of Print but used copies available at Amazon.com

Surveys the contributions of black performers and playwrights in drama, comedy and music from pre-Civil War to the present.

 

Perry, Theresa and Lisa Delpit, editors. The Real Ebonics Debate: Power, Language, and the Education of African-American Children. Boston: Beacon, 1998. (High-School - Adult) Read more at Amazon.com

This collection is a common-sense look at the the issue of Ebonics, and a must-read for any teacher of African-American children or for anyone who loves language.

Contrary to media frenzy and popular belief, the Oakland school board did not pass a resolution in 1996 requiring that Ebonics, or Black English, be taught in place of Standard English. It did, however, pass a resolution recognizing what linguists had known for years: that Ebonics, like Spanish or German, is not defective English but a valid linguistic system following precise rules of grammar. It also recognized that while students speaking Ebonics need to learn Standard English to attain success in mainstream American society, to do so they must be treated with the same respect as any student who enters the classroom speaking a different language or dialect. Instead, they are often dismissed as lazy or stupid.

Rickford, John Russell. Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English. NY: Wiley, 2000. (High School - Adult) Read more at Amazon.com

The subject of Ebonics generally sparks a knee-jerk reaction. This books attempts to lift the subject out of the political realm and into the more appropriate realms of literature, language and culture. It provides a well-researched and detailed account of how "Black English" evolved from African languages, and dispels the myth that it is simply "substandard English."

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Video

Children's Stories From Africa: DVD Monterey Video 2000.115 minutes Available at Amazon.com

Nandi Nyembe tells 12 stories on a stage of an African hut. The stories are built around the age-old tales of African wildlife: wart hogs, monkeys, crocodiles, and the like. These tales teach simple morals: the dangers of greed, the importance of picking your friends, following your heart. Only a few still pictures accompany each story--the heart of this program is our vivacious storyteller.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears...and More Stories from Africa. DVD Scholatic Video Collection, 2004. 61 minutes. Available at Amazon.com

Adapted from the Caldecott Honor Book By Verna Aardema, Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, Narrated by James Earl Jones. A tall tale sets off a chain of mishaps in the jungle. Will the jungle creatures ever get the story straight? A STORY, A STORY Adapted from the Caldecott Honor Book By Gail E. Haley. Once, all the stories in the world belonged to Nyanme, the Sky God. He kept them in a box beside his throne. But Ananse, the Spider Man, wanted them - and caught three sly creatures to get them. WHO'S IN RABBIT'S HOUSE? By Verna Aardema, Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, Narrated by James Earl Jones. Rabbit has a problem - someone is inside her house and won't let her in. Can the leopard, rhino or elephant help Rabbit get in her house?

Ethnic Notions. Producer/Director: Marlon Riggs. 56 minutes, 1987. Widely available at libraries, or order at California Newsreel .

This Emmy Award-winning documentary takes viewers on a 150-year journey through ethnic stereotypes. Clips from cartoons, feature films, advertisements, household objects and even children's rhymes introduce us to the dehumanizing caricatures of black people which are still buried in our national psyche: Loyal Toms, happy Sambos, faithful Mammies, grinning Coons, savage Brutes, and wide-eyed Pickaninnies. Watch this and you'll have a greater understanding of Spike Lee's film Bamboozled. (Read about Bamboozled at Amazon.com)

Sister Becky's Baby

This 30 minute video includes lessons plans. $25.00, . VHS, Color.

"Sister Becky's Baby" is one of the stories from Charles W. Chesnutt's THE CONJURE WOMAN. Chesnutt, one of the first black writers, was raised in Fayetteville, NC, and based his stories on plantation tales of the region. "Sister Becky's Baby" tells the story of a young woman whose baby is sold away; mother and child are reunited by the magic of the local conjure woman. Charles W. Chesnutt Archives at Berea College.

Richard Wright: Black Boy. PBS Video, 1995 . 90 minutes
Available for purchase from California Newsreel

"RICHARD WRIGHT- BLACK BOY is the first full-length documentary portrait of the life, work, and legacy of renowned author Richard Wright. Born outside Natchez, Mississippi in 1908, Wright overcame a childhood of poverty and oppression to become one of America's most influential writers."

Small Steps, Big Strides: The Black Experience in Hollywood (1903-1970). Directed by Velma Cato. Videocassette. American Movie Classics, 1997. 56 minutes. Available at Amazon.com

Did you know that over 1.5 million mourners turned out for the funeral of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson? Or that when Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Gone With the Wind, her acceptance speech was written by the studio? Fascinating archival footage mixed with contemporary interviews tells the story of African Americans in Hollywood -from 1903 to 1970. It also explores some of the images that others, like D.W. Griffith, created of them. It examines the careers of Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Lena Horne, Stepin Fetchit, Paul Robeson, and many others, placing them within the social and historical context of the times. It's great fun to watch and appropriate for any age group...it sent me racing to the video store for a copy of Stormy Weather!

Stormy Weather. Twentieth Century Fox, 1943. 78 minutes. Available on video at Amazon.com

This is a rare big studio film which featured an all-black cast. Like any hollywood musical of the era, the plot is paper thin and primarily serves as an excuse to showcase song and dance numbers. But what a fantastic show it is! Lena Horne, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Ada Brown, the incomparable Nicholas Brothers...they're all here and more in a script that doesn't reduce them to stereotypes. Since the story begins right after WWI, a special treat is the incorporation of actual rare footage of Jim Europe's 369th "Hell Fighters" Infantry Band marching triumphantly in New York City.

Voices & Visions: Langston Hughes, The Dream Keeper. Directed by St. Clair Bourne. Videocassette. PBS, 1999. Read more at Amazon.com

"The prodigious writer achieved distinction in poetry, fiction and drama about the Black American experience. In the film, Hughes (in archival footage) discusses the importance of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s in his artistic development. Musical influences are dramatically reflected in a performance of "Listen Here Blues" and in jazz and gospel sequences. Author James Baldwin discusses how the loneliness depicted in Hughes' work finally overtook the man himself."

Zora Neale Hurston: Jump At the Sun (American Masters) PBS 2008. Amazon.com

"The first definitive feature-length biography about Zora Neale Hurston was broadcast on PBS' American Masters series to wide acclaim across America." (I haven't seen it yet.) Teacher resources at PBS.

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Spoken Word CDs

 Audible.com has related audiobooks, including Say It Plain: A Century of Great African-American Speeches.
Get one audiobook free! (Search keywords "black" or "African American")

Every Tone a Testimony: A Smithsonian Folkways African American Aural History. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2001. 2 CDs, plus booklet with extensive notes. Read more at Amazon.com or Download this album or individual tracks free at eMusic!

Highly Recommended! 59 tracks (nearly two and a half hours) of material drawn from the Smithsonian Folkways archive, organized to create a history of African American life and culture in sound. It presents music, poetry, oratory and prose by historically renowned African American musicians, writers and activists spanning two centuries.

Includes Langston Hughes, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B.Du Bois, Margaret Walker, the Fisk Jubliee Singers, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Robeson, Muddy Waters, the SNCC Freedom Singers , Martin Luther King, Jr, Angela Davis, Nikki Giovanni, and Arrested Development. Writers who predate recorded sound are also represented by historical recordings; for example, Arna Bontemps reads writings of Lucy Terry, Ruby Dee reads Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. (I was impressed with the equal representation of women throughout the project.)

Folk tracks trace the development of African American music: for example, there's a "field call" by Annie Grace Horn Dodson, and a "complaint call" by Enoch Brown. Percy Randolph performs a shoe shining song, and the Inmates Of Ramsey Retrieve State Farms perform a work song.

As if that's not enough for under $25, it also includes an extensive booklet with supplemental material.

An Anthology of African American Poetry for Young People. Read by Arna Bontemps. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. Available on CD from Folkways, or Download it free at eMusic!

Poems by Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay highlight this compilation. Chosen for their ability to engage and entertain children, the selections are drawn from Bontemps's well-known book, Golden Slippers.

Our Souls Have Grown Deep Like the Rivers: Black Poets Read Their Work. WEA/Rhino, 2000.
2 CDs plus booklet with detailed citations and background information. Read more or listen to samples at Amazon.com

Seventy-five poems and commentary read by the authors, some including brief introductions. What a thrill to hear the voice of James Weldon Johnson, recorded in 1935! Most of the works have not been released previously. Doesn't include lyrics, but most of the poems are found in anthologies, or you can search for them online at Academy of American Poets.

Includes: Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Claude McKay, James Weldon Johnson, Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, Melvin B. Tolson, Sterling Brown, Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, Wole Soyinka, Etheridge Knight, Amiri Baraka, Colleen J. McElroy, Lucille Clifton, Jayne Cortex, Wanda Coleman, Al Young, Quincy Troupe, Nikki Giovanni, Marilyn Nelson Waniek, Yusef Komunyakaa, Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Michael S. Harper, Ishmael Reed, Sonia Sanchez, Mbembe Milton Smith, E. Ethelbert Miller, Rita Dove, Rueben Jackson, Allison Johnson, Kevin Young, Anthony Butts, Public Enemy, Tracie Morris, Saul Stacey Williams, Carl Hancock Rux.

The Voice of Langston Hughes. Smithsonian Folkways, 1995. Read more or listen to samples at Amazon.com.

Twenty-one poems read by the author, including "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" and "Breath of a Spiritual."

Gates, Henry Louis Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, editors. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. New York: Norton, 1997. Includes an audio CD of some selections. Read more at Amazon.com

Covers six periods of black history: slavery and freedom; Reconstruction; the Harlem Renaissance; Realism, Naturalism and Modernism; the Black Arts Movement and post-1970s. In addition to expected works like poetry, short fiction, novels and drama, it includes (and therefore recognizes as part of the "canon") oral tradition in both music and spoken word: from spirituals to rap, from folktales to sermons.

Hamilton, Virginia.The People Could Fly : The Book of Black Folktales. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. New York: Random House, 2000. Ages 9-12 .Amazon

24 stories of Bruh Rabbit and Bruh Bear, He Lion, Tar Baby, magicians, slaves and free people. This new edition includes a CD featuring eleven selections, some read by actor James Earl Jones.

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Reading Events

African American Read-In

Sign up to read literature by black authors on the first Sunday or Monday in February! You can download a packet and recommended reading lists at the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English Sponsored by the Black Caucus of the NCTE with the endorsement of The International Reading Association.

National Children's Book Week

Sponsored by the Children's Book Council. Celebrated annually since 1919, the week before Thanksgiving.

 

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