Emily Dickinson’s Singular Scrap Poetry

There’s never enough time to cover Emily Dickinson in an AmLit survey course. Only ten of her poems were published in her lifetime, all anonymously; publication was, as she put it, as “foreign to my thought, as Firmament to Fin.” Not that she intended her poems to go unread—she often sent them in letters to friends, sometimes with other enclosures: dried flowers, a three-cent stamp, a dead cricket. She also…


I Never Would Have Guessed I Would Be Able to Complete a Close Reading

I started my American Literature class by assigning students to listen to 40-minute audio lectures that provided context and walked them through the literary texts we were to discuss in class. As the semester drew on, I had students write podcasts to introduce texts to each other, and by the end of term I was asking students to read scholarly articles in which literary scholars aren’t introducing the texts to…


Avoiding Spoilers Gives You a Superficial Appreciation of Art

I very much appreciate that nobody spoiled Star Wars: A New Hope, or Star Trek Beyond. But even after we learn for the first time what happens to Ebeneezer Scrooge, or Bilbo, or Alice, or Jesus, the good stories still retain their cultural power. Stories are much more than plot. [A]rtistic appreciation, which reviewers are tasked with cultivating, should mean more than stoking anticipation for a surprise ending. As reviewer…


This is How Literary Fiction Teaches Us to Be Human

Practicing empathy through drama and poetry and art and games and face-to-face conversations and human acts of all kinds matters. This article covers the specific social benefits that come from reading literary fiction. Film critic Roger Ebert called movies the most powerful empathy machines, but someone with the right knowledge base can say pretty much the same thing about other genres. What we can say about the virtues of movies…


Finished Reading “Deathly Hallows” for the First Time

Whem my kids started reading the books on their own, I fell behind. I finally just finished reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” I’m glad there were just 3 Hallows, and rather wished there were about that many Horcruxes. Shortly after I arrived at SHU a student compared me to Lupin, so I’ve followed his arc through the books with interest. Lots of subplots to tie up. The “WTF…


Kristin and Haley’s Discussion on Poe’s “The Raven”

I gave my literature students 30 minutes to come up with a 3-minute podcast in which they demonstrated their ability to have an evidence-based disagreement over The Raven. In the past, at this point in the semester I simply had students record themselves reading a poem, but I decided to get more ambitious this time. While all students turned in a great product, and most students loved the challenge, there…


Margaret Atwood: English lessons teach us to miss the true meaning of literature

Every time I teach a college literature class, I have to budget time in the syllabus to help my students unlearn the way they learned to read in high school. Atwood does a great job explaining the role a reader plays in constructing the meanings they find in a literary text. It’s all the fault of how we were taught in high school, in which the teacher had the benefit…