For the epigraph to the preface of the latest edition of Literature: The Human Experience, I chose a few sentences from an interview given by David Foster Wallace: “We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. [read more]
One of the great challenges in teaching a survey course full of non-majors is making sure everyone knows how to write about literature. This past semester, I faced that challenge in my world literature course – I had a room full of students, ranging from high school students taking college-level courses to senior English majors working on their capstone papers. [read more]
A while ago, a Joss Whedon quote was being passed around the Internet. He’d been telling an audience about his frustration with repeatedly being asked, “Why do you write these strong woman characters?” His response (now immortalized in a million Facebook posts): “Because you’re still asking me that question.” [read more]
I always enjoy the beginning of the semester: new students, new classes, and new school supplies (I still love those, all these many years past grade school). This year, starting fresh, for me, also means a new university: I’ve recently started teaching at Heidelberg University in Ohio. [read more]
The final assignment I give my MFA students is one they often hate, to write a “Why I Write” essay. Lately it seems the “Why I Write” has become a genre onto itself, a rite of passage for amateur and professional alike. And even a cursory reading in the genre suggests many of us write for many of the same reasons:
- To learn
- To leave the world better than we found it [read more]
In my world literature course, I’m using The Bedford Anthology of World Literature, which has – among other features – some nice chapters on context. For my class today, I had students read the section called “Society and its Discontents,” which includes selections from Zola, Nietzsche, Maupassant and Nitobe. [read more]
I want to encourage my students to find something in literature that resonates with them— and so I encourage them to make connections between their reading and their lived experiences. But I’ve been thinking a great deal about the limits of identifying with characters, particularly where that identification leads to a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of the text at hand. [read more]
A few weeks ago, students in my creative nonfiction workshop were discussing a classmate’s essay about her rather eccentric grandmother. It was a good piece of writing, a solid first draft, and I wanted to get my students talking about what made the piece so successful. [read more]
I confess that I spend far too much time on social media. I like Facebook to connect with far-flung friends and family members. I use Twitter to interact with other early modern scholars (and I’ve developed a number of professional contacts because of my use of the site). Last fall, on the recommendation of a couple of friends, I began to use Pinterest to start collecting (“pinning”) items that interested me – especially, like a huge number of users, crafts that I’ll never actually attempt and recipes I might try when I’m feeling particularly ambitious. I joined tumblr over my winter break, mostly to figure out what it’s all about – and I’ve discovered it’s both a place to aggregate things that inspire me and a place to post some of my own creative work,in particular, my photography.
I had an epiphany while grading some Intro to Lit papers recently: Students do not trust their ability to make connections.
This is by no means an original observation. But while grading those papers – and thinking about this post – I finally understood my undergraduate advisor’s admonition that I needed to learn to trust my intuition more. I always took it to mean a distrust of reason, a distrust of analysis. And I was totally unfair to my advisor, because that’s not at all what she meant.
What she meant was that I wasn’t trusting myself when I saw connections. [read more]