Monday, December 13, 2010

End of the Quarter + 3 Moleskin Drawings

So much to say but so little time to say it. The quarter is finally over, grades are in, and it is time to thank my students for a great fall. The two classes were a lot of work, but as always I learned as much, more perhaps, as I taught.  One of the joys of teaching a literature course, especially one that you do not teach every year, is reconnecting with the texts in it, and I particularly love any opportunity to teach courses in which I can include work from across genres.

In my African-American literature class, we did read poetry, fiction, plays, essays and talks, and theoretical and critical texts, and we also listened to some music and watched three films to enrich the conversation.  And a conversation it was. I had never before taught Aimé Cesaire's poetry, so it was a new addition, as was the poetry of Bob Kaufman, Stephen Jonas, Ted Joans, Nikki Giovanni, and Carolyn Rodgers.  One new element of the class that I'd never tried before, but which appeared to work well and really engage the students was to have them create or expand Wikipedia pages, using original research, on topics related to the class. This resulted in several new pages and some expanded ones.

In my graduate fiction writing class, it was fascinating and encouraging to see about half the students submitting novel chapters or beginning them, and I hope they all will complete a draft if they can, not only for the experience of writing a novel, but to have something to revise so that they might ultimately be able to publish it. I also took a thematic tack with the readings, which I structured under the rubric of "Writing(s) on the Edge," and we read texts that thematically (for the most part) dealt with limits, barriers and boundaries of various sorts. I returned to assigning a novel for the final text for the term, after several years of critical works, and the students all finished Lionel Shriver's 400+ page, disturbing but unforgettable novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, after having read short stories by Lorrie Moore, Chimananda Ngozi Adiche, Anthony Doerr, and others. They all had purchased the American addition, which included a postscript describing the ordeal Shriver went through to publish the book, whose success utterly reinvigorated her career.  For anyone interested in hearing Shriver discuss the book and her work in general, this 2009 BBC World Book Club podcast is a fine introduction.

Now it's only a few weeks to prepare for the new quarter (which starts January 4) and the MLA conference, continue with my own writing projects, catch up on sleep and emails, and try to read the 10 or so books I've had to put off for the last three months.


While scanning in texts for the upcoming quarter, I found myself scrolling through my notebooks for specific material for one of the courses, and came across the following Moleskine notebook that, I realized, I'd taken with me to Cuba.  Over the last year I've mostly turned to my iPhone and iPad for drawing, but on this trip, I saw that I had done a bit of sketching, so I scanned in these three pages (one of which was from a later event, the Fire & Ink III: Cotillion conference in Austin, Texas) which included bit of artwork.

I'm most interested in the coffee plantation plan I drew at the top of the right page. I had forgotten about that, but then remembered that my motivation for drawing the layout was because I'd written a story in which I was trying to visualize a Caribbean coffee plantation, and wasn't sure about the spatial layout, though I'd envisioned it pretty close to what it looked like. This map nevertheless allowed me to correct my misimpressions.

One of the museums we visited was the Museum of Literacy.  Images of Fidel Castro, as I need not tell anyone, can be found all over Cuba, but I liked one of the photos of him participating in the literacy campaign, which was one of the Revolution's first post-victory successes, so I drew him in an iconic pose, which he has repeated countless times at rallies throughout the years. The gentleman beneath him is Conrado Benítez, a "mártir de alfabetización," who died at the hands of anti-literacy forces.
This drawing is of a young man who was at the Austin conference. The text surrounding it comprises notes from one of the panels  which, I think, scholar Jafari Sinclaire Allen headed up.  I told him I'd drawn him, but I did not get his name, and so am/was unable to send the drawing to him. Perhaps he'll see this, though it really may not look that much like him, meaning he wouldn't recognize himself in it. Or maybe he might....

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