#WCW: Frank D’s Got a Crush on Octavia Butler

Today’s guest blogger is Frank D.

octavia_butler

In the realm of science-fiction, there is only one true African American queen: Octavia Butler.  Considering that the genre is dominated almost exclusively by men, Butler’s success and audience are a testament to her unique vision.

Allow me to preface this by saying that I am not a science fiction fan; I’ve never been a Trekkie nor have I read more than a snippet of texts from the genre.  Unlike my classroom library, built to reach a diverse set of interests, my personal library boasts a miniscule collection.  Aside from Well’s, Time Machine, Heinlein’s  Starship Troopers and Haldeman’s The Forever War, little from this genre peaked my interest, although I am a fan of dystopian stories like 1984, A Brave New World, etc.

As an adjunct instructor in the First-Year Writing program at Temple University, careful thought was placed on the thematic structure of coursework.  Some of the ways the college approached the typically banal composition course were innovative, even somewhat provocative.  It was perhaps the influence of Sam Delaney, who besides being a noted science-fiction author and bearer of Gandalf’s beard, is a prominent professor at the college, which led us to use Octavia Butler’s Kindred the capstone text at the end of our course.   It would lead to an astounding experience for both my students and myself.

Butler is considered the quintessential voice amongst African American women in the genre of science fiction.  She is the only African American female to be inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, and her awards and accolades are too numerous to recount.   But the most striking characteristic about her as an author is the rebellious humility with which she approached her work.  Butler commented numerous times about her status as a writer, openly defying labels while simultaneously fearing that the ‘science fiction’ label might cause others to avoid reading her stories.  It is a paradox that, although her career was remarkable, may have relegated her to a fringe market.  It is a paradox only one of her novels seems to transcend.  Kindred.

Kindred is a tour de force, carefully folding elements of traditional science fiction into a profound piece of historical fiction.  It is a story about history and perception.  Butler said it was the only novel of hers that was not particularly sci-fi, more of a “grim fantasy” in which the characters lived in the horrors of the past.  It is a cerebral type of science fiction, using the genre as a tool for social commentary; no futuristic settings, no strange races, only the twist of a mysterious first-hand interaction with one’s own past.  Within those pages, Butler challenges the reader to witness the unavoidable past through the eyes of the present.

Resources:

  •  An article where Butler addresses her use of the near-future to discuss the present.  She would likely argue that science-fiction is a process in which we use the past to create a future, through which we discover the present.
  • The official Octavia Butler site.  Included are resources for teaching her novel Kindred, as well as information about the Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship Fund, which enables young writers of color to attend the Clarion writing workshops where she got her start.
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Infographics of the Week: All About Black History Month

There were no #infographics of the week this week, so this week and next week’s will combine, and it’s all about Black History Month.

If you’ve been using infographics often in class as visual text or you’re teaching it as genre, it might be interesting to add a new question to the mix when analyzing infographics: What are the characteristics of an infographic?

It may even be beneficial to start assessing infographics, not just for their reliability (a great activity when modeling how to analyze a source for reliability and relevance to a topic), but also for their effectiveness.  What makes an infographic effective? Why are some infographics more effective than others?  In asking (and answering) questions like these, students are getting practice with analysis and evaluation of text.

Without further ado, here are this week’s infographics:

2015_black_history_timeline black history month 2 black history month black-history-month_5306b3f0d8703_w1500 civil-rights-timeline_529e4beb86eaf_w1500

#WCW I’ve got a crush on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Disclaimer: This week’s writer’s crush is a Nigerian woman who splits her time between Nigeria and the United States.  So she is not an African American writer, but a Nigerian writer.  I chose her anyway, even though she doesn’t perfectly fit the “theme” for this month’s #wcw.

Getting to Know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

_73575692_chimamanda

I first came to “know” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie through her TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” which I shared with Senior teachers earlier this school year.  In it, she humorously (and seriously) explains why we cannot learn about other cultures from observers and outsiders.  In my opinion, TED can be incorporated into the classroom in all kinds of ways. This one works well with an essential question that gets at the root of perspective or point of view, such as “Why should we entertain more than one perspective?”  or “Why should we study world literature?” (I know some Senior teachers used/use this TED talk, so just check with comrades before using it class.)

Here it is:

If you want to use TED this Black History Month, but worry about stepping on too many toes using Adichie’s, check out this TED playlist: 10 Great Talks to Celebrate Black History Month, which includes Adichie and 9 others (seriously, there are some great-looking talks included here, including one on bias, injustice, color blindness vs color bravery, etc.).

A Snapshot of Quotations – Brain Food, Writing Prompts, Etc.

Quotation-Chimamanda-Ngozi-Adichie-world-land-people-Meetville-Quotes-198753

“You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man. Do you hear me?” Aunty Ifeka said. “Your life belongs to you and you alone.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Racism should never have happened and so you don’t get a cookie for reducing it.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

“You can’t write a script in your mind and then force yourself to follow it. You have to let yourself be.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

More Ways to Bring Adichie to the Classroom (before we have her books and excerpts!)

Check out these YouTube search results that feature talks and interviews with Adichie, including one with writer Zadie Smith!

adichie youtube

What’s Next?

I have Adichie’s Americanah on my nightstand awaiting opening, and I know some teachers are looking to teach her novel, Purple Hibiscus.  No matter what, I think she’s an writer worth reading because she offers us another perspective from which to approach the world, the issues in it, and, of course, ourselves.

Even Beyonce thinks she’s rad.  Adichie’s voice and words are included on her track, “Flawless”:

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
“You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man”
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach to aspire to marriage
And we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes

Check out the LA Time article and then check out “Flawless:”  (Listen for Adichie around 1:30)

This could be great paired with Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” or any novel, current event, etc. that deals with gender roles and expectations.  (Heck . . couldn’t this even spark a discussion using Canterbury Tales?)

#WCW: Steph’s Got a Crush on Mari Evans

Today’s #WCW guest blogger is Stephanie DeCosta. Here’s her post for her February writer-crush, Mari Evans.

I was introduced to Mari Evans in college; I read “Where Have You Gone” for the first time when I was a single, 19 year-old living at home. Instantly, I had two thoughts:

  1. I liked her simple, colloquial style and pictured her living in Chicago in some swanky apartment listening to jazz on an old record player.
  2. I had no sympathy for her—I wanted to tell her “Get over him! He’s a loser!”

My, how life experience does change one’s point of view.

Since that first reading so much “life” has happened: being completely blind-sided by someone I thought was my soul-mate, falling breathlessly in love with someone who finally treasured me, creating new life for whom I would battle bloody death to protect, hurting so badly over a loss I felt I’d have to keep my hands pressed to my chest for eternity for fear my heart would fall out.

And now I read that poem again. With new eyes…

Where Have You Gone

Where have you gone

with your confident
walk with
your crooked smile
why did you leave
me
when you took your
laughter
and departed
are you aware that
with you
went the sun
all light
and what few stars
there were?

where have you gone

with your confident
walk your
crooked smile the
rent money
in one pocket and
my heart
in another . . .

This time, I have two thoughts:

  1. Her style is not “simple”, but rather—sparse. She has nothing left to give. Not even her words. I picture her living in a small, rented house that she was promised would be “temporary.” Her jazz records still play, but now they skip due to the cracks that appeared over time.
  2. I ache for her. Leaving her was not just leaving her, but everything he had with her as well—children, memories, plans, responsibilities. One person can have a huge and lasting impact on another person’s life.

This is the power and beauty of poetry/literature: although the words never change, we constantly do, therefore it will always yield new reactions. This is why we need to read it.

 LEARN MORE ABOUT MARI EVANS 

Evans “To identify the enemy is to free the mind.”

– Mari Evans

CLASSROOM IDEAS:

  1. Have students write poetry responses to “Where Have You Gone” from various points of view. For example, how would a young daughter respond to this poem? What would an elderly white man say in response?
  2. Have students write an imitation poem: a poem on a topic of their choice but one that imitates the style and structure of “Where Have You Gone.”
  3. Have students find a song that connects to the poem and write a compare/contrast or expository pieces citing lines from the poem and song for support.
  4. Have students, in verbal or written format, respond to her above quote.
  5. Have students discuss the poem in Socratic Seminar
  6. Have students, in verbal or written format, respond to the painting below by Annie Lee entitled “Blue Monday” (LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTIST)
  7. Have students discuss the painting in Socratic Seminar
  8. Have students use the painting as the inspiration for an original poem

Blue Monday

#WCW, I’ve got a crush on James Baldwin!

baldwin-latimes

James Baldwin, LA Times

Ferguson, #blacklivesmatter, & James Baldwin

“Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this was an immutable law.”

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I selected James Baldwin for my February #wcw, but I didn’t JUST choose him because I have a crush on him, I chose him because some of his work is very poignant and pertinent in light of the recent events with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, etc.  He has had a lot to say about how black men are perceived and the potential danger of a limited perception.  The best place to look for pieces that relate to this is in Notes of a Native Son or The Fire Next Time. You could engage this discussion with some of Baldwin’s quotes, too.  Here’s “5 James Baldwin Quotes that Foreshadowed Ferguson” from advocate.com.

“Sonny’s Blues”

“For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.”

One of my favorite things to teach is his short story, “Sonny’s Blues.”  I think you could easily connect this to texts about the young men listed above, but it’s also a great resource for teaching motif or music-as-narrative.  In the past, I’ve used it to introduce big ideas in Fences, but it’s a short story that is so rich and meaningful, that I’m confident we could connect to it to just about anything.  So if you’re teaching something about fathers and sons, brothers, family, music, freedom etc., “Sonny’s Blues” could be a nice text for you to include.  If you’d like a copy (it’s a long short story), I have a PDF version saved that I can easily share with you.

James on Lorraine 

“When so bright a light goes out so early, when so gifted an artist goes so soon, we are left with a sorrow andwonder which speculation cannot assuage. One’s filled for a long time with a sense of injustice as futile as it ispowerful. And the vanished person fills the mind, in this or that attitude, doing this or that.”

Teaching Raisin in the Sun this year?  James Baldwin wrote an essay about Lorraine Hansberry called “Sweet Lorraine,” and it’s a moving and insightful companion piece.

James and Lorraine

James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry

Jimmy’s Blues: Poetry by Baldwin

Recently, some of James Baldwin’s poetry was poetry in Jimmy’s Blues, there are a few excerpts here, if you’d like to teach or incorporate something shorter.  Here’s a sample:

“Amen”

No, I don’t feel death coming.

I feel death going:
having thrown up his hands,
for the moment.

I feel like I know him
better than I did.
Those arms held me,
for a while,
and, when we meet again,
there will be that secret knowledge
between us.

Words of Note

AND . . . if you want a quicker, easier way to get James Baldwin in your classroom, here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

“You write in order to change the world … if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.”

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

And check out the rest on goodreads!

I’ve got a crush . . . 

Why do I love James Baldwin?  I love what he stood for.  I believe that he wasn’t afraid to speak up and speak his mind in the face of injustice.  He was a leading voice during the Civil Rights movement and did not silence his voice until he died in 1987.  But I think that I mostly love that James Baldwin believed that love (really knowing, seeing, and listening to one another) could fix a lot of what was/is broken in America, and he balanced that with a healthy dose of cynicism (at times) and realism.