Sunday, February 12, 2017

My Very Own American, Literary Canon....

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?

Monday, February 6, 2017

Forty Books and My Soul....

Statue in Phildelphia that I visited over the Christmas Break

Since September, I have read twenty-seven books, and the more that I read, the more that I want to read. You really can make reading a habit.

Friday, I did not go to work, and I really wanted to start reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith. It was not available through the public libraries in print nor digital form. So, I drove to the school, because I had seen it in the school’s library, AND, the library was locked! But Y’all, I HAD to start this book. Sooooooo, I asked a custodian to unlock the library, I got Swing Time, and left a note for the librarians....

Since, I have been conscious about always having something to read, it’s like an addiction, and I hope that giving my students' choice in what they read is also causing them to turn reading into a habit and perhaps even an addiction.

One of the books that I have read recently is Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequalities Thrives In Good Schools by Amanda E. Lewis & John B. Diamond. Y’all, I have wanted to pass it out to every single person who works in my school, from the custodian to the Principal. Then I wanted to call CNN, NBC, ABC to beg them to allow me to talk about this book. I desperately want this book in the hands of all of us well-meaning people who could potentially be causing folks' children damage. (If you work in schools, in any capacity, if you have children in schools, read this book.)

Reading this book, has caused me to be even more intentional about equity and access. I make sure that I give out tardies equally. I make sure that if my advanced students ask me to drop their lowest grade, I also do that for my on-grade level students as well, even if they do not ask. I make sure that I don’t skimp on my duties to some students, because their parents will not complain etc. Y’all, I do not want to play a role in racism thriving in good schools, especially when the people who are negatively impacted just happen to look like me.

I have also read The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle AGAIN! Yes, I have read it multiple times, and I have ‘gotten it’ every single time, but this time around it really resonated. Tolle states that all we have is right now... I have been conscious about enjoying every, single moment, intensely.

So, yesterday, a long lost friend called, and she was in town. She asked if I wanted to go shopping with her, and immediately I said NO! I HATE SHOPPING! However, she said that she was only going to one store and that she would pick me up. I reluctantly agreed, thinking of the quality time that we could spend together.

We stayed in this store for about three hours! (Didn’t I say that I hate shopping?) I had to remind myself to stay in the moment, don’t get impatient, and ride this out. I found a chair in the store and sat for a very, long time, focusing on the fact that I was with a friend whom I have not seen since we left high school... Quality Time!

After the shopping trip, I was ready to go home. She wanted to go to dinner, but I really wanted to go home. Once we got to my place, we were talking in the car, and I was enjoying her immensely, which led to her coming in, and I consciously did not focus on my hair that I wanted to wash, but I cooked and we talked and talked and talked...

Quality time is my number one love language and therefore, after she left, my soul was completely satisfied, and I am happy that I was able to be in the moment and not focus on NEXT!

Speaking of love languages, I have also read the The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, both the married folks version and the singles version. The married folks version is GOOD, but the singles version is REALLY GOOD. I would recommend it to people whether they are married or not.

This book reconfirms that we are all connected and that everything is about love. Yep, love! When we love people, we may want to consider trying to figure out their love language or even ask them their love language and provide it and watch the heavens open up. My sister, Tracy, would tell me that if you meet other folks needs, the returns are greater than you could ever image.

Y’all, find out your love language and other folks love languages, and reap the benefits.

I took the love language test, and my number one love language is quality time, and once I read that, a light bulb went off.... I LOVE QUALITY TIME. I love spending time with folks: talking, laughing, and doing some type of activity such as going to brunch, a museum, a play, the movies, cycling etc. This is why my relationship with my dear friend Dr. Semple has lasted soooo long; this man is always ready to give me quality time, whenever I want it on, even at the spur of a moment.

I called him Friday about one hour before I wanted him to meet me to see a movie, and he showed up......  My heart was happy!

I love Quality Freaking Time, My People.

Challenging myself to read forty books between September and June has been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I have always loved to read, but my love for reading has intensified to a point that is soooo good for my soul.

What y’all been doing?

I miss you guys dearly.......

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