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Reading Notes

sara.gladwin's picture


sara.gladwin's picture

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Mathis, Ayana. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Print.

“Floyd made the horn stutter, then played it smooth. It keened and wailed. It asked the people what their troubles were and blew them back to them. Floyd got out of the way and let his horn carry him out to the edges of himself. There wasn’t anything that horn couldn’t say.” (40).


Does it seem significant that Hattie’s children so far have headed back to the South- a place that she insisted she would never go back to? What is the implication of the names Philadelphia and Jubilee… they are allegories… do their deaths actually foreshadow a return to the south?


“Negroes skirted the white people on the sidewalk; one man nearly fell into the gutter as he hopped off the curb to avoid colliding with a white woman who was walking toward him. The town seemed to be comprised of equal numbers of each race. In Philadelphia, Six rarely saw white people aside form the teachers at his school. At home they thought of white people as a vague but powerful entity- like the forces that control the weather, that capable of destruction, that hidden from view.

            The Negroes and whites in the town knew one another. For all of the shucking and ducking, they greeted each other frequently, often by name. There wa something almost intimate in their knowledge of one another, and it was this intimacy that disturbed Six most. These people had probably known each other all  their lives, and still one had the power to demand that the other step into the gutter and that the other was cowed enough to do it.” (71)


“A mile or so down they passed a Negro woman driving a mule with a stick. She wore a man’s hat pushed down over her forehead… Her mule had a bell attached. Six recognized it as the source of the clanging he’d heard the night before, and he wondered if this same woman drove her mule day and night along these roads, never coming from anywhere and never having anywhere to go.” (71) …. Is this a Harriet Tubman reference?


pg 72- Six is disgusted by the group of women… he seems to hold people in disdain


“He hit him with that rock as though Avery was every bad thing that ever was. He beat him like he was the scalding water that had burned him, as though he was every pitying glance, every cruelty inflicted on him by his schoolmates. The harder Six hit Avery, the more powerful he felt. His arm came down again and again like a part of a machine. His body moved like normal boys’ bodies did; he was invincible and perfect” (83).


“He recognized that reptilian thing in Avery’s eyes as a reflection of his own ugliness” (84)


pg 89- calls him “Reverend Six” over and over again, and he becomes more like the person that everybody wants him to be… the act of sex validates him


pg 90- The Chapter is called Ruthie but does not start out with Ruthie, starts with a man named Lawrence… opens with Hattie and Ruthie leaving…


Job 5 (Hattie references Job 5:7):

“Call if you will, but who will answer you?


To which of the holy ones will you turn?


2Resentment kills a fool,


and envy slays the simple.


3I myself have seen a fool taking root,


but suddenly his house was cursed.


4His children are far from safety,


crushed in court without a defender.


5The hungry consume his harvest,


taking it even from among thorns,


and the thirsty pant after his wealth.


6For hardship does not spring from the soil,


nor does trouble sprout from the ground.


7Yet man is born to trouble


as surely as sparks fly upward.


8“But if I were you, I would appeal to God;


I would lay my cause before him.


9He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,


miracles that cannot be counted.


10He provides rain for the earth;


he sends water on the countryside.


11The lowly he sets on high,


and those who mourn are lifted to safety.


12He thwarts the plans of the crafty,


so that their hands achieve no success.


13He catches the wise in their craftiness,


and the schemes of the wily are swept away.


14Darkness comes upon them in the daytime;


at noon they grope as in the night.


15He saves the needy from the sword in their mouth;


he saves them from the clutches of the powerful.


16So the poor have hope,


and injustice shuts its mouth.


17“Blessed is the one whom God corrects;


so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.a


18For he wounds, but he also binds up;


he injures, but his hands also heal.


19From six calamities he will rescue you;


in seven no harm will touch you.


20In famine he will deliver you from death,


and in battle from the stroke of the sword.


21You will be protected from the lash of the tongue,


and need not fear when destruction comes.


22You will laugh at destruction and famine,


and need not fear the wild animals.


23For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field,


and the wild animals will be at peace with you.


24You will know that your tent is secure;


you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing.


25You will know that your children will be many,


and your descendants like the grass of the earth.


26You will come to the grave in full vigor,


like sheaves gathered in season.


27“We have examined this, and it is true.


So hear it and apply it to yourself.”




“There were all kinds of ways to be responsible” (97)


“As if August didn’t know these children were liable to kill themselves with their mama gone.” (102)

reminds me of Jones question- in what ways do we all kill our children?



sara.gladwin's picture

Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones and Theater for Incarcerated

Fraden, Rena. Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones & Theater for Incarcerated Women. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2001. Print.

Chapter 1

“I am suspicious anyway of the ‘over time theory gets more complex and thus better’ argument, especially so when such an argument is implicitly applied to art. Art and theories of art obliviously changed over time, but I’m not at all sure they improve. It is clear that certain easily distinguished styles of performances become available for women (and others), and thus harder to ignore…” (35)


“no single womanly body…” (36)


“Because in all of her work, Jones insists on creating a performance space that calls out to audiences to respond to questions: How are we responsible for creating the very experiences and identities that she performs? What filters our own desires and definitions of good and evil? What institutions shape us and swing us, constrain us and free us?” (37)


“Context dependent creativity” – Liz Bondi


“What is an artist in that context?” (39) in reference to being an artist in a prison…


This question has me stuck… especially when considering it within the argument that reading is artistry.  


“you’ve got to be the shaman, the magician” (40)- Said by Jones


I think she does my kind of magical thinking… I think she does play with magic, regardless of whether or not she considers it magic. It isn’t the kind of magic she thinks it is though.


“So much more beautiful is jail culture” (40)


I know exactly what she means when she makes this statement and yet it’s also difficult for me to think like that, difficult for me not to name the complexity in making that statement… I have to consider the problematic ways in which the prison institution itself helped to produce the “beautiful” culture that she is calling attention to…


“All art is social work. And I think all social work is art.”  (43)


“Troupe mentality” “US” (45)


We need to be making something, producing something, as an “US”


“Jones knew that Medea’s story was relevant even when, or perhaps especially when, the incarcerated women initially resisted seeing any connection. She knew that the ambiguous qualities of the heroine and the choices before her were subjects that these women were uniquely qualified to address…. Medea is full of rage, and so are the women in jail…” (48)


Need to pay closer attention to when the women criticize certain characters especially women… they protect the men… I always find this a huge contrast to Bryn Mawr classrooms where we are talking about the patriarchy and deconstructing notions of gender


“Sarah Johnston points out that usually heroes fight against monsters, but it is unusual to find a hero and a monster ‘encapsulated within a single mythic figure.’ Says Johnston, ‘Not only does Medea’s checkered career allow authors and artists to explore the opposing concepts of self and other, as she veers between desirable and undesirable behavior,  between Greek and foreigner; it also allows them to raise the disturbing possibility of otherness lurking within the self- the possibility that the ‘normal’ carry within themselves the potential for abnormal behavior, that the boundaries expected to keep our world safe are not impermeable’” (51)


I am being reminded of the ending of Vaster than Empires… where he becomes the other….



“…but she escapes our better judgment too. As she takes off in her chariot at the end of the play, she flies beyond our human understanding, beyond the pale of civilized behavior… her performance disrupts the boundaries of right and wrong, of borders, of laws…” (53) …on medea’s effect on readers


Then the author goes on to also describe Medea as being about female agency…. Why is female agency always depicted as these situations when the main character does something particularly horrifying?


“counter memory” (64)


“Theatre may have saved Rhodessa Jone’s life, but it might not be enough for these women. Some of the incarcerated women who performed in this first play were empowered by no yet freed. The questions still lay before them: what it meant to be Medea, to become Medea, to kill Medea. Who else might they become as they represented their lives as drama?” (66).


*One thing I’m thinking about is whether or not it’s ever enough… I remember how immobilizing it was to leave the 360, to lose what I was most passionate about… what is it like to find passion in this workshop and then to be utterly without it…

Are there ways to follow up for programs that will eventually end?

*I’m stuck on the “to kill Medea”… is performing Medea the same as killing her…? Breathing life into her on stage, only then to perform her death?


 Chapter 2


“In all their incredible, magical terror” (67)


I’m keeping track of all the times Rhodessa uses the word magical… because it isn’t magic itself she is dismissing… it’s the fantasy of magic; the romanticized, harry potter kind of magic. Jones is interested in real magic, the kind all of us possess.


“Embedded in the command to ‘be real’ is the director’s artfulness in commanding the women to be more real, to say what they know to be true more forcefully, to touch their tits and see what happens, to feel womanhood come to a point. She never forgets how to appeal to what may be empowering in our common sense and apprehension of how women are shaped by their bodies, but she always knows how to critique the assumptions we have about the way things ‘just are’” (68)


*really interested by the bodily connections and the importance that body plays when working with women and groups whose physical movement is highly restricted.


“As Jones sees it, the defiantly imaginative and unreal space of the theatre, a space that collapses time and genre, historical and mythical realms, allows the participants in the Medea project to experience an alternative reality, one that can be changed, lived through differently…” (70) --- Magical Thinking?

“I think stilts are magical. They’re about heaven and earth, paradise lost, paradise regained. The spirits walk amongst us. The goddess walks with us. And spirits stalk the stage.” (74)


Again! She references magic. I feel the need to quote it. I definitely feel that she recognizes that magic which is real, and that exists through us, not “super” naturally. I also love the poetry of this line, and the implication that goddesses and spirits exist side by side with us, but that they become visible on the stage. Another reoccurring theme that I am finding in her work is the encouragement of movement in the bodies of incarcerated women. Not just any movement either, but large, spectacular movements. I want that for our group of women. I want it because I can’t help but think it has the potential to be liberating. If my every movement and access to space was so limited; I’d probably punch someone too (thinking about the first visit to Riverside and the women in line…). I can’t help but think it is the very fear of violent behavior underlying the rules that restrict and police bodies in Prisons plays a part in elevating tension between people to the point violence. It frustrates me that I’ve often heard rhetoric that 1) characterizes prisoners as being innately violent, and 2) posits that the solution is “self-control” and/or more therapy programs/ other various insistences on behavioral reform. These kinds of assumptions leave no room for the consideration of the environment itself that produces certain tensions/behaviors/actions; therefore leaving no room to reconsider reforming the institution itself.


“This was a woman doing it, a white woman doing it. And my experience had been that stilt walkers were mostly Chinese acrobats, or French clowns, or African dancers. And they’re usually men on stage. I was criticized by various artists of the African American community that I had it all wrong, that you can’t have stilt walking with a white woman. When people want to swipe at me, they say, “Why you dealing with African mythology and have a white woman on stilts? Come from Cameroon.” But stilts also come from China. They also come from Europe. The point is, I’ll use anything that speaks to me… Many kinds of art have” (74)


“Creative survival” (76)- I like this because of the implication that creativity and art are necessary for survival, and that quality of life goes beyond just having food and a bed to sleep in at night.


sara.gladwin's picture

Geographies of Prejudice: Self-Narration and Radical Teaching...

Colson, D. "Geographies of Prejudice: Self- Narration and Radical Teaching in Prison." The Radical Teacher 95 (2013): 48+. ProQuest Education Journals. Web.


“…by which my university is transported into the Prison”


Always higher education being brought into the Prison, and never out… might a way to engage in radical pedagogy be creating a space where the mutual acts of learning are given space/attention… deconstructing oppressive power dynamics that are inherent to traditional teaching methodology that insists only the teacher/professor has the power to impart knowledge.


“…I could ask them to share their experiences, which supplemented our discussions of the novel with the extra-literary, tragically real consequences of retrograde economic and racial politics. No longer was it necessary for me, for example, to describe the effects of systematic racism: my incarcerated students could do so far more poignantly and far more eloquently.”<---- this was the only quote I liked.


“…whereas on campus I might feel successful if I shake a few students out of their facile and unconscious sense that we live in a post-racial world, in prison my aspirations were higher: I dreamed of creating a space in which my power would minimize as a dialogue of first-hand accounts of oppression eliminated my need to counterbalance multiple iterations of privilege.”


“Here, I imagined the full flourishing of radical pedagogy: beyond the plodding effort to make students aware of injustice, this class- by combining a radical text with my students’ personal experiences would allow us to discuss the causes of Bigger’s poverty, his criminalization… At that moment, my dreams of shifting from the timidly radical pedagogical drive toward awareness (“racism exists!”) to a more assertive exploration of the connections between race and class seemed within reach”


First of all, I have not been appreciating the tone of this entire article that seems self-congratulatory and peppered with little, hidden assumptions. I was annoyed by his efforts to “put down” the learning experiences of his college students, and I was annoyed the valorization of his experiences educating in Prison. I was especially annoyed with the easy way he claimed a radical pedagogy, calling the experience a “full flourishing of radical pedagogy,” when his description did not seem distinctly radical, in the sense that I’ve been conceptualizing the word, to anyone but himself. Not only that, but his pedagogy itself seems to revolve around the oppressive perception that reaching a space of critical learning is impossible without him- “beginning with my students’ experience/knowledge about the reality of racism, I could add my knowledge…” Colson positions himself as the deliverer. He then goes on to say he becomes the student, which would have been a great counter to his initial conception of himself as the all-knowing educator, EXCEPT he went on to describe a situation in which it appeared he did really not learn from his students. Colson describes the following class, during which he expected to hold an equally powerful discussion about the sexism of Bigger Thomas. He is confused when his students not only do not want to discuss sexism, but agree with Bigger Thomas! He then makes a one-sided argument as to why his student could possibly make homophobic and sexist comments.


What the author fails to do is examine his own educational practices. I don’t believe he attempted to really understand the larger cultural and racial expectations of masculinity that would give insight into his students’ lives; instead he chalks it up to the Prison environment- though he briefly states in parenthesis “perhaps earlier in life…” some experience could have shaped his students’ attitudes. He wrongly assumes that because his students understand the oppression caused by racism, they will automatically understand and find relevant the oppression that is caused by sexism. However, he continually points to their depth of understanding as being directly related to experiencing racism… HOW COULD ANY OF THOSE MEN HAVE THEN TRANSLATED THAT TO UNDERSTANDING TO SEXISM IF THE REALITY OF THEIR EXPERIENCES HAVE NOT BEEN FEMALE / THE DIRECT RECIPIENT OF SEXIST ATTITUDES?! By making the assumption that his students would automatically take up the cause of sexism because they know racism, he also implied that forms of oppression look and act the same. This understanding of oppression cannot account for all of its various networks, nuances, and intersections. Colson does not seem fully aware of his audience or their lived experience; he could have approached the class from an analysis and questioning of masculine gender expectations/roles, rather than jumping right to Bessie’s sexist treatment. Starting with their knowledge as masculine identifying; Colson would have also been utilizing the ideology that students already enter the classroom bearing knowledge- the same technique that he stumbled upon when encountering his students’ breadth of knowledge regarding racism.

sara.gladwin's picture

Rewriting Confinement: Feminist and Queer Critical Literacy..

Tobi, Jacobi, and Becker L. Stephanie. "Rewriting Confinement: Feminist and Queer Critical Literacy in SpeakOut! Writing Workshops." The Radical Teacher 95 (2013): 32+. ProQuest Education Journals. Web.

Right away, this article made me wonder about the title of our reading group, and whether we’ve titled it incorrectly the enter time. If we had called it a writing group as well as a reading group, would we have drawn in people who really wanted to write? Maybe we’ve actually been pushing something that we didn’t really advertise, specifically be calling ourselves a book club and not something that suggested the intent of writing. We’ve definitely drawn in people who are interested in reading and talk about the reading, but I’m not as sure that we’ve gotten a strong majority of people who came into a group with any initial interest in writing.


I was also struck by the avoidance of traditional “classroom language” such as words like syllabus and class- I liked this and thought maybe we could think a little more about consciously avoiding classroom language to avoid associations with negative educational experiences. Similarly, I liked the invitation to “discussion of group ground rules” (30). I have been thinking for a while that it might helpful to discuss as a group, at the beginning, “ground rules”- not for the sake of classroom management (which I think is an ugly phrase with negative implications) but more for the sake of naming the group as an attempt to create a safe space.


“As facilitators, we are often torn… our critical goal puts us at odds with the regulations imposed by our community partnerships… The staff members had taken particular issue with LL’s writing that wondered why she ended up in a rehabilitation facility when her friends had not, telling us that LL had “difficulty accepting the consequences of her actions.” (31)


I thought this related to my thinking about the ways in which institutions perpetuate a narrative of “guilt” under the guise of “personal responsibility.” This was a perfect example of redistribution of blame… “LL” addresses a potential systematic issue with the seemingly arbitrary nature of incarceration regarding drugs but staff instinctively redirects the blame to her. This paragraph also really put into perspective how much freedom our group has had with our reading group. I think this is partially Riverside itself, or Major Moore, but I also think it has to do with us “flying under the radar” to a certain extent. We are a small group, and we aren’t managed or treated like a large program might get treated. I think it’s worth considering just how much we want to “institutionalize” our program. I would like to see it carried on at Bryn Mawr, but I’m thinking now that maintaining a small size might actually be to our benefit, as so far, we haven’t had the kind of imposition from people who work at Riverside….


“Perpetuating such absences by navigating the dual pressures of responsibility to writers and institutions can diminish the possibility of critical pedagogy. An ineffective response to LL creates a rupture in the community SpeakOut seeks to foster- and for some writers, interrupts the possibility for literacy to function as a viable tool for understanding their life experiences…” (31).

Institutions attempts to censor content as a way of having women “reflect” on their experiences actually may disrupt productive reflection and instead produce a reiteration of dominate rhetoric intended to shift blame/responsibility from an institutional level to an individual level. 


“… it is a reality that such work may not be of interest to teens and adults; they are often physically and psychologically restricted in their movement and so pressed to focus on themselves and individual change so consistently by housing staff, counselors, the judicial system, and other organized institutions… that they have little motive or incentive to think about participating in systematic change. Who could blame them?” (33)


and finally- this was under the suggestions for using a queer/feminist lens in critical pedagogy- “contribute to abolitionist efforts through public awareness…” (34).

This reconfirms my sense that we need to be doing some activist work outside the walls as well! Just how and when, is the better question!


Anne Dalke's picture

also wanted to link here

to two earlier posts you'd done about other essays in that issue of Radical Teacher, Sara:
what does it mean to be radical? and
diversifying texts in order to honor complex personhood...

Anne Dalke's picture

all great points

* so: NEXT semester we become the bryn mawr reading-and-writing group!
* and work on avoiding the language of schooling--hard for long-time teachers-and-students to do,
but i get the point re: avoiding evoking negative associations thereby
* let's discuss "ground rules" @ our next prison-planning session
(when we also want to plan for writing conferences...)
* "flying under the radar" is also important--we've been having some correspondence w/ Inside-Out
which is making me realize how very much freedom we have, not being part of a larger organization
* and then the activism outside...
yes, ma'am!

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