Monthly Archives: April 2009

On Getting Our Students to Read

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After my first year of teaching undergraduate composition at a state university, I have discovered a new pet peeve. Really, the term “pet peeve” doesn’t quite do my frustration justice, but it will have to do for now. Here it is: I can’t stand it when cynical, jaded teachers rant about students not reading enough literature on their own.

Of course, it’s true that most students don’t read – at all. Believe me, I see the consequences of that whenever I sit down to grade papers. But merely complaining about our students isn’t the answer. I really think that many students don’t read on their own because they haven’t found “that book.” You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the book that opened your eyes and made you want to pick up other books. I’m not embarrassed to admit that my 8th grade English teacher handed me a copy of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and, in doing so, sparked a life-long love of books.

With this in mind, I recently gave my students a list of books I thought they might like reading. I based my choices on the students’ personalities/interests, subject matter I thought they might relate to as well as quality of the book themselves. Check out my list. Maybe you can share it with your students. Maybe you can add some suggestions. Click on the titles for more info about the individual books.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmerelda Santiago

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Sula by Toni Morrison

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Macnolia: Poems by A. Van Jordan

Tell Me: Poems by Kim Addonizio

You Don’t Miss Your Water: Poems by Cornelius Eady

People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

Tales from Ovid: Poems by Ted Hughes

Transformations: Poems by Anne Sexton

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Salvation: Black People and Love by bell hooks

Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks

Now Is The Hour by Tom Spanbauer

Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

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Shout Out: Caleb Das on How to Save Lit Mags

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Caleb Das, a fellow student in the Rutgers-Newark MFA program, recently had an article published in the Huffington Post regarding the challenges being faced by literary mags and what we can do to save them. Great guy. Great article.

Here’s a just a taste:

Getting people to click the first time is easy. Getting them to click again is hard. The reality is websites have to constantly stay in controlled flux. Books and newspapers are physical products but websites aren’t. Literary sites shouldn’t behave as if they are nor should they reduce themselves to an archive. That’s something most literary magazines don’t get. Yet. Given how most of them are staffed by student volunteers who are themselves starved for time and attention, it’s a natural problem.

Go to HuffPo to read more AND obsess over Michelle Obama’s fashion choices. (Really, no one loves Mrs. Obama’s wardrobe more than HuffPo.. well, and me.)

Poet Spotlight: Some Questions for DeLana Dameron

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A native of Columbia, South Carolina, DeLana Dameron recently published her debut collection of poems, How God Ends Us, which was selected by Elizabeth Alexander as the fourth annual winner of the South Carolina Poetry Book Prize.  Delana is a graduate of UNC – Chapel Hill and currently resides in New York City.

Here’s Part One of my interview:

Obviously, the idea of disaster plays an important part in your book. What made you consider “how God ends us”?

Growing up in the South will definitely make you consider God. I grew up on the perimeter of the church. Namely, my grandparents were extremely religious. My mother more so before grade school. So I had a pretty perfunctory knowledge of the Bible, and the important stories, like Noah’s Ark, which is largely about destruction, and the Garden where it all began. I think, though, my childhood prayer that I was taught to pray nightly, which ends, “If I should die before I wake, I pray, dear Lord, my soul You’ll take,” really made me consider this idea of ending…much later. Much later, I thought, what am I asking? What am I realizing so early on, this concept of death? Most of this I am thinking or remembering while I write, but I have been obsessed with the idea of ending.

In two major points in my life, I lost a significant number of loved ones in quick succession. It is what fueled me to write. This idea, though, that Christians believe, that God created the heavens and the earth, and you open the Bible and there is the beginning. But I knew that. What I wanted to understand – and what I try to understand or grapple with in the collection – was about endings. How God will end us. The first book of the Bible that I remember reading in completion was the book of Revelations. I wanted to start my coming to understanding at the end and unravel the story. And I think it’s an interesting surrender to make – to give even “disaster” over to God. We credit this being for good things, why not let him be whole and complete?

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Out & About: Queer Poets at Rutgets University – Newark

If you are in the Newark area next Thursday, head over to Paul Robeson Campus Center @ Rutgers – Newark. I will be reading some work with other gay poets to celebrate RU’s Pride Week. So, come on out – it’s a celebration.

Where: Rutgers – Newark: Paul Robeson Campus Center

When: Thursday, April 16 @ 6:00 pm.

Why: You know good and well why.

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Out & About: Cave Canem Reading This Friday

If you’re in the NYC area and looking for something cultural to ge into, consider this. I will be there.

Cave Canem and The Asian American Writers’ Workshop invite you to join program curators Tracy K. Smith and Tina Chang for an evening of exceptional poetry and music with Sapphire, Jessica Hagedorn, Wayne Koestenbaum, Brenda Shaughnessy and Thomas Sayers Ellis. Co-sponsored by Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics.4th Annual African American – Asian American Poetry Reading
April 10, 7 pm

The Asian American Writer’s Workshop
16 West 32nd Street, Suite 10A
New York City
$5 suggested donation

And Here We Go…

It’s April, fool – which is to say, it’s the first day of National Poetry Month. No joke. Get excited.

I plan on celebrating poetry by writing a poem every day this month. (I get antsy just thinking about it, but it’s 2009: think BIG.) If you like, you can participate in the Poem a Day Challenge which sounds quite spiffy and challenging. Check out Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides for more info on that contest.

Regardless of what route you take, do something to celebrate your love of the word. Call your friends and recite poems as voice messages. Write blues stanzas on your friends’ facebook walls. Or – just read a poem every day. There’s so many ways to join in.

So, what are you going to do?