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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.


Wheelock Library Celebrates National Poetry Month

April marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month.  The Wheelock College Library is celebrating this milestone occasion in several different ways.

Stop by the library any time in the month of April to check out our New England Poets Display celebrating the work of poets living in or inspired by New England. Get lost in the nature and landscapes of New England while reading evocative prose by Robert Frost. Ponder the human condition with works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the founders of the transcendentalist movement. Everything in the display case can be checked out of the library. To take a closer look at something, ask a library staff member for assistance. You can also browse many more books in our poetry section (call number 811) on floor 4M of the library.

disp_fullGet in touch with your creative side and partake in our Poetry Tree activity. Create your own blackout poem from one of the old book page leaves, or cut out words from an old newspaper to create a poem on a blank leaf. Share it with the Wheelock community by hanging it on our Poetry Tree or take it home to hang in your room. This activity will also be set up for the entire month of April.
PoetryCollage

There are lots of additional resources on the American Academy of Poets website. For example, April 21st is Poem in your Pocket Day. Learn more about this event here. The American Academy of Poets also provides this handy PFD list of poems for your pocket. The Wheelock Library will have printouts of a selection of these poems available at the service desk on April 21st if you want to stop by and pick one up.

Finally make sure to go to Boston’s National Poetry Month Festival (April 7th – 10th at the Boston Public Library and Northeastern University). You can hear readings by famous poets, attend the 2nd Annual High School Poetry Slam competition, or show off your own skills at Open Mic events.


Open eBooks: Books for Low-Income Children

On February 24th  2016 Open eBooks, an initiative to make thousands of books freely available to children in need, was launched nationwide.

Open eBooks is an app containing thousands of new and popular reading titles that can be accessed digitally by low-income children who may not have access to materials at home, in school, or in their communities. This app will empower children to expand their knowledge, improve their reading skills, and develop digital literacy.

open ebooks

Open eBooks in the App Store

President Obama first announced the Open eBook initiative in April of 2015. Since then, literary
organizations from around the country have worked tirelessly to make the project a reality. The app was developed and curated by the Digital Public Library of America, The New York Public Library, First Book, and digital book distributor Baker & Taylor. It received funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, as well as contributions from many major publishers, including Bloomsbury, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, National Geographic, and Candlewick.

At the Wheelock College Library, we are excited about this new advancement in digital access to children’s books, not only because it goes a long way towards improving the lives of children and families, but because it supports one of the core values of all libraries. After all, aren’t libraries the original open eBooks? Providing public access to information is hugely important to our society, as is summed up by this quote from the America Library Associations’ website:  “Libraries help ensure that Americans can access the information they need – regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers”. Projects like Open eBooks create additional opportunities to reach communities that are geographically isolated from a public library system.

Are you involved with an organization that serves low-income children and are interested in getting access to the Open eBooks app? Learn more about eligibility requirements HERE.


Screen capture of research guide

Anti-racism Resources for White Allies

During fall semester, one of the things that faculty and staff members heard from students was that there is a need and desire for materials that would support individual learning about how to be a white anti-racist ally. Jenne Powers, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Writing, initiated a conversation with Roz and me about this, and we decided that a great place to link to materials on this topic would be a library research guide. Writing Center Director Gillian Devereux also contributed good ideas to this effort. We worked on it in November and December, and this January, we were ready to unveil our resource guide, “Anti-racism resources for white allies.”

Screen capture of research guideWe hope it provides some places to get started! Like we say on the guide, it’s a work in progress, and we invite the participation of the Wheelock community.  Do you want to suggest a resource?  Email us.  Have feedback to share?  Sing it out.  Notice a broken link?  Let us know.

 


Maurice Sendak, 1928-2012

Author and illustrator Maurice Sendak died on Tuesday, May 8.

His career spanned over half a century and produced such children’s literature classics as Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen. He was also a fascinating, charmingly cranky man whose life and work are well worth exploring.  Start with any of the links below, and stop by the Library and check out our display of his books, as well as books about him, located right by the front door.

  • New York Times obituary
  • New Yorker profile from 2006: lengthy, but worth your time!
  • NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross interview
  • And, last but not least: parts one and two of his hilarious, delightful interview with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report.