Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Healing Power of Literature

Literature can provide powerful support for us in times of trauma and sadness. In the Teaching English in the Two-Year College article “Literature of Survival: A Literature Class as a Place for Healing,” Kate Dailey explains how literature can provide models and guides for readers searching for ways to make sense of traumatic experiences. When Nikki Giovanni was asked to speak at the Convocation at Virginia Tech (audio of poem , transcript of poem , convocation video) a week ago, she could never have predicted the way that her poetry would prove a healing salve for the community.

VT Memorial with Giovanni PoemOvernight, words from Giovanni’s poem appeared on handwritten posters, on professionally-made banners, on tshirts, on full-page newspaper tributes, and on car windows. When I visited the Virginia Tech Department of English yesterday, a colleague confessed that Giovanni was amazed by the way the poem has been adopted by the community. As an English teacher, I too am amazed. It’s rare to see a poet’s words splashed across an entire community, but Giovanni’s reading at the Convocation has become the rallying moment for students, faculty, staff, alumni, related families, and the greater community. When Giovanni said, “We will prevail,” we all believed her.

Dailey’s Teaching English in the Two-Year College article emphasizes why literature can have such a powerful effect: it provides a model for healing, guiding readers through the process of remembrance, mourning, and reconnection. English teachers know that literature touches lives. In this last week, we’ve gained powerful evidence of just how deeply literature can touch us all.


Teri Lesesne said...

A colleague of mine happened to pick up a copy of the latest Jodi Picoult novel, NINETEEN MINUTES, about a school shooting the weekend before the VT incident. She noted how her reaction to the book evolved as she watched the horrific events unfold. Personal response to literature is powerful. It creates and sustains readers. It forces them to examine the text and themselves in ways they might not have undertaken otherwise.

When I see reading reduced to multiple choice options or analytical essays that somehow undercut the reader's own response, I cringe. We must provide the words that will impact readers and then permit them their own words in reaction to their reading.

Teri Lesesne

Anonymous said...

A book that I have read and passed on to my students is Todd Strasser's Give A Boy a Gun. I'd like to find the novel mentioned by Jodi Picoult.

Despite literature's cathartic qualities, I fear we have so much more to mull through with our students due to their visual exposure to the massacre. My own students have been watching the videos made by the killer on Youtube. These clips, moreover, seem to desensitize rather than heal.

Stacy Goldberger

Docteach said...

Just hearing the response to Giovanni's reading renews our strength to go on as an educational community. Those of us who work with teens are empowered to reach out to them through discussion, exposure to audio clips like this one, and literature like GIVE A BOY. We have used that book in 8th grade for the past few years with great success. You hope that its theme never becomes a headline, but it does. T. Lesesne is right to cringe at the multiple choice assessment of a selection. It's not enough...it never was.