‘Sonnet Man’ turns Shakespeare’s rhymes into rap

Devon Glover, aka Sonnet Man, performs Shakespeare’s sonnets and soliloquies verbatim, set to hip-hop music, and then translates those words into our modern language. (Photo: Mark Williamson/Stratford Herald)

TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT 

SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT

How does a guy growing up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn with limited resources become a globe-trotting performer? Determination and Shakespeare, of course. 

Devon Glover (a.k.a. The Sonnet Man) was rapping when he was still at the Boys and Girls High School in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood. Glover was good at math, and with the help of the principal at Boys and Girls, was able to get into Ithaca College in upstate New York on a scholarship to study computer science. 

But Devon kept on rapping, partially to make ends meet. He appeared on Ithaca College’s student-run television station, on the radio, for the football team, and in clubs in and around Ithaca. 

The town itself was fairly liberal about racial issues, but the campus (with African-Americans totaling only 3% of the student body) was less lenient. In response, an ever-positive Glover turned to teaching children, both in public schools and privately. He found his niche, changed his major to math education, and being in the classroom is still one of his favorite places to be. 

But fate would call on him serendipitously when he was back in Brooklyn. It was a woman: Melissa Guttman. 

Guttman worked with Arje Shaw, a Broadway producer and director best known for “The Gathering.” Shaw had a pet project of setting Shakespeare’s sonnets to music, and had tried using jazz, but wasn’t satisfied with the results. Enter Devon. The three worked closely together in the studio and Sonnet Man was born. 

Since those early days, Glover has been working steadily. He was featured on “The Today Show,” MSNBC, BBC and NPR, and at Shakespeare Festivals all over the world. His debut video, “Hip-Hop Hamlet,” was selected for the Shakespeare Short Film Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon. Then there was the Sonnet Marathon, where Glover rapped all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets in succession, in the United States, United Kingdom, and Morocco, as part of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday celebrations. 

Glover has other exciting projects in the wings. He will be writing a screenplay about the Briggs vs. Elliot Supreme Court case (the first of five cases that collectively became known as Brown v. Board of Education) that challenged segregation of public schools in South Carolina. He will also be working on a rap version of Romeo and Juliet, as well as a children’s book. 

Glover appeared on the Southern Shakespeare Festival stage in 2015 and 2016, and continues to teach intensives in Leon County Schools. He is also a Guest Artist teaching at the Thomasville Center for the Arts. In addition, he will be playing Touchstone in this year’s production of “As You Like It,” and will read the winning sonnets during the Sonnet Contest presentation on Saturday, May 13. 

IF YOU GO
What: Southern Shakespeare Festival presents “As You Like It” 
When: 8 p.m. Friday, May 12, and Saturday, May 13; 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 14
Where: Capital City Amphitheater/Cascades Park, 1001 South Gadsden Street
Cost: Free 
http://www.tallahassee.com/story/entertainment/2017/05/09/sonnet-man-turns-shakespeares-rhymes-into-rap/101474352//