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Corrigan, Paul. “Conclusion to Literature.” TETYC Sept. 2018. Posted 11/06/2018.

Corrigan, Paul T. “Conclusion to Literature.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 46.1 (2018): 30-48. Print.

Paul T. Corrigan argues for a reassessment of the value and purpose of the “Introduction to Literature” course that is part of the general-education curriculum at many higher-learning institutions.

Corrigan expresses concern that the understanding of many humanities scholars and teachers that reading “literature” is an important life activity is not widely shared by the public (30). Corrigan locates twenty-four “apologias” for literature published since 2000 that argue that such texts “may help us change or understand or give meaning or perspective to our lives” (30), but notes that only people already convinced of the value of literature will read these books (31). His study of “nineteen current anthologies and eighty-two available syllabi” for the introductory college course indicates to him that students taking the course are not widely encouraged to appreciate literature as an activity that will bring meaning into their lives (31, 37).

In Corrigan’s view, students taking the college course have already been introduced to literature, and in fact have been widely exposed to such reading, throughout their elementary and high-school experiences (37). Because, for many, “Introduction to Literature” is actually the last literature course the majority of students will take, Corrigan argues that the standard course is a “conclusion” to literature rather than a beginning (37).

Introduction to Literature, he maintains, is both among “the most commonly taught” and “most commonly taken” college courses across institutions (32). For Corrigan, that so many students take this course makes it a powerful platform for helping students see the value of literature; students who will then leave college with a positive impression of literature will far outnumber those who go on from the course to become majors and can influence public perception of humanistic learning throughout their lives (32).

To make the introductory course fulfill this purpose, Corrigan proposes shifting the focus from an preponderant review of the “means” of reading literature, such a formal elements of analysis and criticism, to attention to the “ends” of such reading (34), that is, the “why” of reading, or in the words of M. Elizabeth Sargent, “For what?” Teachers of literature, Sargent contends, should have “at least one thoughtful, evolving committed answer to this question” (qtd. in Corrigan 33).

Corrigan acknowledges that his sample permits only an “indirect peek” into the presentation of the ends of literary instruction, but characterizes his findings as “highly suggestive and instructive” (34). His analysis of the anthologies and syllabi categorizes the sample using four terms.

Materials in which attention to the ends/why issue does not appear at all fall under the classification “absent.” He gives as an example an anthology that responds to the question “Who needs it [poetry]?” with the comment that the “study of poetry” is the collection’s aim (qtd. in Corrigan 34-35; emendation in Corrigan; emphasis original). A syllabus in this category suggests that “‘an appreciation of literature’ may benefit ‘civilization’” and states that what a student will take from the class is “up to you” (qtd. in Corrigan 35). Twenty-one percent of the anthologies and 51% of the syllabi fell into this group (34).

Materials containing “nascent” references to the reason for reading literature made up 47% of the anthologies and 37% of the syllabi. These materials included short discussions or mentions of the value of literature, such as “a few paragraphs” in introductory sections or specific but short statements in course goals (35).

Corrigan placed materials in which “the question of why literature matters [is] one significant topic among others, although not a pervasive or central concern” in his category of “present” (35). Twenty-six percent (5 of the 19) anthologies met this criterion, and 10% (8 of 82) of the syllabi did so (35). Corrigan gives examples of how these teaching artifacts explicitly invited students to connect their reading experience to their lives (35-36).

Only a single anthology and two syllabi fell into the final category, “emphasized” (36). Corrigan delineates how Literature for Life, by X. J. Kennedy, Dana Gioia, and Nina Revoyr, “foreground[s]” the purpose of reading literature as a principal focus of the text (36). A syllabus from Western Michigan University builds connections to students’ lives into its course theme of “literary representations of food” with specific assignments asking students to address the topic in their own experiences (36).

In Corrigan’s view, recognizing that a college Introduction to Literature is more likely to be the “last time [most students] will spend any serious time thinking about literature” warrants recasting the course as “Conclusion to Literature” (37). He argues that the technical disciplinary processes of literary study can still be incorporated but should be used to enhance students’ ability to relate to and connect with the texts they read (40); he maintains that using the course to develop students’ ability to value literature will equip them with more incentive to read and value it in the future “than any amount of knowledge could provide” (38).

Quoting Karen Manarin et al., Corrigan agrees that “merely telling” students how literature matters is insufficient; he calls for pedagogy actively designed to draw out applications to students’ lives. His overview of his own course includes examples of assignments, paper prompts, and activities such as visiting nature centers in conjunction with reading nature poems (39). Writing that teachers may take for granted the importance of the “ends” of literature, he argues that re-seeing the introductory course as a conclusion “attends to, rather than assumes, those ends” (38).

 


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Hall, H. Bernard. Hip-hop Based Education. RTE, Feb. 2017. Posted 03/10/2017.

Hall, H. Bernard. “Deeper than Rap: Expanding Conceptions of Hip-hop Culture and Pedagogy in the English Language Arts Classroom.” Research in the Teaching of English 51.3 (2017): 341-50. Web. 02 Feb. 2017.

H. Bernard Hall writes about the status of “hip-hop based education” (HHBE) (342) in English Language Arts classrooms. He advocates research in and teacher-education on the ways that HHBE can be effectively integrated into literacy education.

Hall presents conversations he has had at conferences and with colleagues about how best to include hip-hop in a curriculum, particularly one that is expected to accord with the Common Core State Standards (341-42). He reports that teachers seem interested in the potential of hip-hop as a means of “teach[ing] critical media literacy and foster[ing] critical consciousness, especially as they intersect around racial identity politics” (344). Some teachers need guidance in best practices for using hip-hop to engage students already involved in hip-hop culture when such a curriculum is explicitly prohibited by an administration (342).

Hall’s review of the past three decades of interest in hip-hop as a pedagogical intervention suggests that “teachers no longer need to be sold on why they should be using hip-hop in the classroom; they want to know how to use hip-hop in the classroom” (342; emphasis original).

Central to this concern is a question as to where hip-hop “[f]it[s] within the Common Core.” Hall answers, “It fits where you make space for it” (343; emphasis original). He argues that such efforts are aided by “the vagueness of the Common Core” and “the versatility of hip-hop texts” which allow “additive and transformative approaches” that can both exploit the strength of hip-hop as a pedagogical vehicle and meet the skills-based outcomes teachers must produce (343). Important to this process, Hall argues, is the power of hip-hop to undermine the Common Core’s “false binary of literary and informational texts” (343). In imparting knowledge through narrative, hip-hop becomes, in Hall’s view, “literary nonfiction” that moves beyond “just poetry” (343). Hip-hop’s aesthetic conveys argument and critique about important issues in students’ cultural experiences.

Noting that “[t]eacher effectiveness and student achievement . . . are located in why and how we teach more than in what we teach,” Hall asks teachers to articulate the “big idea driving [their] curricular intervention” (343-44; emphasis original). He gives examples of the ways such big ideas emerge from diverse applications of HHBE (344). To understand how hip-hop can best be used, he urges more ethnographic research into such applications “by real teachers in their specific contexts” (344).

Arguing that analyzing hip-hop as a text is not sufficient to release its potential as a source of “ideas, epistemologies, and dilemmas that can inform teaching and learning” (Petchauer, qtd. in Hall 345), Hall examines two aesthetic dimensions of the form. In its improvisational nature, freestyling is related blues and jazz; Hall contends that allowing students to move outside the restrictions of more conventional writing formats and use freestyling to “write without premeditation or fear of reprisal” (345) can provide new avenues for the prewriting and invention that lead to more successful academic work.

Similarly, ciphering, or an active participatory exchange that moves beyond “the mere arrangement of desks in a circle” to cast students as “feelers” and “righters” (346) can make use of hip-hop’s emphasis on the realities and environments in which Americans actually live (348). Hall gives examples of teachers who have accepted the call inherent in HHBE to become “cultural workers” in the manner of Henry Giroux (345-46). Effective methodologies for incorporating hip-hop can exploit the form’s focus on the lives of “black and brown students” and their relations to cultural oppression even through the study of traditional texts (346).

Hall takes issue with the position that only practitioners deemed sufficiently authentic can make use of HHBE. He writes that efforts to “’keep it [HHBE] real,’ in effect, stifle the potential of HHBE to interrupt the white privilege that dominates teacher education” (347). Development of HHBE must “work toward narrowing the chasm that exists between the black men who tend to dominate HHBE research and the white women interested in practicing HHBE” (346).

Moreover, Hall writes, scholarship on and practice of HHBE should be willing to determine, through “experimental studies,” in what ways incorporating hip-hop into ELA curricula helps students achieve outcomes like those promoted by the Common Core (347). He juxtaposes worries that working with the Common Core framework will necessarily constitute “sell[ing] out” with his admonition that scholars

must be careful not to essentialize the collectiveness of hip-hop understandings, experiences, and ways of knowing, nor to romanticize the agentive and/or reproductive aspects of hip-hop culture and pedagogy. (348)

He calls for “more models” that will underscore the role of hip-hop as a “microcosm of the nation’s challenges to manifest its rhetoric of multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusion” (348). Efforts to locate HHBE firmly in the mainstream of ELA education, he contends, are important because the exclusion of hip-hop from teachers’ options would palpably demonstrate that “black lives don’t matter” (348; emphasis original).


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Choo, Suzanne S. Cosmopolitan Literature Education in Singapore. RTE, May 2016. Posted 08/31/2016.

Choo, Suzanne S. “Fostering the Hospitable Imagination through Cosmopolitan Pedagogies: Reenvisioning Literature Education in Singapore.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.4 (2016): 400-21. Print.

Suzanne S. Choo, an assistant professor at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, advocates for “literature education” as a means of fostering “ethical cosmopolitanism” in students as a response to increasing pressures from globalization.

Choo documents a decline in the perceived value of literature in the United States and the United Kingdom as fewer students enroll in the subject (401, 418n1) and attributes a similar decline in Singapore to a number of factors tied to economic incentives that favor science, technology, engineering, and math (401). Choo argues that debates over the value of literature provide a chance to “reenvision the teaching of English literature” to highlight its power to offset tensions created by globalization (401).

Choo finds the state of English-language literature instruction in Singapore instructive because of the city’s colonial history and its implementation, beginning in the late 1980s, of a “national literature curriculum” (403) leading to national examinations on prescribed literary texts and practices. Examining the place of literature education as a part of Singapore’s response to globalization alongside classroom practices that may counter these top-level policies provides what Choo, following F. Vavrus and L. Bartlett, describes as a “multilevel vertical case study analysis” (405). Such an analysis, in Choo’s view, allows researchers to “contextualiz[e] local school practices within pressures occurring at the national levels, as these are in turn influenced by global forces” (405).

Choo and colleagues examined 1,593 questions from the national literature exam, coding them according to “question type” and “question content.” Types included questions addressing “plot, character, setting and atmosphere, style, and theme” (406). The researchers considered three levels of content: whether the questions measured “interpretation”; “aesthetic analysis”; or

students’ capacity to evaluate the text’s stylistic representation of others and the ideological values it contains, as well as their capacity to connect the text to the real world in order to engage with its ethical concerns (ethical evaluation and engagement). 406

Choo’s study, over a six-month period, gathered data from “six to eight classroom observations” and “one-hour pre- and post-observation interviews” (406). Four teachers from two “integrated program schools” participated. These schools were “high-performing,” with populations composed of “the top 20%” of scorers on a high-stakes exam (407). Teachers in such schools, Choo contends, have more freedom to design the kinds of assignments that serve needs other than those dictated by national economic interests (407).

To examine the national literature curriculum, Choo advocates for a “cosmopolitan” ethos, but distinguishes between two kinds of cosmopolitanism. Strategic cosmopolitanism focuses on the economic gains associated with global connectedness and the creation of a “skilled labor force” (408) and is “nation-centric,” concerned above all with a state’s competitiveness in global markets (402). In such a view, education is seen as an economic “investment” (403). In contrast, ethical cosmopolitanism promotes a sense of relatedness among diverse peoples and is “other-centric,” valuing the well-being of all as world citizens (403).

Central to the ethical cosmopolitanism that Choo supports is the development of what Jacques Derrida called a “hospitable imagination,” which enables “openness to others without conditions” (404). Choo argues that the study of literature can encourage this ability to see through the “lens of others” (405).

She reports that an interest in English education arrived with the desire of the colonial government to inculcate British cultural values in Singapore’s citizens (407). After independence in 1965, literature was devalued in favor of English-language education, which was seen as a necessary tool in Singapore’s efforts to depict itself as a player in the global economy (407-08). By the 1980s, however, the “creative industries” began to be seen as important in Singapore’s economy, and teaching “aesthetic sensitivity” became a means of ensuring both cultural and symbolic capital, as students were required to demonstrate both the ability to discern aesthetic value and a familiarity with the canonical texts of Western culture (408-09).

Literature education in this climate focused increasingly on detailed studies of the style of certain prescribed texts and authors like Shakespeare and Arthur Miller. National exam questions dealing with students’ ethical engagement with texts disappeared in favor of “[p]assage-based questions” that required students to show their knowledge of the texts (409). In Choo’s view, this pedagogy is “grounded on New Criticism’s adherence to an isolationist approach . . . in which students remain in the lifeworld of the plot, character, and language of the fictional text” (411).

Curricula designed by the four teachers disrupted this isolationist approach by

  • having students read a canonical text like Animal Farm alongside a modern text like N. H. Senzai’s Shooting Kabul, which depicts the life of Afghan asylum seekers in the post-9/11 United States. This comparison foregrounds how Animal Farm can be linked to issues of “discrimination and bias” (“Tanya,” qtd. in Choo 412).
  • disrupting views of culture as fixed to ethnicity, history, or place by assigning authors like Amy Tan and Jamaica Kincaid, who write about their experiences with cultural “displacement, clashes, and mixing” (413). This curriculum encourages students to examine ties to local communities while opening themselves to “affinity with multiple others” with whom aspects of a fluid cultural identity may be shared (413).
  • challenging stereotypes by having students read the required text, Frankenstein, alongside a short story, “The Moon above His Head,” by Yann Martel, which raises questions, both textually and extra-textually, about how representation, for example in media, affects perceptions of others (415). This approach opens discussion about how others can be ethically depicted and how students’ own perceptions develop by “the continual destabilizing of fixed interpretations of the other” (417).

In Choo’s view, these teachers’ work in supplementing required training in aesthetic appreciation with ethically rich literary exploration demonstrates that “literature education powerfully mediates encounters with foreign, exiled, and alienated others” to “propel an appreciation of collective humanity” (418). This appreciation, she argues, can counter the instrumental force of strategic cosmopolitanism and is uniquely available through the literature classroom.

 


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Hergenrader, Trent. Creative Writing as Academic Discipline. J of Creative Writing Studies, Mar. 2015. Posted 04/03/2016.

Hergenrader, Trent. “Making Space for Creative Writing Research in the Academy.” Journal of Creative Writing Studies 1.1 (2016): 1-6. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

Trent Hergenrader argues that in order for creative writing to thrive as a component of the 21st-centry academic environment, it must develop a serious academic research agenda. Hergenrader’s exigency for this claim is the degree to which “corporatization of the university” (1) has led to increased public scrutiny of courses and programs and to a devaluation of coursework in the arts and humanities. In such a climate, Hergenrader contends, even though creative writing courses tend to be popular with students, other stakeholders increasingly expect disciplines to demonstrate their value (1). In Hergenrader’s view, the lack of a committed research agenda is one of the factors that make it hard for creative-writing professionals to do so (2).

Hergenrader writes that traditional justifications offered for including creative writing in an academic program will not address the concerns of skeptics. Arguing in favor of “art for art’s sake,” he contends, will not fare well with administrators needing “a more concrete justification” (2). Moreover, arguing that creative writing classes improve reading skills, enhance appreciation of literature, and develop “facility with language” does not adequately address the counter that literature and composition courses already do this work, often in ways that prepare students for recognizable career tracks (2). Hergenrader worries that universities will not be able to justify hiring creative writing professionals if these courses come to be seen as “expensive electives—’fun’ courses that no employers desire” (2).

For Hergenrader, the approach of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), a “wildly successful” (4) organization representing the enterprise of creative writing, is ineffective in establishing creative writing as a valued academic discipline. He takes issue with claims on the organization’s History page, which states that creative writing should be taught by writers just as other disciplines like economics are taught by economists: “the understanding and appreciation of literature could be enhanced by having practitioners of that art teach that art” (qtd. in Hergenrader 3). The comparison doesn’t hold, Hergenrader argues, because, unlike creative writing, the disciplines cited “map directly onto specific careers” (3). Moreover, according to Hergenrader, AWP ignores the prominent writers who resist the idea that creative writing can be taught and who see coursework in creative writing as useless (3).

Further, Hergenrader contends, the organization promotes a specifically non-academic view of creative writing. He describes its publications as “virtually indistinguishable from . . . other popular magazine[s] targeting writers” and its annual conference as “a hodgepodge of readings, events, and panels with no dedicated track for academic presentations” (4). According to Hergenrader, AWP dismisses the need for creative writing teachers to have an academic degree and simultaneously recommends the MFA as suitable, depicting the MFA as “almost entirely craft-based” with “no mention of pedagogy, teaching experience, or theory beyond that of craft” (4).

The success of the AWP approach leads Hergenrader to imagine critics asking why students should be taking creative writing in college at all when they can get the same instruction from popular media without the financial burden of a college credit (4). The solution, in Hergenrader’s view, is for university courses to “deliver experiences that students can’t get anywhere else” (5). This goal, he states, will require articulating the “tangible benefits” for students taking creative writing; a more substantive investigation of pedagogy; a proactive exploration of the many writing platforms now available to writers; and collaboration across the academy in order to make the value of creative writing visible in and integral to the academic environment (5).

Hergenrader points to publications and organizations in the U.K. and Australia that have incorporated an academic focus into the discipline (5). He advocates for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies as a new forum for “the research-minded subset of creative writers in the academy who want more disciplinary coherence than what AWP currently provides” (6). The journal’s goals include making the larger academic sphere aware of creative writing as a discipline and increasing appreciation for the “thoughtful and practical value of the skills” creative writing teaches (6).

The journal’s founders are planning a conference in Fall 2016 and are developing the Creative Writing Studies Organization, “not to compete with, but rather complement” AWP’s efforts (6). They hope the opportunities offered by the journal will encourage upcoming creative-writing graduate students to “change the conversation” about creative writing as an academic discipline (6).

Access The Journal of Creative Writing Studies here.

 

 


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San Pedro, Timothy J. Native American Silence as Shield. RTE, Nov. 2015. Posted 01/18/2016.

San Pedro, Timothy J. “Silence as Shields: Agency and Resistances among Native American Students in the Urban Southwest.” Research in the Teaching of English 50.2 (2015): 132-53. Print.

Timothy J. San Pedro recounts insights from an ethnographic study conducted over the course of three years as a participant/observer in a class on Native American literature taught at a high school in the southwest United States (132). He draws on “field notes, artifacts [such as written and art assignments], and audio-recordings” as well as “semistructured interviews” (150n3), featuring three female students who identified as Native American (133). San Pedro shares these students’ experiences in their classrooms, especially in their history classes, as they negotiate their identities in the context of the “settler colonial discourse” they encounter in their school environments (135).

San Pedro focuses on a stereotype of Native Americans and Native American students as “‘naturally,’ ‘biologically,’ or ‘culturally’ reflective, silent, timid and/or nonresponsive” (134). He states that as he began his study, he was influenced by scholarship that posits that these features of Native American students’ classroom behavior resulted from “mismatches” between the kinds of discourse they experienced in their home communities and the discourse expectations in United States high schools (139). However, in his article, he explores how he came to see these three students’ silence as a form of resistance to the dominant narratives expounded in their classrooms and to the systemic “macroagressions” they experienced, as well as “microagressions”—exclusionary or silencing acts teachers and fellow students might not even be aware of (134, 136).

To frame the ways in which the students’ choices constituted resistance and to explore the effects of that resistance, San Pedro uses the term “critical silent literacies” (142; emphasis original). In this critical practice, the students respond to micro- and macroaggressions by withdrawing from classroom discussions. “Storying” and storytelling through relationships of communicative trust with others then allows the silenced students to make sense of their responses to these aggressions, responses that are therefore “voiced” to allow the ways they both protest and protect to emerge (143, 149).

San Pedro explores different kinds of resistance to analyze how the students’ use of silence and then of storying embodies agency. Resistance can be “damaging and self-defeating”; San Pedro notes how zero-tolerance policies can limit students’ options for productive resistance (142). Other forms of resistance can be what D. Solorzano and D. Delgado Bernal call “conformist”; this resistance allows students to “accept or reject” elements of the conflicting cultures they must negotiate (142). Other resistance can be considered “resilient” (T. Yosso, qtd. in San Pedro 142), leading to a “survival-through-resistance strategy” that G. Vizenor labels “survivance” (qtd. In San Pedro 142; emphasis original).

To illustrate that students choose silence in order to resist rather than passively bringing silence into the classroom because it typifies their home cultures, San Pedro presents several anecdotes in which the students experienced exclusion and even mockery from the dominant culture within the classroom. Each student offered active participation but felt unable to breach the systemic exclusion. “Nisha’s” teacher stopped calling on her when she questioned norms as presented in the history books (140-41); “Shila” was laughed at for not knowing Native American history that had not been taught 145-46); “Eileen” discovered that her history teacher did not know who Chief Sitting Bull was (146-47).

For San Pedro, the slowly developing trust he was able to share with the students allowed them to interpret their reactions to these experiences and to turn them into resilient forms of resistance (149). Such resilient strategies, San Pedro argues, can lead to productive change. He considers the silence of the students he studied resilient because it expanded, through shared storytelling, into an awareness of the kind of resistance they were practicing and became “agentive” (149). Such acts of agency, when voiced and shared through critical silent literacies, San Pedro contends, effect change by encouraging educators to examine more carefully how their teaching choices can subtly or explicitly exclude and silence. He invites readers to consider themselves part of the community of sharing that recognizes the agency in these students’ choices and is moved to a productive response (149).

 


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Pruitt, John. Heterosexual students read LGBT fiction. TETYC, May 2015. Posted 08/25/15.

Pruitt, John. “Heterosexual Readers in Search of Queer Authenticity through Self-Selected LGBT Novels.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 42.4 (2015): 359-74. Web. 16 Aug. 2015.

John Pruitt builds on questions raised by his experiences as a member of a gay men’s book club as well as by discussions with heterosexual students about a novel depicting the struggles of a gay Latino character. Positing that critical awareness of a text and its relationship to culture can be strengthened by seeing how that text functions for different audiences, and hoping to understand how students respond to difference before teachers frame their classroom analyses, Pruitt received a grant to conduct a case study of eight heterosexual students as they read and discussed novels by LGBT authors that addressed LGBT issues. Central to the students’ interactions with the texts was the issue of “authenticity,” which Pruitt, quoting Dana L. Fox and Kathy G. Short, defines as “the reader’s sense of truth in how a specific cultural experience has been represented” (qtd. in Pruitt 364). Pruitt concludes that a focus on authenticity can lead to essentialized responses to difference (372).

In Pruitt’s view, extant approaches to teaching LGBT literature emphasize the teacher’s role. They include assigning LGBT readings and carrying out discussions with LGBT individuals outside of the classroom (360). Critics of assigning readings in hopes of undercutting homophobia contend that such strategies leave untouched the oppression inherent in heterosexual cultural norms. Similarly, Pruitt’s sources argue, book clubs, which are often made up of middle-class white women, reinforce rather than help to dissolve current norms (360). However, other theorists defend the use of literature to “inspire both large-scale political action and less precarious face-to-face interpersonal interactions” (360).

In his effort to gain insight into the efficacy of LGBT literature for students encountering difference, Pruitt drew on members of the Sigma Kappa Delta English Honor Society, the “national English honor society for two-year institutions,” of which he is the sponsor. The eight students agreed to meet monthly in 2013-2014 to discuss novels they chose on LGBT issues. Pruitt wished to see how the students reacted to the novels without a teacher’s intervention; he did not attend the discussions but video-recorded them (361).

The group consisted of three white males, three white females, one African American female, and one Latino male (361). Asked what they “hoped to learn,” the students cited their desire for knowledge about gay experience within their own cultures, their concern about gays enduring oppression in other cultures, and their interest in understanding how stereotypes might have affected their perceptions (361-62). Quoting Pat Hutchings, Pruitt emphasizes that he focused on the research question “what is,” which “aimed not so much at proving (or disproving) the effectiveness of a particular approach or intervention but at describing what it looks like, what its constituent features might be” (qtd. in Pruitt 362; emphasis original).

The books selected by the students included historical fiction, “military novels,” novels from a range of cultures such as small-town culture in the United States, skinhead culture in England in the 1970s, Gypsy culture, the culture of Chinese prostitution rings, and gang culture in the Bronx. A novel about early twentieth-century artist Tamara de Lempicka depicted her relationship with a female model (363).

In their discussions, some of which became lively, students interrogated a number of themes and issues. The different levels of support for gays in different environments afforded opportunities to explore perceptions of sexual identity across race and ethnic boundaries, with attention to the role the understanding of family plays in a given community (368-69). Some of the characters, the students noted, chose to create “alternative families” when needed support was missing (368). Several of the novels inspired discussions of the definition of masculinity; one student noted that violence was often brought to bear in the novels in an apparent belief that a gay individual could be “toughen[ed] . . . up” by “beat[ing] the manliness into him” (“Keaton,” qtd. in Pruitt 366). The contradictions exposed by the depiction of a “gay skinhead” (365) and a “thug type” who was gay (“Frank,” qtd. in Pruitt 370) led to investigations of “shifting subject positions in which the identity marker of ‘homosexuality’ becomes both politicized and destabilized” (366). In one discussion, students noted that the very state of being different allowed the characters to imagine possibilities other than the difficult situations they found themselves in (369).

Such contradictions were among the factors that led to recurrent concerns about “authenticity.” The students questioned some of the more extreme elements in some of the novels and noted that some depictions did not match what they felt they had observed in their own culture (367-68, 371). Pruitt explores their “search for the elusive authenticity of LGBT life and culture” (371), noting their expectation that members of a community will depict that community reliably. Students intending to write and teach felt that knowing members of minority communities would be vital if they were to represent and teach about those communities (370). Quoting James Graham, Pruitt notes the value of “realistic” literature in “mak[ing] minority identities knowable to a majoritarian audience” (qtd. in Pruitt 371).

However, Pruitt cites Ana Maria Sanchez-Arce’s term authenticism to posit that the need for authenticity can lead to an essentialized portrayal (372), in which the depictions of a culture earn their authenticity by subsuming differences among members within a “reflection of the values, attitudes and worldviews considered worthy of acceptance by members of that culture as a whole” (364; emphasis original). This qualification leads Pruitt to question the authenticity of depictions of heterosexual culture, and he urges teachers to incorporate investigations of these depictions in their classrooms (372). He responds to the possibility that awareness that they were being recorded may have been shaping the students’ responses: even so, he posits, their concerns about authenticity mean that critical attention to the concept should be central to any classroom discussion about LGBT fiction (371).