The Mythical World of The Beautiful Struggle

This is the first installment of the Wheelock Community Read Summer Blog Series. Each week, we will be posting a blog written by Wheelock faculty or staff that deals with a theme from this years’ community read; “The Beautiful Struggle” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This week, please welcome guest blogger Jenne Powers, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Writing. 

The Mythical World of The Beautiful Struggle

By Jenne Powers

The first chapter of Coates’s memoir opens with a fight scene described in terms that evoke Dungeons and Dragons, the World Wrestling Federation, Lord of the Rings, and the Transformers. Right away, Coates plunges his readers into the media- and myth-saturated world of his young mind. The opening lines describing Murphy Homes read, “When they caught us down on Charles Street, they were all that I’d heard. They did not wave banners, flash amulets or secret signs. Still, I could feel their awful name advancing out of the lore” (1). The lore here is local legend amplified by a boy’s imagined confrontation with orcs, goblins, and trucks that turn into robot killing machines. By including this kind of imagery and these references, Coates casts himself as a player in a monumental story. His mentors – his father, his brother Big Bill – are larger than life. His journey travels through time into the past and the future. Reading is ritual. He is struggling not just on the path to college, but to the Mecca.

As the chapter progresses, Coates develops the complex voice that characterizes this book. Like many narratives about childhood it is a double voice – at once a child’s and a man’s. His point of view is often limited to his child’s eyes and conveys a child’s enthusiasms and fears (“amulets or secret signs…”) but at the same time it is informed by the experiences and wisdom of mature Coates, the author.

His description of WWF wrestling and its juxtaposition to the Murphy Homes battle especially conveys at once his childish enthusiasm and his adult critique of cultural appropriation and racist media stereotypes:

I was open, and wanted to cheer the Birdman, resplendent in wraparound shades, a Jheri curl, and fluorescent gold and blue spandex. . . . maybe that night he dipped and glided toward the ring, flapping his arms and talking to the parakeets perched on each of his shoulders. I wanted to see the Dream, who was at the height of his feud with the Horsemen, and outnumbered, had taken to guerrilla warfare—masks, capes, ambushes, beef extended into parking lots, driveways and dream dates. But I lost it all out there, and when I dig for that night, all that emerges are the tendrils of Murphy Homes, how they dug into my brother’s head. (6-7)

His child’s eye delights in a grown man acting like a bird and bringing pets into the ring, while his adult’s critical eye sees a dangerous caricature of an African warrior, compounded by the subsequent rhetoric of the Dream, a White character who regularly appropriates Black culture. At the end of the passage, we feel a child’s confusion in the fray as well as an adult’s pain in the act of remembering. This double voiced narration allows Coates to develop the important ideas of Knowledge and Consciousness as expertly as he does. While reading this book, we are immersed in the experiences of a young boy who gains Knowledge every day, Knowledge rooted in his experiences as a young Black man in a world shaped by institutionalized racism. His child narrator may not always grasp the significance of his experiences (nor do we at times). However, we are led through the journey by an expert, Conscious guide – Coates.

Coates tells a story of growing up in a setting rich with myths – some patently fictional, some historically liberating, some media-generated, some community-minded. Young Ta-Nehisi demonstrates his resilience and strength by surrounding himself with so many myths. He is not one to succumb to the danger of a single story. He has many heroes to choose from and villains to battle. His coming of age will be, throughout the memoir, owning and telling his own story: Consciousness.

And his voice is not always easy to identify with. But maybe he is not asking us to identify with him. Coates’s language is intensely personal and powerfully political. It is not an everyday voice – no hero’s is. And his journey is not without peril – no hero’s is. But he will persist, and it is his control over language that gives him the tools he needs to complete his quest. This memoir comprises the mythical origin story of the scholar and public intellectual who brings us “The Case for Reparations,” “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” and Between the World and Me.


Screenshot of ejournal finder search results, with the Search within Publication highlighted

New eJournal Finder and a Google Scholar update

The Library has a new and enhanced eJournal Finder!  If you haven’t used the eJournal Finder before, it is a tool that helps you find Wheelock subscriptions to journals and the articles within them.  The new Finder looks a little different, but the functionality will remain very familiar, with additional improvements over the previous one.   You can access it through the Library homepage by going to the eJournal Finder tab.

screenshot of ejournal finder tab

Try searching for Journal of Social Work Education.  In your Search Results, you can go to one of the databases where full text is available for this journal.  For many of the journals, you can search within that journal.

Screenshot of ejournal finder search results, with the Search within Publication highlighted

The Search within Publication  feature is incredibly handy.  You can put in something as general as the term, “elementary schools” to find Journal of Social Work Education articles related to “elementary schools”.   You can also search for a specific article title, like “MSW students’ attitudes toward transracial adoption”.  This saves you several steps over the previous eJournal finder.  Here is what you will immediately get when you run this second search:

results from an article title search using the eJournal Finder's Search Within Publication feature. Two results.

This new eJournal Finder means you will also have to update your Google Scholar library links.  For those who don’t know what Google Scholar’s library links do: it finds full text from Wheelock subscriptions in your Google Scholar results.

first Google Scholar search results

Go to scholar.google.com and select Settings.

Google Scholar homepage with a red box around the Settings link

On the next page, select Library Links.

 

Google scholar settings page with Library Links highlighted

Under Library Links, search for Wheelock.  Select everything that says Wheelock.

Google Scholar library links page with all 4 current options selected

Please let us know if you have questions!  You can come see us, email us at library@wheelock.edu, call us at 617-879-2220, or chat us via the Library website.

 


Ice-Cream-Social

Ice Cream with a side of history

Mint-Cookie-ConeIce cream is a perfect summer food, or if you are ice cream obsessed like I am, ice cream is a perfect food anytime of the year or day.

My obsession with ice cream is not limited to eating it. I am also obsessed with the process of making ice cream, the history of the food, the history of various ice cream companies, you name it. If it is ice cream related I am interested.

As July is National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of July is National Ice Cream Day, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to share some of the fascinating ice cream facts and materials which combine my love of ice cream and history.

First how is it that July came to National Ice Cream Month?

Presidential Proclamation 5219 signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 after is was requested by The Congress via Senate Joint Resolution 298. The Presidential Proclamation designated July 1984 as National Ice Cream Month and July 15, 1984 as National Ice Cream Day. Although the Proclamation officially only referred to 1984 the tradition of July as National Ice Cream Month and the Third Sunday of July as National Ice Cream Day has stuck every since.

Read the proclamation here.

And get more information about Senate Joint Resolution here.

Ice cream before National Ice Cream Day:

Yukon-Freezer

“The Yukon Freezer” hand cranked ice cream machine, c 1935. Click image for more information.

 

ice-cream-jefferson

Thomas Jefferson’s own vanilla ice cream recipe. Click image for more information.

Looking to expand your own ice cream knowledge check out these e-books from our collection:

Ice-Cream-Goff

This is a little to technical to be considered light reading, but it has a wealth of information from history to how to. Click the image to view the catalog record and access the e-book.

 

Ice-Cream-Social

Interested in learning more about how Ben & Jerry’s became the company we know today? Click the image to view the catalog record and access the e-book.

Speaking of Ben & Jerry’s check out their blog post illustrating the evolution of the design of their pint containers over the years.

Grow-your-own-ingredients

Looking to make ice cream of your own? This gardening and cooking book will have you not only growing your own berries and mint but turning them into simple homemade ice cream. Click the image to view the catalog record and access the e-book.

 

Enjoy!


Images in a developing online collection.

Introducing the Online Learning Lab

An exciting new technology is coming to your classroom! Last week, the Smithsonian Institution launched their new Online Learning Lab. The Lab gives anyone access to the Smithsonian’s digital collections, including millions of digitized images, videos, artifacts, and documents. Following the Lab’s “discover, create, share” model, items in the collections can be organized, annotated, and remixed according to your imagination. Have a topic you’re interested in? Create a collection for yourself or to share with friends, like the one I created about my home-sweet-home: Nevada.

Images in a developing online collection.

Creating my collection in the Smithsonian’s Online Learning Lab.

While it’s a fun tool for exploring personal interests, the Online Learning Lab was created for teachers with the help of teachers and is intended to be used in K-12 as well as higher education classrooms. You can use the Lab to give students access to customized collections, including your original annotations, quizzes, and assignments. Students can also create their own collections, making this the perfect tool for a digital exhibit assignment. And even as you add your own annotations and titles, you won’t lose or overwrite the Smithsonian’s excellent metadata so you don’t have to worry about endangering the knowledge of one of our nation’s most venerable institutions.

The Smithsonian is presenting the Online Learning Lab this week at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. Even if you weren’t able to make it to Denver for the conference, you can still get started with this incredibly fun and easy tool. So, what are you waiting for? Your class could be on the cutting edge.


americanbornchinese

Graphic Novels Are Books, Too!

A few weeks ago, I told a few teenagers, who had expressed disinterest in reading, that graphic novels are books, too.   I mean, you have to read them to understand the story, though not in the same way that you would traditionally think about reading.  Part of the experience of reading isn’t just reading the words.  Sure, words are important.  Bad writing can lead to disinterest and frustration; and beautiful writing can elevate the reading experience.  However, there is a something else going on as you process the words on the page – you’re discovering the narrative, analyzing character motivations, and becoming emotionally involved.

Image of a young woman reading a book on a chair. Text: Book hangover: Inability to start a new book because you're still living in the last book's worldGraphic novels have fewer words, but the words they do have  – often in the form of thought and speech bubbles – are important in developing the story and giving insight into the characters.   The artwork, including decisions on how to organize and frame the panels, informs mood and emotions that must be interpreted through a different sort of process – a visual one that “reads” the images.

In the past 10 years, I’ve seen an explosion in the popularity, variety, and availability of graphic novels in the US.  Rather than a genre, it has become more of a format and a more widely acceptable one at that.  Graphic novels used to take up about half a shelf in bookstores and in public libraries; now there are multiple bookcases worth in these places.  Graphic novels have helped reluctant readers to more positively engage with reading and develop literacy skills.  They have also become a teaching tool in the classroom.

Shelves of graphic novels

Photo by Morebyless (CC BY 2.0)

Here are some graphic novels available at Wheelock:

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang ; color by Lark Pien. Three stories about the problems of young Chinese Americans.

A + E 4ever : A Graphic Novel by I. Merey. Coming of age story about two lonely gender non-conforming teens who meet and form a friendship.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers.  A story of a teenage boy on trial for his supposed role as lookout in a murder.

Rapunzel’s revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale ; illustrated by Nathan Hale.  In this Old West retelling, Rapunzel saves herself and gets of out sticky situations using her hair as a lasso.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.  Story of a young girl who signs up for roller derby camp and is struggling with spending the summer apart from her best friend.

Images of 5 book covers. From L to R: 1. a boy and girl sleeping facing each other 2. a lone young black teenager 3. a chinese boy with a robot 4. A boy and a girl with very long hair 5. A girl with blue hair on skates

Looking for more?  A fan of English-translated Japanese graphic novels like I am?  The Wheelock community has access to the Boston Public Library and its many branches and to the Brookline Public Library.  Just bring in your Wheelock ID and they will hook you up.  I recommend Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama for those interested in bleak yet compelling post-apocalyptic stories and Fruits Basket by Natsuki Takaya for lighter fare.
Cover of the first volume of Fruits Basket. Cover features a high school girl with long brown hair surrounding by orbs containing the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac

For those interested in how graphic novels work in the classroom, check out our blog post from 4 years ago and the below books:

An cover image inspired by Superman; a man peeling open his white shirt to reveal the words, "The Graphic Novel Classroom".

The Graphic Novel Classroom POWerful Teaching and Learning with Images. Available online at Wheelock.

Image of a teacher standing in front of a blackboard pointing a stick to the dialogue box: Class, Please Open your Comics

Class, Please Open Your Comics : Essays on Teaching with Graphic Narratives / Edited by Matthew L. Miller. Available online at Wheelock