|Jason Reynolds, My Student, Me, and Brendan Kiely |
(Authors of All American Boys)
I have some ideas running around in my mind that I must unpack....
Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing the author, Jason Reynolds, speak about his and Brendan Kiely’s book, All American Boys. (On a side note, I love Jason Reynolds’ books; the care that he gives Black folks is quite amazing.) So, I asked Jason to tell us about his reading life as a young person, and Jason stated that “Your literary canon ain’t my literary canon; mine includes The Color Purple by Alice Walker and books written by James Baldwin and Richard Wright.”
Jason went on to say that he never wanted to read Moby Dick, Huckleberry Finn or any of the other books in the American, literary canon that his schools were trying to force him to read so, he just didn’t read. Finally, he discovered Black Boy by Richard Wright and a few other books that he felt were telling his story, and the rest is history.
So, I have been thinking a lot about the American literary canon. The American, literary canon typical includes titles such as To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Emma by Jane Austin, 1984 and Animal Farm both by George Orwell, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Waldon by Henry David Thoreau, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Odyssey by Homer, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain etc.
Where are the books that made me fall madly in love with reading such as Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston, If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin, Life is Short but Wide by J. California Cooper, The Big Sea by Langston Hughes, Native Son by Richard Wright, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe etc.
There are some books that have become my bible such as The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, Think and Grow Rich by Dennis Kimbro and Napoleon Hill, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore, Democracy in Black by Eddie S. Glaude Jr., The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates...
Why are they not in that canon? Are they not in the canon because they were not written one hundred years ago and many have characters who look like me?
According to many schools, I should put aside the books that I love, and adopt a love for the American canon?
Y’all, I ain’t doing that.....
I have made my decision that I will no longer, and I can do that, because I am not a K-12 student, feel guilty about being an English teacher and not being in love with those traditional, American classics. (I have tons of friends who have never read any of the books in the American, literary canon, and they are better than ok.) I am going to continue to develop and grow my very own American canon and best believe that my list will not contain books such as Jane Eyre, Emma, Huckleberry Finn and most of the traditional, American classics. My canon will include Men We Reap by Jesmyn Ward, As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds, Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Nobody Knows My Name by James Baldwin, and all of the other books that speak to my heart.
I will no longer beat myself up because I absolutely hate every, single word of Pride and Prejudice, or that I think that Wuthering Heights is one of the most boring books under the sun, or the fact that I tried over and over to read Huckleberry Finn and just could not finish it, and the fact that I do not think that anyone needs to read the entire Odyssey unless he/she wants too.
Y’all, I will no longer think that I am not a legit reader or teacher, because I do not love most of the books in the American, literary canon......
If you dare to join me, what books are you putting in your very own literary canon?