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thoughts towards what we might read

Anne Dalke's picture

(both w/ the women inside and amongst ourselves outside):


New issue of Radical Teacher on teaching inside carceral institutions
(really piercing questions here about the relationship between teaching against and teaching inside prisons...)

first suggestion (from Anne):

Sisters in the Struggle: African-American Women in the Civil Rights-Black Power Movement

other possibilities [from Jody]
kettle bottom by diane gilliam fisher  this is maybe counter-intuitive in some ways, since it's a book of poems about a coal mining strike in the 1920s...but i think of it bc it's short, readable, and i think very powerful, and it's about women and kids as well as men (the miners) and a labor/class struggle...

what about the zehr book about the children - what will happen to me?  i remember how strongly the women in the cannery responded to that when howard was with us that day.

also thinking about a strong memoir, probably by an african american woman -
i'm looking at a few (hooks, shakur), though nothing so far really striking me - thoughts on this?

Anne: how about (trying to organize these in terms of accessibility--> increasing challenge)
Sept. 6 Alice Walker, "Beauty"
Sept. 20 Howard Zehr, "What Will Happen to Me?"
Oct. 4 Zehr, continued
Oct. 25 a contemporary memoir by an African-American woman
(will put my mind to this...hope y'all will, too1)
Nov. 8  memoir, continued
Nov. 22 Gilliam, Kettle Bottom
Dec. 6 Gilliam, continued

i don't know shakur's memoir, but one of the reviews compares it to "The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou"--and i like the notion of a feminist turn to malcolm x...though it was written in 1973, and i'd like to find something more contemporary. i remember "black bone" as being disappointing--fragmented, episodic stories, that were often too preachy, sermon-y...

i found two of fisher's poems on-line, and they were as powerful as jody said. i also was drawn to a review that said, "Kettle Bottom serves as a reminder that everything in life can be the stuff of poetry, that every life is extraordinary in some way and has something to teach us." if the reading we want to share is intended to provoke all of us to write about our own lives, it sounds as if this collection of poems might really be the ticket; i also note (from another review) that the "collection is structured to read as a narrative; the poems written chronologically into one coherent, suspenseful plot...."

In terms of memoirs, I found a possibility:  which is a bit more recent.

Also, while not a memoir (and certainly a bit cliche) what are our thoughts on A Color Purple by Alice Walker? I haven't read it, but it seems to cover some key themes and is, as I understand it, easily accessible.

Aanother potential possibility: A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story by Elaine Brown

Reviews call it both "political and personal" and describe the author as growing up in poverty in Philadelphia. It definitely has that political aspect we're drawn towards. But again, I don't know enough about her class background to know for sure that it would speak to our audience.

Sara: Some thoughts and ideas!
* I love both the Color Purple and the Bluest Eye. If we are picking between the two I’d probably lean toward the Bluest Eye, but only because it seems like there is already a text by Walker listed, I have more experience with reading the Bluest Eye and I love Morrison’s writing. I looked up Bastard Out of Carolina and it appeared as though it would definitely fit thematically with these other books (From what I read it also looked like a book I would pick up and choose to read on my own, I think I would like the novel a lot). I was looking at Kettle Bottom as well and thinking about accessibility and “scaffolding”; would it be beneficial to find ways/texts we could include that would set up/give background to some of the readings? Kettle Bottom made me think of this only because I have such a limited knowledge-base about the Appalachian area and the historical events that are described as the basis for the stories in the book, and having not read the actual text, I was unsure of whether some background reading would be necessary/be a good introduction to the work. Thinking about Morrison and the Bluest Eye reminded me of another work of fiction called Coconut by Kopano Matlwa. The book is set in present day South Africa and would might also require some background reading. I was unsure about suggesting this because I didn’t know if the novel being set in South Africa would distance it from the women/the other texts we will be working with, but the book reminds me strongly of Morrison in structure/style and has the same themes as you mentioned in one email ( “poverty, family, illegitimacy, child abuse, rape”). It’s a coming of age story as well and centers on the lives of two young black girls; one privileged and wealthy and the other growing up in poverty.
* On how political we want the text to be: I think that this depends on how political the rest of the texts are and whether we want political content to vary between the texts we want to read or we want to keep all of the texts pretty similarly political for the sake of continuity.
* I would love to think about/ make this a praxis III placement. I’m not sure exactly how that works but I’m sure that’s something we can figure out when we meet on Thursday. That reminds me- I was curious about what kind of certificate/credit the women we will be working with receive by participating? Will they get something similar to what the Cannery women received at the end of last fall semester? Maybe this question was already answered in a previous email but I wanted to ask again just in case it hadn’t already been said.
* I’m on board with writing a 3pp vignette. I think if the women will be up for writing, I would like to be writing along with them. Another idea I was thinking about- is there anyway that our small group could have a serendip or forum of some kind? I am missing serendip in my life! This does however, pose some further questions- if we had a serendip, since it is public, what kinds of things are acceptable to discuss online? Would we post about our experiences in the group? And if we wanted to have a space to do that, could we simply make those posts private? And would having a serendip be problematic for our group since I’m assuming the women we are going to be working with will not be able to participate in our online conversation? And if so- would there be ways we could bring them into the conversation if we were to have a serendip? I think it could be very productive and meaningful if we could share our writing with the women and vice versa (if they feel comfortable doing so and if you guys think it could be a productive/beneficial use of time together), especially because I think a huge part of our bonding as a 360 last year took place when we shared our experiences and thoughts through writing.
* Still on the subject of writing and poetry- I thought I remembered somewhere in one of emails that Anne or Jody mentioned that the women were not interested in reading poetry? If that’s the case then this may not be an option, but exploring writing poetry could lead to some interesting discussions (again- only if everyone was on board with that and wanted to try using poetry as a medium of expression). And that being said- someone mentioned to me over the summer that I should take a look at a book called “One Big Self” by C.D. Wright. The setup of the book reminded me very much of the book “Doing Life” because it is a series of photographs of inmates that are matched with poems that were inspired by the lives of each prisoner who was photographed. Here is a link to a site which describes the project and includes some beautiful photographs of male and female inmates: Like Howard Zehr’s photographs, the men and women were allowed to choose how they presented themselves and select items to be photographed with.
* Something else I read and really enjoyed over the summer was a memoir called “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman. However, it is from the point of view of a white, middle/upper class (She graduated from Smith!) woman’s experience in prison and might not be applicable to the women we will be working with. The author has also stated previously that she wrote the book geared toward people who had never had experience with the prison system. I thought I’d mentioned it anyway though because it reminded me strongly of the Cannery, and I think it does raise some interesting questions about which voices/stories get circulated and accumulate mainstream attention and why certain voices are chosen over others. If you haven’t heard- Kerman’s memoir has recently gained significant attention because netflix developed an hugely popular TV show based on the memoir. The show has gotten praised up and down for it’s representation of the stories of both queer women and women of color. However, it has also been facing criticism over the fact that once again, the stories and lives of the women in the show are still being presented through a white female lead character.