Beloved/Love Medicine/Ceremony: which novel would you choose for a summer read?

Which novel do you want to read this summer?

Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, author of the short story “Yellow Woman.” It’s about a young man who is half white and half Laguna Pueblo Native American and it integrates traditional stories, some poetry, and environmental issues related to nuclear war. First published in 1977.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, author of the short story we are reading “The Red Convertible.” Set in the Dakotas from the early 1900s to mid 1980s, it’s about interrelated families of various mixes, mostly white and Native American (Ojibway). It’s almost like a collection of short stories except the stories are connected. First published in 1984.

Beloved by Toni Morrison is about an escaped slave, her life, and her family and the aftermath of slavery. It’s set mostly in Ohio in the years following the Civil War. First published in 1988.

Here’s the question: which would you prefer? Before you answer, I encourage you to learn more about the three novels.

1) we all read the same novel (which is your 1st & 2nd choice? why?)

2) half the class reads one novel, half the class reads another: you get to choose which of 2 novels (which 2 do you think we should read? why?)

3) one third of the class reads one novel, one third reads another, one third reads a third novel: you get to choose which of 3 novels (which would you choose to read? 1st & 2nd choice? why?)

All three novels are relatively easy to find new or used, on-line or in stores, or in local libraries. Please respond in the comments. If I get a chance, I may put a poll up here also so you can respond anonymously and you can see how other people are voting.

Writing About Imaginative Literature: some conventions, some guidelines, some approaches to writing

Writing about Imaginative Literature
English 1B Alley Ventura College

Topic and Draft Thesis Due: Thurs July 2
4-5 Page Rough Draft Due: Mon. July 6
4-5 Page Draft Due: Tues. July 7
5 Page Revised Draft Due Weds. July 8
5 Page Final Paper Due Th. July 9
+ 1 page process analysis, annotated work cited, drafts, responses

In this paper, you may
–explore any problem or question raised for you as a reader of one or more assigned texts or raised through class discussions or thought papers about a text or its author
–write an interpretive or critical paper on a text or texts to help a reader read more deeply or comprehensively or even with more pleasure.
— advance ideas you have about a text or reflect on an idea advanced by text/s or author/s.

Whatever issue you address or problem you explore, do some reading about the text/s and use some of these ideas in your essay to make sure that your essay is informed in some way by your engagement in a conversation that goes beyond your discussions with colleagues and your teacher to include perspectives available through the wider and more carefully constructed conversations that are represented by the body of published literature about literature.  A good rule of thumb is a citation for every page, so this paper should have five citations.

I am confident you have numerous worthwhile literary questions which you could pursue given the opportunity. To find your topic: Consider our theme of “seeing” in one or more texts we have studied. Look over your reading responses—you could be looking at a rough draft. Review and reflect on what we’ve read to find your topic. Review the questions to ask when reading literature and questions from various critical approaches (handouts). You may use any text or combination of texts which we have studied—after we have studied them: plays, poems, novels, short fiction, and essays. At least one text must be written, but you can, for example, compare the CLU version of Macbeth with the one on the page and one on the screen. Ask: What do you want to understand better for yourself or what would you like to be able to explain to a friend?

Examples of Topics:
➢    Take a formalist approach: discuss symbolism, setting, character development, etc. in any text. Or, for example, look at the color “red” in “Red Convertible” and “Riders.”
➢    Take a biographical approach to interpreting Carver’s work.
➢    Take a psychological approach to True West, “Red Convertible,” or Macbeth.
➢    Take a historical approach to “Brokeback” or “Riders.”
➢    Take a Marxist approach to “Riders,” “Red Convertible” or Carver.
➢    Take a New Historicist approach to “Riders.”
➢    Take a cultural studies approach to any one or two of the texts.
➢    Take a gender studies approach to “Brokeback,” “Yellow Woman,” or “Riders.”
➢    Take a mythological approach to Macbeth, “Riders,” or “Yellow Woman.”
➢    Take a reader-response approach to any one or two texts.
➢    Take a deconstructionist approach to Macbeth, True West or Carver.
➢    Raymond Carver revised “The Bath” radically to become a “A Small Good Thing;” he significantly revised other stories which also appear in Where I’m Calling From. Choose a pair and do close readings to compare and contrast the versions. What does Carver accomplish in his revision?
➢    In many of the Raymond Carver’s stories we read, characters have difficulties communicating. What do you think Carver means by all this interrupted and mis-communication?
➢    Compare and contrast the screenplay, the movie, and the short story “Brokeback Mountain.”
➢    Compare and contrast three interpretations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: page, stage, and screen.

Correctly identify all ideas that are not your own using MLA (parenthetical style), whether they are directly quoted in quotation marks, or summarized or paraphrased in your own words. Every cite in the paper should be included in the work cited; every work consulted should be identified and annotated.

Process analysis paper:
Keep track of your writing and research process as you work on your research paper for your process analysis paper. In it, discuss the process by which you developed your paper: where the topic came from, why it interested you, what you learned and how, what sources you found where—even discuss your dead-ends! Credit those who helped.

Web resources: an excellent step by step process you can follow. The following general guidelines for “Writing About Literature” I downloaded and adapted from

When writing about literature, follow the same basic conventions required of any expository essay:
➢    state a thesis in your introduction (topic, tude, telegraph, tension)
➢    develop that thesis: give supporting reasons and evidence by engaging and citing the text in the body
➢    conclude with a summary of your main points and a restatement of the thesis
➢    cite and document any quotes.

Some conventions in writing about literature of which you should be aware:
➢    In the introduction to your essay, mention the title of the work and the author’s full name (the topic). The title of short works (a story or poem) is set off with quotation marks; the title long works (a play or novel) is underlined or italicized:
story: “The Storm”
poem: “Ballad of Birmingham”
play: Hamlet or Hamlet
novel: The Secret Life of Bees or The Secret Life of Bees
➢    The first time you refer to an author, use his or her full name. Thereafter, use only his or her last name:
In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman paints a portrait of a woman losing her mind. In order to make the narrator’s disorientation more vivid, Gilman tells the story from the first person point of view.
➢    Note that a comma or period is placed inside the quotation marks; a semicolon or colon is placed after the quotation marks: (double check this one in your style guide…!)
In “The Storm,” Calixta encounters a former lover.
Kate Chopin is making a controversial point in “The Storm.”
Kate Chopin has created an ambiguous ending for “The Storm”; this leaves the interpretation of the story up to the reader.
Not many events occur in “The Storm”: a thunderstorm, an affair, and a homecoming are the extent of the plot.
➢    Avoid using wordy or grammatically incorrect opening lines:
In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart,” he tells a fascinating story.
(In this sentence, “he” doesn’t refer to anyone; and if you use the author’s name, you don’t need “he,” too. Try it this way: In “The Tell-tale Heart,” Edgar Allan Poe tells a fascinating story. But there’s still a problem: This opening sentence doesn’t tell your reader what your essay is about. It’s filler, without real content. Get to your point quickly and directly, perhaps like this: Contrary to popular belief, the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” is not insane. He is evil.
➢    Unless you have been asked to write a personal essay, avoid using the first person (“I”) and the second person (“you”) in your essays. Most college essays are supposed to preserve a formal tone, and using “I” and “you” gives the essay too casual a tone. Instead of saying, I think Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane , try Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane . (Note that this makes you sound more authoritative, as well.) And instead of saying If you look closely at Poe’s narrator, you will see that he is evil, rather than insane; try A close reading reveals that Poe’s narrator is evil, rather than insane.
➢    USE PRESENT TENSE when discussing a published work:
In Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible,” Lyman’s extreme measures to help his brother Henry shows how much he loves and cares for him. (Notice the increased tension by discussing the implications—what his extreme measures mean. It could use more telegraphing of what those extreme measures are).

Three LA Area Literary & Art Collaborations & Shakespeare too for you this summer

Shakespeare Galore plus three Visual & Literary Art Collaborations in LA Summer 2009

macbeth_poster CLU KingsmenSummer is outdoor Shakespeare season with Will’s Words popping up all over the country, including many different performances in unusual venues all over the Los Angeles region including Topanga Canyon’s Will Geer Thetricum Botanicum.

The Kingsmen’s version of Macbeth opens tonight at 8pm on the campus of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, in east Ventura County followed by All’s Well That Ends Well. Bring a blanket and a picnic and come early –grounds open at 5:30pm–to enjoy the pre-show entertainment and stake out a good spot on the grass.


  • Friday, Saturday, Sunday – June 26-28, 2009
  • Thursday, Friday, Sunday – July 2-3, 5, 2009
  • Friday, Saturday, Sunday – July 10-12, 2009

All’s Well That Ends Well

  • Friday, Saturday, Sunday – July 17-19, 2009
  • Friday, Saturday, Sunday – July 24-26, 2009
  • Friday, Saturday, Sunday – July 31, August 1-2, 2009

Poetry can be heard in an art gallery at Bell Arts Factory 432 Ventura Ave Saturday starting at 7:30pm; an open mic follows the feature. If it’s less traditional means of the literary arts that fascinates you, here are three events worth checking out, two of which feature my dear friend Jen Hofer:

ONE: Jen Hofer will read in Hollywood tonight, Friday June 26 from few of her brand-new hand-made tiny books which will be exhibited as part of a group show curated by Jibade-Khalil Huffman at Eighth Veil Gallery. The show is titled Wrong: A Program of Text and Image: information on the Eighth Veil website. Jen will also have on hand a hand-sewn a quilt made of papers collected on recent cross-country travels and she’ll be setting up the escritorio público (public letter-writing desk) at the opening where she charges $2 for a letter, $3 for a love letter, and $5 for an illicit love letter.

WRONG: A Program of Text and Image Curated by Jibade-Khalil Huffman
26 June 2009 – 31 July 2009 Opening reception June 26
Eighth Veil 7174 Sunset Boulevard Los Angeles, California

Featuring works by: Lucas Blalock, Mira Dancy, Zipora Fried, Charles Gaines, Jen Hofer, Jibade-Khalil Huffman, Marci MacGuffie, Eliza Newman-Saul, Mariah Robertson, Xaviera Simmons, Lawrence Weiner. Curated by artist and writer Jibade-Khalil Huffman, “Wrong: A Program of Text and Image” is a group exhibition of works concerned with the use of language in visual art. In conjunction with the show, Eighth Veil is producing “After Stanley Donen,” an anthology of art and writing edited by Huffman, available in July. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 12 – 6pm, and by appointment.

TWO: Visual artist Hillary Mushkin and Jen Hofer collaborated on Precipitation, an animated video that is part of the Oog series, an online multimedia opinion feature for the nationally distributed Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant. It can be viewed this week at After that it will be in the archives,  You’ll find Hillary’s images on her website, and in the near future another of collaborative projects will be published in the journal area sneaks, edited by Rita Gonzalez and Joseph Mosconi.


Mild Light

An evening of Cantastoria from the Performance Department of The Museum of Everyday Life

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“Cantastoria” is the Italian word for a traditional performance form originating in 6th Century India, involving the display of representational paintings accompanied by sung narration. Recently there has been a revival of interest in Cantastoria among performers,artists, puppeteers and activists in the West, who find that this ancient form has startlingly modern qualities and can easily be infused with fresh content. Historical, lyrical, and pathetical examples of the ancient and post-modern art of picture-story recitation will be presented by Clare Dolan, Chief Operating Philosopher of the Museum of Everyday Life (Vermont). Using examples from the permanent collection of the Museum of Everyday Life, Clare will demonstrate the versatility and immediacy of this performance form, with stories ranging from accounts of bloody crime in the 1930’s written by Bertolt Brecht, to the dilemmas of a modern-day heroine trying to make a living and achieve total happiness. In addition to the shows, a brief, entertaining and historical overview of the performance form will be presented, and refreshments will be served.July 2nd and 3rd performances will feature a special musical performance by Emily Lacy!Show Times:
Thursday, July 2nd at 8pm
Friday, July 3 at 8pm
Friday, July 3 at 10pm
Saturday, July 4th at 8pm

The Manual Archives
3320 West Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026

general admission $12

students or seniors $8

For more information please go to

The Manual Archives is a project of Automata

Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible”

Louise Erdrich is an immensely satisfying storyteller who molds her novels from the clay of her short fiction. In the preface to “The Red Convertible,” a collection of her new and selected stories, Erdrich writes that these pieces later “gather force and weight and complexity” to generate whole books, woven densely as tapestries.

This anthology returns 30 of those stories, which eventually became parts of 11 novels, to their original, unentangled forms. The book also includes six other stories, some of which are being published for the first time.

Like Faulkner, Erdrich has created a fictional community — an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota — from which her work can unfold.

Read the rest of the article ‘The Red Convertible’ by Louise Erdrich here.

For my Summer Lit 1B students: I highly recommend this collection. However, if finding and buying this book isn’t in your budget, I passed out a copy of “Red Convertible” in class Th. June 25 to be read in conjunction with Leslie Marmon Silko’s “Yellow Woman” (handout) and Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” (available in the VC bookstore or as a hadnout). For Monday, you need to read all 3 stories and find a common theme in two of them; you can also use Sam Shepherd’s True West. If you missed class or didn’t get a handout, I left copies of the handouts in the classroom near the door and the whiteboard. I also left some under the trash can outside out class! You might be able to find these texts on-line also.

Here’s a link to her original version of the story which you could check out at in addition to the handout or instead of. It’s very similar but the names are different. You can also find an intro to the book there.

Unfortunately, and strangely, the last page of “Red Convertible” did NOT get copied with the rest of the story, so I have typed page 154 below:

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the story, don’t read the end!! Don’t!!

“Got to cool me off!” he shouts all of a sudden. Then he runs over to the river and jumps in.

There’s boards and other things in the current. It’s so high. No sound comes from the river after the splash he makes, so I run right over. I look around. It’s getting dark. I see he’s halfway across the water already, and I know he didn’t swim there but the current took him. It’s far. I hear his voice, though, very clearly across it.

“My boots are filling,” he says.

He says this in a normal voice, like he just noticed and he doesn’t know what to think of it. Then he’s gone. A branch comes by. Another branch. And I go in.

By the time I get out of the river, off the snag I pulled myself onto, the sun is down. I walk back to the car, turn on the high beams, and drive it up the bank. I put it in first gear and then I take my foot off the clutch. I get out, close the door, and watch it low softly into the water. The headlights reach in as they go down, searching, still lighted even after the water swirls over the back end. I wait. The wires short out. It is all finally dark. And then there is only water, the sound of it going and running and going and running and running.

Native American Playwright’s Fest at LA’s Autry Center closes 6/27; Climbing Art show open to Oct. 4

granite frontiers at the Autry MuseumThe Autry National Center this summer presents a stunning exhibition, Granite Frontiers: A Century of Yosemite Climbing. For more information on The Autry, click here.

Granite Frontiers chronicles the history of modern rock climbing in Yosemite, where the towering granite walls of Yosemite Valley are the ultimate proving ground for climbers from around the globe.  Included are amazing artifacts, stunning photographs, historic video footage and interactive displays, giving you a sense of the rich history of over 100 years of climbing in Yosemite.

Photo: Pete on Sunkist by Greg Epperso

from Granite Frontiers: A Century of Yosemite Climbing

KCRW members like me receive free admission plus a guest by showing a KCRW Fringe Benefits Card, Saturday, September 5, 2009 only. No Fringe Benefits Card?  Subscribe to KCRW at the $50 level or higher and start saving at nearly 1000 businesses. Click here.

Closing this weekend at the Autry:


J.M. Synge’s One Act Tragedy “Riders to the Sea”

J.M. Synge’s one act play, “Riders to the Sea,” is considered by many to be the best one act tragedy written in the English language. I know it’s one of my favorite plays for many reasons, but I’m curious why you might think it is considered one of if not the best.

If you’re not familiar with the play, or want to reread it, here’s a link. I strongly recommend reading it aloud; it will only take about 15-20 minutes. Relax and picture the scenes in your mind; you might even look on-line and find images of Galway and the Aran Islands to put you in the mood. Here’s a link about an article which discuses the native language of Ireland: LA Times: Speaking of Riders to the Sea…

Warning: Have plenty of tissue nearby when you read this play.

J.M. Synge’s One Act Tragedy “Riders to the Sea”

While you’re reading the play, consider:

1. who was J. M. Synge?
2. where and when has the play been performed?
3. symbols: the colors white and red
4. the symbol of water
5. the passing on of various articles—examples and meaning
6. allusions to fate/who were the 3 fates?
7. allusions to religion and the Bible, especially Revelations
8. when does the play take place and why is this important?
9. the comment of the priest
10. define tragedy—Aristotle’s and contemporary (what’s comedy?)
11. the role of the supernatural
12. pagan beliefs, in particular with relevance to the cake
13. keening and other unknown words and acts
14. the setting in the Aran Islands (Ireland)
15. historical context within which the play takes place
16. what and when was the Irish Literary Revival and who was involved?
17. refer to handout with questions to consider when reading drama

(For my English 1B students, in your reading response, do some research in order to answer and discuss one or more of these questions.)