being undone · change · enter the confessional

I am David Gilmour: a cry for help

I keep telling everyone I know, in every forum that I can find, that David Gilmour is not a literature professor. Or any kind of professor. There’s a variety of reasons why that matters, but the point that has struck me, and right in the solar plexus, is this:

I’m hardly a literary scholar at this point either, and I find I’m turning into David Gilmour.

I was hired here as a rhetoric professor specializing in new media studies and digital humanities, but of course I was trained as a literary scholar and am often called upon to teach or profess literature at the undergraduate and graduate levels. So my research in digital life writing is explicitly feminist, in dealing with writings by mommy bloggers, and my overall project interrogates the loaded distinctions between public and private, emotional and rational, domestic stories versus Men of Note. I read widely across male and female writers and critics online, am at the forefront of pushing for gender equity and inclusivity in new media studies and digital humanities organizations.

But. Literature?

It’s been 15 years since I’ve been a student of literature. I am so busy reading the entire Internet that I hardly ever read novels anymore, and what I do pick up are book I already read, books I bought during my time as a literature student. It’s kinda not my field.

Now, I’m developing an online version of our foundational literary criticism class. And all the example texts that keep suggesting themselves to me … are written by men.

Oh. Shit.

Shakespeare, e. e. cummings, the Six Romantic Poets everyone studies, T. S. Eliot, Philip Larkin. Sweet merciful Leavis, I am the problem.

I love the texts I’m using already, because they really do the work I want. But I need a lot more texts. By people of color, by women, by anglophone writers outside of Britain and the US. The textbook I’m using, Ways of Reading, actually does a pretty good job of showing the variety of literatures and Englishes. But I keep falling back on the stuff I can readily call to mind, from a literary education that hit its peak in 1996-97, the end of my BA, before I turned more into a digital scholar.

Unlike David Gilmour, who as a pet writer at U of T can teach whatever he likes off the top of his head, I am a literary professional. The standards of inclusion and being in tune with the discipline are higher for me, as they should be. I am not on top of emerging inclusive canons of short story writers, poets, or novellists. It’s not my field, and I can assure I’m working my damnedest to be 100% at the front of the line for a more equitable sub-discipline where I actually do most of my work.

So I’m asking for help.

I’ve got more than enough living and dead British and American white guys on the roster. Can you suggest to me any poems, stories, novels by other kinds of writers that you love, or love to teach? I want to be as wide-ranging as I can be. Whatever you suggest, I can assure you I’ve got the critical tools at my disposal to do them justice in my teaching. It’s just that the imaginative cupboard is awfully bare, and I just can’t conquer all of literature on my own right now. So maybe your suggestions can be my bedtime reading as well.

I throw myself on your mercy, Internet. I’m not as widely read as this course requires me to be. If you suggest it, I will read it.


8 thoughts on “I am David Gilmour: a cry for help

  1. I teach the literature alongside the primary “theoretical” texts. Here are some I love teaching: Kate Chopin's Story of an Hour, Jen Bervin and Darren Wershler sonnets alongside Shakespeare to think about structuralism, Trish Salah's work is amazing, I turn to Anne Carson a lot — especially the Dickinson/Higginson dialogue in “Sumptuous Destitution,” in terms of videos Paris is Burning, Lady Gaga, and now Miley C make sense. I also love Nourbese Philip's Zong! or “Discourse on the Logic of Language.” That's just a very few. This is the first year in five that I'm not teaching a theory course and I MISS it!


  2. I read a poem by Chinua Achebe for a 200 level English class, I really liked his themes and general style. I haven't read his novel “Things Fall Apart”, but it's on my list. If you're looking for poetry for an undergrad class, I enjoyed Christina Rosetti's “The Goblin Market”.


  3. backchannel me your address and I can give you a great list. But the short form is if you want recent feminist literature there's me (specifically for Mackerel Sky or In Calamitys Wake and I can send you copies), Elizabeth Ruth (Matadora), Erin Moure, Trish Salah (I second the motion and I love teaching Trish), Hiromo Goto, Sonnet L'Abbe, Lisa Robertson, and that is a very small sample of awesome women working in the field. Looking at your field I think as well that a load of awesome indigenous writers would be a great complement and I can suggest a shitload if you tell me more about your course


  4. I love teaching Aphra Behn's Oroonoko to first-year students. They also respond well to Paula Gunn Allen's “Pocahontas to Her English Husband, John Rolfe,” Ami McKay's _Birth House_, Tomson Highway's _Kiss of the Fur Queen_, Wole Soyinka's _Death and the King's Horseman_, Zadie Smith's _White Teeth_, and so many others. After reading it this summer, I want to teach Suzette Mayr's _Monoceros_, too. Shani Mootoo, Kim Thúy worked very well in a 200-level course. And I'll just shut up now.


  5. I've taught the poetry of Miss Lou, the Jamaican singer and poet, which went over extremely well in class. Students loved the deceptive simplicity of her work. In the same course I taught Linton Kwesi Johnson's Five Nights of Bleeding along with d'bi Young's response to it, Blood. Also, it always bugs me that people teach Athol Fugard's plays as though he (a white South African) was the sole author. They are much more interesting when you look at Master Harold and the Boys or The Island as collaborative creations with Fugard AND John Kani AND Winston Ntshona. (Seriously, I love those plays!)


  6. Amazing request! And it's going to help me plan my women's lit course! I'm hardly a radical and I teach mostly early 20th century, so my suggestions aren't unknowns… My favourite modernist ladies: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, H.D., and Virginia Woolf. Students seem to respond really well to Sylvia Plath (much less well to Adrienne Rich) and to early Margaret Atwood (poetry or novels). For short stories, LeGuin's “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and anything by Katherine Mansfield or Flannery O'Connor (and I second the Chopin recommendation). If you'd like more details about any of this, just let me know…


  7. Sweet merciful Leavis! I love that.

    I faced this problem teaching three centuries of poetry. Here are some random successes from that and other syllabi:

    -Atwood's “This is a Photograph of Me” (I get them to draw it), plus Eavan Boland's “Degas' Laundresses” on ekphrasis–there are lots more options here, from several centuries! And so many wonderful Irish women poets of the same generation as Atwood, who pair quite well. Also Paul Muldoon–lots of cheek and 14-liners. Yes on Moure and Sonnet L'Abbe, and Natalie Zina Walschotts for love poems to super-villains.

    -a day or two of sonnets (bear with me!) , starting traditional/formal and then getting into 20th C quasi-sonnets that stretch the genre: Harryette Mullen's “Dim Lady” with Shakespeare's “My Mistress' Eyes”; Millay's sonnets (905, “I will put chaos into 14 lines”); great for gender/queering.

    -Thomas King's short story “Borders” out loud (with student volunteers–told from his perspective as a child, and mostly dialogue), along with excerpts from The Inconvenient Indian.


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