More than once, in the last few weeks, I’ve found myself thinking: “What am I, ten?” I am excited for this school year in ways I haven’t always been before. I’m not certain, but I think it’s because I’m more prepared than ever. For the third year in a row, I’ll be teaching the same courses. (and doing it much better than the last two years!) Part of my enthusiasm for this new school year is the anticipation of the insights and lessons that will come with new students, new discussions of some amazing literature.
I’m teaching my beloved American Literature once again. We started with “Columbus’ Letter Regarding His First Voyage” and we’ll visit Puritan Anne Bradstreet and her questions, then we’ll feel the brutal Jonathan Edwards’ sermons. We’ll eventually dive into Thoreau and Emerson. These guys never fail in lighting a few fires in students. We’ll explore Frederick Douglass’ speeches and essays, Emily Dickinson’s searing human insights, and Whitman’s joyful poems. We’ll party with Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and brood over Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. We’ll hear the music and face the challenges in James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. Eventually, we will make our way to more current and living authors like Lucille Clifton, Martin Espada, and Sherman Alexie. These are just a few of the folks we’ll read all through the year. But you can see why I’m so fired up. The potential for insights in writing about, and talking through, these works is profound.
What new idea about human suffering will Emily Dickinson show me? What not-yet-understood layer of justice will I glean from Frederick Douglass this year? What aspect of human joy have I missed that Walt Whitman will disclose? What insight about our current economic inequality will I gain from Fitzgerald? What layer of craft will I find in Langston Hughes’ poems that I’ve missed up to now? The possibilities await.
My love of literature began in a basement classroom in Southern California. I’ve written about it here before– I was a high school senior at Damien High School and Mrs. Carney taught us Shakespeare by playing records (yes, records) while we read the Folger Library editions of several plays. I was transfixed. From there I went to various classrooms in Foley Hall, pictured above, at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Through the brilliance of scholar-teachers like Frank Carothers, Sharon Locy, Sr. Teresita Fay, and Dick Kocher, among others, I found my love of literature deepened and connected to the daily living of my life. From there I found myself in O’Shaughnessy Hall at the University of Notre Dame in both English and Divinity classes exploring themes of political and theological liberation.
A new school year unfolds before me like a beautiful map and I can’t wait to see what awaits around each turn.