World Literature, Week 3

Sorry! Sorry!––I did not forget about you. This last week of September has ended more with a bang than a whimper.

Anyway, here are some resources we use for discussion of Things Fall Apart.

1) Postcolonial Criticism. As we explore World Literature from a 21st c. perspective, we begin to consider the field of Postcolonial Criticism or Postcolonial Literature/Studies: “the study of the interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period” (source). In Things Fall Apart, we see the beginnings of British rule in Nigeria. This gets into issues of translation, as well, which we should explore in a future class (most of the works for this class, after all, have been translated; the writer makes a political decision to either write in English or to write in a native language). I think the most important questions in postcolonial criticism become: How did the experience of colonization affect those who were colonized while also influencing the colonizers? What influence is left from the European nations during these modern times of postcolonialism? (That is, after these once-colonized countries have gained their independence: how are European influences still seen in these independent nations? (This leads to the first paper students write for the course, which I’ll post next week.)

2) As we shared resources this week on Pre-Colonial, Colonial, and Post-Colonial (Modern) Nigeria, one student noted the Library of Congress site (“Country Studies: Nigeria”) as being an excellent reference. (And it is, James; it is.)

3) I also usually mention The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my favorite novels–and one of Oprah’s!), the story of a missionary family who move from Georgia to the Belgian Congo in 1959. This polyphonic narrative (“a story of many voices”) tells the tale of their struggles and the struggles of the country itself (as it achieves independence) through the perspectives of the four Price daughters and their mother. You can read an excerpt here.

I also sometimes give them Chris Abani’s essay “The Lottery” (from The New York Times), which discusses the mob violence he witnessed as a child in Nigeria during the 1970s.

4) A few questions for consideration in writing: 1. How does Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” (from which the title for Things Fall Apart comes) relate to Achebe’s novel? What are themes/messages that are similar in both works? 2. The chi or personal spirit is a recurring theme in the novel: a spiritual belief important to understanding the main character Okonkwo. Interpret this proverb, spoken of Okonkwo: “When a man says yes his chi says yes also” (27/Ch. 4). Trace further references in the novel to the chi (hint: Chapter 14). What role does Okonkwo’s chi play in shaping his destiny? 3. Consider Aristotle’s definition of tragedy and the tragic hero. In what ways do you see the plot of Things Fall Apart and the protagonist (main character) Okonkwo as adhering to conventions of Western tragedy and the tragic hero? In what ways might they depart from Aristotle’s definition?

4) Question for the comments section: What was the most significant passage/scene in the novel? (Many students choose Okonkwo’s exile. Some others, of course, when the missionaries arrive. What do you think?)

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Creative Writing, Week 3

1. READ THIS >> “Trading Stories: Notes From an Apprenticeship” (Jhumpa Lahiri; The New Yorker, 13 June 2011).

1a. While you’re at The New Yorker site, let’s all READ THIS, TOO >> “Creative Writing” by Etgar Keret (The New Yorker, 2 January 2012).

2. TO CONSIDER >> “The Writer’s Life.” Where do you write best and when? How do (or how will) you schedule time for writing in your daily life, both this semester but also long-term? Feel free to post your responses in the comments section.

3. TO WRITE >> “But she came back.” (I feel like I stole this from another source, which I can’t remember right now to credit.) Anyway; write 2 pages of either pure fiction or creative nonfiction on a topic of your choice. The other stipulation is that everyone’s response must end with that sentence: “But she came back.” You’ll have to do some of what we educators call “backward planning” and decide how you will get to But she came back. Post your responses below.

4. Don’t forget to continue >> your writer’s notebook.

“When I became a writer my desk became home; there was no need for another.” ––Jhumpa Lahiri

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A Return to Sympathy in the 19th Century.

I’ve taken over 19th Century American Literature this semester for a colleague (Effie), who usually teaches the course. Week 1 was just a general discussion about the time period; students were asked to respond to the prompt, “What do you imagine life was like in 19th century America?” It was much lovelier than a powerpoint or Prezi; just the 19 or so of us sitting around imagining what life might have been like; such a return to sympathy, this. I cannot abide the new Blackboard and have rather cast off technology this term. Let us return to books of paper and the smoke of chalk dust, pupils. Let us live life, deliberately, in the woods.

I gave them Rip Van Winkle and excerpts from Edgar Huntly and sent them off on their way. I hope they did/do not fall asleep in their assignment: and not wake up after November to find us all living in some Randroid plot.

Tomorrow we will need to discuss, then, the American Gothic. Luckily, old Cyrus Patell from NYU has a three-part lecture on it. I think we’ll watch at least a snippet from Part II.

And end with Benjamin West’s Penn’s Treaty with the Indians, that is set under the Elm; where PA was founded; where Waldegrave (wood’s grave) is found murdered in the first chapter.

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World Literature, Week 2

In World Literature this week we’re starting Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe), which I always think students will have already read but am always surprised, still, how many have not anymore.

We always start, of course, with Yeats. I remember reading this poem in the days after September 11th; when I was just starting observation work at a charter high school in Queens; and how the students flew into a panic. That Yeats must have seen it all already (knew it all already): of this, the teenagers were convinced.

1) Read William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” (1920).

2) Read the first part of Things Fall Apart.

3) Students are usually divided into five groups to research the following topics: the author, the Igbo people, Pre-Colonial, Colonial, and Post-Colonial-Nigeria.

4) You might begin to post questions/comments you have about the novel, and about Yeats’ poem. You might begin to speculate: what is the connection between the two?

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Creative Writing, Week 2

Sorry! Sorry! This first week of classes has rather gotten away from me that I neglected to post up some resources for “Creative Writing, Week 2.” Two days late & a few bits short, here it be. (Though some of you might still post answers to the Proust Questionnaire from last week, yes?)

Creative Writing, Week 2      _

1. READ THIS >> “To Do” by Jennifer Egan; author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. (“To Do” was published in The Guardian on 22 July 2011.) If you have time, you might read some of the other short stories from The. Guardian’s 2011 summer special.

2. TO WRITE >> “Exercise #1: A Life in 25 Items.” In the comments, record a life, an entire life (either yours, someone else’s, or a fictional life: you can tell us which it is (but you don’t have to)) in exactly 25 items (no more; no less), similar to how Egan deconstructs her narrative into an outline format. These do not have to be 25 complete sentences. If you have time, feel free to provide your peers with some feedback. Or just read them and marvel. A life; an entire life; so orderly and clean; and yet.

3. TO WRITE >> “Exercise #2: Six-Word Memoirs.” Last year, the creative writing students & I, with contributions from college staff & faculty, put together a zine of six-word memoirshere were the original guidelines. Try this on your own; perhaps even print out your memoir on business cards or write it “real-nice” on a notecard to hang up or give to someone special. If you need help, listen to this segment from NPR’s Talk of the Nation (3 February 2010).

4. CONTINUE >> Your writer’s notebook. Remember that you should be adding at least five new entries/items per week.

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” –E. B. White


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World Literature, Week 1

I’m teaching World Lit this semester both online and in person. We’ve switched to Blackboard 9 at school; Blackboard 9, how I loathe you.

In addition to reviewing the syllabus and expectations for the course, the first week we look at work from Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz, as well as excerpts from South American writer Eduardo Galeano’s collection Mirrors.

Here’s a taste of it!

World Literature, Week 1        

  1. Background materials:
    1. Review a map of the Caribbean, noting of course the location of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
    2. Listen to “A Look at Haiti’s Political History” (National Public Radio, 18 January 2010) and read over “Haiti’s History: Revolution, Subjugation” (CBS Sunday Morning, 18 January 2010).
    3. Watch at least an excerpt from Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates’ documentary “Haiti and the Dominican Republic: An Island Divided.”
  2. READ/REVIEW the following:
    1. “A Little While” (Edwidge Danticat)
    2. “A Year and a Day” (Edwidge Danticat)
    3. LISTEN to >> “Unspoken” (Junot Diaz reads “Water Child” by Edwidge Danticat)
    4. PDF >> “Wildwood” (Junot Diaz). Unfortunately, you’ll need a
      New Yorker account to read this text.
  3. READ the excerpts from South American writer Eduardo Galeano’s collection Mirrors (translated by Mark Fried), a collection of descriptive vignettes that seek to encapsulate the entire story of the human race: see the New York Times review for more; two additional Galeano stories from Mirrorshere.
  4. Many of Galeano’s vignettes are “origin stories:” his creative interpretation of how certain aspects of our culture and human psyche first came into being. Taking a cue from Galeano, post a short (2-4 paragraph) origin story of you: “Where did you come from? Who are you? Where are you going?” and anything else you’d like to include. Feel free to write in either the first-person (“I” pronoun) or even the third-person (“she/he” pronoun). Post your response in the comments section below: see my example.
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An Excuse.

I remember, too; my first year teaching. One of my students told a fellow teacher-friend that, “I would marry a man like Mr. Russell.” That was, too: such a thing to say. Would not marry me, necessarily, but someone like me…

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