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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…

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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…

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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…

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How “Hail Mary” Became Inextricably Linked to American Football

I am revamping an existing “News Writing” course so that it becomes “News, Arts and Sports Reporting,” and am thus trying to educate myself about sports writing. Good writing is engaging no matter what the subject is. This is a great example. The headline is written for an international audience. Without assuming that the reader already knows what a “Hail Mary pass” is, and without assuming that the reader knows…

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A Dance Mom Gets Schooled by a Ballet Mistress Who Can Write

Avoid trying to publicly shame a ballet mistress who can write.

This morning, someone pseudonymously spammed the parent email list at my daughter’s ballet school, with a scolding complaint about a delayed cast list. It read, in part: “We pay our fees on time…. We received the email to donate to the school’s fundraiser this week on time. But no cast List. This is a teachable moment to demonstrate that being on time, especially when a promise is involved, is important.”

The school’s response, posted about a half hour later, ended thus: “Emailing using an address we can not identify and failing to sign your email shows a lack of conviction. Failing to understand that it is a relatively easy thing to discover your identity through your IP address is another indication that your action was not thought through. If the lessons you wanted to teach here were your own ignorance, arrogance and cowardice, you’ve succeeded.”

The whole response is worth a sincere, rousing “slow clap”.