On Friday, my kids did an activity in which they ranked #1-8 who determines what "literature" is. Among the choices were educated readers, college professors, writers, the general public, critics, publishers, and booksellers (sorry, I didn't include "Oprah" in the list, even though I probably should have). It blossomed into a cool little discussion, which I hoped would commence our study of literature this year.
During the debriefing portion of it, I gave them a fact shrouded in a cool little story that I tried to tell Paul Harvey-like.
"Once upon a time," I said, "in around 1977, a young, little-known writer read a book she really liked, that spoke to the writer in a way that no other book had before. The book was out of print, and the writer looked up the author, and discovered that the author had died so poor that a headstone wasn't even provided for the grave. The writer decided to try to locate her grave, and did, buying the dead author a headstone. She later recounted her actions in a famous article for Ms. magazine. After that article, the book that intrigued the writer so much started gaining notoriety. It forced its way back into print, and began getting taught in historically black colleges or by feminist literature professors, then later by public universities and, finally, in high schools. The name of that article in Ms. magazine? "Searching for Zora," named after Zora Neale Hurston. That book? Their Eyes Were Watching God, now considered one of the greatest novels of the 20th century and a novel taught in the majority of American high schools, including this one, as part of the American Literature canon. You all read it last year. So, that was a writer, then university professors, and, of course, later Oprah determining what 'literature' is."
I swear, you could hear a pin drop, then a girl said, "Wow, that was a cool story!" (I swear I'm not making that up), and I felt like I had done my job, especially for 9th period on a Friday.
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