Sorrow Is Not My Name

by Ross Gay

Photo by Natasha Komoda

Writing Workshop

Workshop Title: Not My Name

Step 1

Ask your students, “How do you deal with sorrow? What ways do you cope? How do you feel about the emotion in general?” Then give them time to discuss.

Step 2

Read “Sorrow Is Not My Name” by Ross Gay. When you’re done, briefly discuss the speaker’s thoughts and attitude toward “sorrow.”

Step 3

Say, “Choose an emotion, preferably one that is generally considered “negative” or “harmful.” Then come up with a list of ways the emotion manifests itself and a list of ways in which it can be overcome.” Then give your students a few minutes to brainstorm.

Step 4

Have your students compose a poem similar in sentiment to “Sorrow Is Not My Name” in which they focus on a specific emotion and discuss how it can be differently perceived and/or approached.

Step 5

When the students are done, have them share their responses with one another.

The full presentation may be found HERE.

Analytical Lesson

Area of Focus: Various

Step 1

This lesson allows students to analyze various concepts and skills, so it is recommended that you have covered several of the “standalone” lessons before assigning this one.

Step 2

Start by simply reading “Sorrow Is Not Your Name” by Ross Gay. As you’re reading, ask your students to pay attention to the poetic elements and techniques the poet uses to convey his message about sorrow.

Step 3

Then read “To the Young Who Want to Die” by Gwendolyn Brooks, paying close attention to the similarities in content and style between Brooks’ poem and Gay’s.

Step 4

Ask your students to open the following document and go over the instructions with them. In this assignment, your students will create some kind of organizational chart that illustrates the relationship between the two poems. Then give your students time to work.

Step 5

When your students are done, ask a few of them to share their final products with the rest of the class. Each group should briefly discuss how and why their charts are constructed in such a manner.

Lesson Details

Lesson Info


  • Various


  • Aging
  • Appreciation
  • Death / Grief
  • Environment / Environmental Justice
  • Friendship
  • Health / Health Care / Illness
  • Joy
  • Love
  • Mental Health
  • Philosophy

Literary Tags

  • Diction
  • Figurative Language
  • Imagery
  • Selection of Detail
  • Tone