Diversity in American Literature

English 2610

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Interpretive essay on Richard Wright’s poem, “Between the World and Me.”
Download Interpretive Essay

Critical Analysis of Lucy Grealy’s memoir, “Autobiography of a Face.”
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“…there is much to be said of rising above adversity. But not all adversity ends in triumph, and that which does not should not arbitrarily be ruled inexpressible.”

—Thomas Couser

Experiencing Paris mid-semester with Dutch and American companions.

“In this course, you will study a range of ethnic and cultural writing—including novels, short stories, and poems—published in the second half of the 20th century. We will examine works by a diversity of authors,and examine parallels and contrasts between different ethnic perspectives as well as issues of identity and ability. We will explore issues of alienation, integration and multicultural identity by considering how writers have responded to their particular cultural circumstances. We will look in particular at literary genre and style and how writers have adapted and/or challenged stylistic and generic conventions for their own purposes.” —Syllabus, ENG2610

Before taking this course, I thought of myself as someone open-minded and fairly well-versed on what diversity meant. I have always enjoyed literature so I thought this would be an interesting and enjoyable way to satisfy my required diversity class.
I was right and wrong.
The class was eye-opening, and all the readings were enjoyable. But more than that, the theory readings helped give me a context that was both a historical frame of reference as well as a lens to help me better see and understand the different level on which the literature functioned. The fact that I went to Europe halfway through the term and got to experience a lot more diversity than usual was a bonus.
The theory readings helped me recognize what the author was up against, and what stereotypes and belief systems they were trying to subvert with a particular piece of work.
While I’ve never been confident with poetry, I surprised myself by being willing to write my interpretive assignment about Richard Wright’s poem, “Between the World and Me.” Over the course of the term, through practice and in-class exercises, I gained more understanding of how to read and appreciate poetry and to be able to detect what the author may be trying to do with his or her choice of words, rhythm, motifs, and theme.
Beyond technique, the theory readings helped me see how different poets have tried to use art as a way to articulate their difference and advocate for understanding, express frustration, protest injustices, and even celebrate their heritage
Many of my assumptions about different groups were widened by the videos and theory readings.  We learned how certain “givens” are just social constructions. Race, gender roles, ability/disability, and other things we hold up as “normal” and “right” are often not based in any kind of fact or science, but we use these constructions to make many societal rules—implicit and explicit. Viewing not just literature, but social interactions through this lens has given me a deeper understanding of the difficulties and frustrations that come to those who identify outside these socially reinforced norms.
As a society and as students, we spend a lot of time discussing ideas like race and sexuality as they relate to discrimination but almost no time talking about ability and disability. It was interesting to learn about ableism as a social construction and read theory pieces about its origins and how those in power have wielded ableism as a political tool.
Because my critical essay focused on Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, I was able to dive more deeply into the personal ramifications this kind of discrimination can have on a person’s identity as well as their daily struggles.
I think the concepts learned and discussed in this course touch on several of the SLCC learning outcomes, such as:

Students think critically and creatively.
Reading to analyze and critique forced me to examine the context as well as the author’s motivations and techniques to understand what he or she was trying to do and to assess where the work succeeded and failed.

Students develop civic literacy and the capacity to be community-engaged learners who act in mutually beneficial ways with community partners.
Basic good manners and respect will get us far in dealing with others, but a deeper understanding of what people from different groups (immigrants, minorities, women, the disabled, etc.) have and are going through will form a more stable foundation for respect.

Students develop the knowledge and skills to work with others in a professional and constructive manner.
Writing critical analysis is writing practice that can be applied to many situations. When combined with an appreciation for diversity, it can only enhance the constructive approach we use when broaching a difficult subject or when writing for a more inclusive audience.