Further Reading: Spring 2011

Further Reading Presentations

We are focusing in this course on the art and craft of autobiography. This is a genre not just about the self, but about writing the self, crafting the self in a text. In the tradition we are exploring, all of the autobiographers are writers and are in some form stories about becoming a writer.

Our studies into the craft of these autobiographies can be enhanced by doing some further reading into these writers and their craft outside the book we are reading.  You will present in class some basic research into the writer you have been assigned; you will also initiate discussion into some element of this writer’s biography and/or craft that is of interest and that might provide some context for the book we are reading.

Here are the guidelines:

  • Find and provide a brief summary of an additional text by the author: a story, essay, or chapter from a larger book, an interview with the author.
  • Make note of any elements of style or craft or particular topics in this further reading that might compare/contrast with the text we are reading: further evidence of how the writer writes and thinks that we can apply to our reading.  Identify an element or passage in the class text that you want to highlight for comparison in class discussion.
    • For example: you read a short story by Wolff, or perhaps a chapter from his Vietnam memoir, or an interview–where the issue of violence and attraction to guns comes up; you make and show us some connections you see with This Boy’s Life, how he writes about and around this issue, thinks about it as a writer.
  • Sketch out some questions or points to raise for discussion.  Write this up into a 1 page overview and post to this Further Reading page (click ‘leave a comment’ and copy your sketch into the comment box); post before your class presentation. The presentation/discussion will be around 5 minutes. If you desire, you can combine your efforts with another person also scheduled to present on the same day.


  • Tobias Wolff (2/9)
    • Zoe, Alissa, Kaylee, Anna, Jesse
  • Lorene Cary (3/9)
    • Gabby, Emily, Frankie, Whitley, Daniel
  • Trethewey (3/30)
    • Angela, Meghan, Shaelan, Luis, Roy
  • Momaday (4/13)
    • Karly, Caroline, Tom, Lindsay, Lacy
  • Kaysen (4/27)
    • Devon, Sarah, John, Tyler, Taylor

19 thoughts on “Further Reading: Spring 2011

  1. For my further reading, I read Wolff’s short story, “Hunters in the Snow.” The three main characters of the story, Tub, Frank, and Kenny, are good friends that go hunting one cold, snowy night. Having no luck finding any game, Kenny gets upset and starts shooting. Feeling threatened for a brief moment, Tub shoots Kenny before Kenny can shoot him. Tub and Frank then run up to a farmer’s house to call a hospital, which is fifty miles away. They end up driving Kenny in his car with a broken window. They stop to warm up, and leave the directions to the hospital at the first tavern. In the end, we learn something that they do not know; they have taken a wrong turn and are a long way from the hospital.

    Wolff’s style in this piece of writing seemed very similar to “This Boy’s Life.” I noticed that a lot of the time, he gave little explanation to the reader. For example, in the beginning of the story, Tub is waiting on the side of the road for who knows what. I assumed he was hitchhiking. It is only when a truck stops and the driver calls him by his name that I inferred that the two knew each other, and had planned to meet. There was also quite a bit of humor in this short story, as there is in Wolff’s childhood memoirs.

    I noticed some recurring themes from “This Boy’s Life” as well, such as guns, hunting, and travelling, just to name a few. Tub also reminded me of Toby/Jack in some ways, while Kenny reminded me a bit of Dwight.

    Questions/Points for discussion: Why does Kenny decide not to tell the other two that the farmer has asked him to kill the dog?

    Would Tub not have shot Kenny if he knew he had been told to kill the dog?

    Why do Tub and Frank keep stopping on the way to the hospital? Do they expect Kenny to die?

    What is the purpose of the story taking place in the woods on a snowy night? Is this a sort of metonymy?

    Discuss Tub’s feeling of living a double life, hiding his overeating. He likens this to the life of a spy or hit man.

    Discuss the point of mentioning Frank’s fifteen-year-old love. Is it so he and Tub will bond over shamefulness/hiding from others?

    Why does the story end so darkly?
    ” ‘I’m going to the hospital,’ Kenny said. But he was wrong. They had taken a different turn a long way back.”

  2. In Tobias Wolff’s autobiography This Boy’s Life event after terrible event seem to happen to Jack as the book progresses, but there is a different element to this autobiography that many do not posses; it is told in the first person. While reading the autobiography it is almost as if we are being told a story about a fiction character and not a story of someone’s life. My question is WHY? Why would Wolff decide to make is autobiography less credibility by making it seem like a work of fiction.

    After reading an interview with Tobias Wolff this question was able to be answered. In the interview Wolff comments that when he looks into the past he sees his memories in a narrative form (story from). The reasons for this being when he was growing up the people around him were constantly telling stories all of the time, it was a way for them to pass down what had happened to them. Due to his experiences as a child it made scene for him to write his autobiography in a story from. After reading about why Wolff writes in this particular way it made complete scene to me as well. While reading This Boy’s Life the read is able to multiple examples of Jack telling fabricated stories about his life to friends. For instance, his friend Arthur and he would tell stories about their families, although they were made up. Jack also told lies to is pen pal about his life as well. in both cases we see Jack telling stories, although made up. This would then make scene about him writing in the first person about his real autobiography, it just seemed the natural thing to do, Jack was a story teller.

    Another aspect of Wolff’s writing in This Boy’s Life is how he would jump to subject to subject never giving a full encounter of the whole story. For instance, when his mother came back from her date crying and he asked about the bike. We are never able to see the outcome. Wolff explains this in his interview by saying that a person’s memories come in fragments, they are moments. This then explains why there are to real chapters in the book and there would be a large space between paragraphs. Wolff wrote his story in the way memories work for him, episodically.

  3. Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” is an inwardly involved short story about an older man and highly critical book critic, Anders, and his involvement as a less-than-distraught civilian in a bank robbery. Moments before two men in ski masks and blue suits enter the bank with a shotgun and attitudes worth respecting (for the sake of one’s life, that is), Anders makes pained commentary with the audibly disappointed woman in front of him about the one of two bank tellers who closes her position at the last minute. His words are utterly sarcastic, past the brink of disrespect, even offensive to the woman in front of him. When one of the robbers catches his incessant, life-tired drone, he taunts him further, asking if he thinks any of the scene before him is a joke. Anders is curt with him, weary, and seemingly almost disbelieving; a strange calmness sits in his demeanor when threatened. At one point, most likely due to nerves, he bursts out in uncontrollable laughter. Though he apologizes, repeating the robber’s “capiche” as though it were something to laugh at, he is shot–and right in the head. In what television and movies would portray as a split second of life turning to death, Wolff brings out and analyzes in almost two pages of writing. Wolff portrays the path of the bullet, the way it penetrates certain parts of the brain–one, especially, triggering memory–and, as this is happening, what Anders does and does not remember, primarily, surfaces. It is said that he does not remember deliberately crashing his father’s car, the woman who jumped off a building to her death across the street from his office the day his daughter was born, or his first lover. What he does remember is an afternoon on the baseball field from his childhood, a day when he met up with his cousin and a friend of his cousin’s, from Mississippi, who coins the phrase, “Short[stop]’s the best position, they is.” As he ultimately dies, Anders recalls every thread of a detail from that warm summer day, seemingly one of the best of his life.

    Wolff’s style is almost to a T exactly as it is in his autobiography, This Boy’s Life. It is frank, tried and weary, and darkly comedic. The parallels between Anders and himself, Toby/Jack, in This Boy’s Life are numerous, perhaps even unending. For instance, in the beginning of the story when the woman in front of him on line complains of the recently closed position, he retorts, “Damned unfair. Tragic, really. If they’re not chopping off the wrong leg, or bombing your ancestral village, they’re closing their positions.” This humor bares, also, some similiarity to what one might hear coming out of Dwight’s mouth in Wolff’s autobiography. It should also be noted that he references war or combat of some sort, which he had much personal experience with in This Boy’s Life. Such a retort can be matched up with the episode in This Boy’s Life when young Toby sneaks the car out for a spin and ends up unable to get it back home: “Look, I know you won’t believe this, but I just kind of woke up and there I was, driving the car!” (Wolff, 175.) It is both pitiful and comedic at the same time. Later on in the story Anders’s head is forced skyward as the gun tilts up his chin, and his innermost thoughts make drab, critical commentary on the artwork on the ceiling, one allusion in particular to Zeus and Europa, two cows courting one another. Other elements in the dialogue exchanged point to minor characters, too, in This Boy’s Life–for instance, when the robber prods him with the gun and utters characteristically teenage threats to him, “You like me, bright boy? You want to suck my dick?” These can be connected, to the precise reader, directly to Huff and the way he repeatedly addressed Toby: “Hey! Dicklick!” (Wolff, 226.)

    I would like to draw extensive attention to Wolff’s extreme depiction of the bullet traveling through the brain. It speaks a lot about his attraction to writing about violence–which is perfectly understandable, given his history with guns in his childhood and all throughout his time in Vietnam–but it is also very meticulous and exacting. The narration is very specific on where the bullet exactly is as he is thinking what he is thinking (or not, as Wolff puts it). Owing to the memories he, himself, does not recall is because the bullet strikes the surface of the brain first; he only falls back on a memory when the bullet strikes the medial temporal lobe where the hippocampus is located (the part of the brain that controls memories and connections to memories far gone). The fact that this is both medically and literarily exact really intrigues me, and took close reading and inspection to verify.

    Another point I would like to make is how much of Anders the reader ceases to come to know before he is initially shot. The narration is terse and action-oriented, introducing Anders as a book critic and particularly antsy, given the proximity to the bank’s closing time, nothing more. The reader does not get to know the people he leaves behind upon his death until the bullet has done its dirty work–the reader learns of his daughter, an economics professor at Dartmouth, and his wife, predictable, but loving. The reader learns intimately of his first lover, his daughter’s pet bear, Paws, growing up, poems he had committed to memory (even one in its original Greek), the trials of his mother’s marriage with his father.

    But what’s really interesting to me as this careful reader is how seemingly bored with life Anders had become, perhaps warranting his death in the first place, perhaps appealing to the reader, telling the reader, Look, I wanted to die; that’s why I laughed, that’s why I seemingly shrugged the dirtbag with the gun off. One of the memories the narration files through is the immense pile of books on his desk every morning, writers waiting to be critically acclaimed, and he, himself, knowing that they wouldn’t be because he was not the man to do so; Wolff uses the words “boredom” and “dread” when addressing the heap. He complains of his wife’s predictably in these memories, how it “exhausted” him, and how “sullen” his daughter is in her teaching position at an Ivy League school. In his recollection of the poems he had once memorized, poems that would bring instant shivers to his spine, he states that they no longer had any effect on him at all–much less the fact that he did not remember them at all. Perhaps his allusion to that one afternoon on the baseball field was his last real day of life, the last day of his childhood, the last day he truly, thoroughly enjoyed, perhaps the last day he totally considered himself “alive.” Perhaps it was the drawl of the southern kid, They is, that brought reality crashing down on him, owing to his fascination with the boy and his dialect and the fact that he never, ever forgot it. Perhaps that was the day Anders grew up.

    I encourage the class to discuss these points, respectively.

    [“Bullet in the Brain”–https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/ro/www/LiteratureandMedicineInitiative/20080304/bullet.pdf]

  4. Old School is set in a private prep school in New England, and is closely related in detail to the Hill School, which Wolff attended briefly. The students aspire to be writers, admiring their English teachers and immersing themselves in all things literature. Their dedication to the subject is taken to the next level. In their senior year, poets and fiction writers are permitted to submit entries of their works for the prize of spending a day with a famous visiting writer – including the likes of Frost, Rand, and Hemingway.

    Immediately the narrator’s apprehension but severe dedication to winning the ultimate author prize mimics that of the narration in This Boy’s Life. He’s so dead-set on winning that he slaves over half-finished poems, coming to the conclusion that none of them are worthy of submission, going in and out of depressive and anxious states. This mimics Toby in This Boy’s Life, in that Toby desperately strives for more than what his life can offer only to be beaten again and again by his own lies; it particularly relates to Toby’s application process for the Hill School, where he tries his best through lying to gain admission. In Old School, the narrator similarly lies about his past.

    Does the literature competition serve to stand as another reminder of all that he lied about and couldn’t overcome, as that one big goal that he can never quite reach? The fascination with literature itself – does it reflect his own passion, which allows him to create pseudo autobiography-like stories?

    Stylistically, Old School is similar to This Boy’s Life: simple sentence structure and details. It keeps the story clean and moving. The similarity could blur Wolff’s memoir and novel together. Old School seems as if it could be a continuation of Wolff’s experience at the Hill School, which was never fully developed in This Boy’s Life.

  5. http://www.jstor.org/pss/40349125

    I read Tobias Wolff’s short story, Sister. This story took place mainly in a park, where a woman, Marty, spots two men working out, and she decides to go over to introduce herself and see where things go from there (she finds one of the men very attractive, so her motives are plain from the start). She converses with the men, and is frequently pestered by an errant frisbee from a group of people playing catch nearby. One time when she goes to retrieve the frisbee to throw it back, Marty is almost hit by a car and narrowly escapes injury. Rather than act frazzled and terrified (that she’s almost killed), however, Marty is embarassed and decides to head home without saying a word to anyone. On her way home, she contemplates what she will have to deal with once home-her brother and his drunken friends after an unsuccessful day of hunting and a night at the bar afterwards.

    Much of Sister is very reminiscent of This Boy’s Life. Wolff’s writing style, his edgy use of drugs and alcohol, his nonchalant discussion of sex and other things that are “frowned upon” by society today, etc. One glaring theme i drew between the two stories was that of the hunting and alcohol usage. Marty’s despair of having to go home to deal with her brother and his friends reminded me a lot of Toby having to deal with Dwight once he returned from an equally unsuccessful day of hunting. Both Toby and Marty knew exactly to expect, yet did nothing to avoid it. Both continued on with their lives, somewhat dreading what was to come, but knowing fully that there was no stopping it and they might as well just ride the wave and let things happen, as they would turn out better if they dealt with it in that way.

    Lastly, the point in the story I found particularly interesting was how Marty dealt with almost being hit by a car. Not only was the woman embarrassed rather than terrified, while she saw the car careening towards her, rather than get out of the way and find shelter, she sat there thinking about what everyone in the park was thinking, chores she had to do when she got home, etc. The woman had no regard for her own safety, and furthermore she had even less interest in the immediate situation, which i found very interesting.

  6. For my “further reading” I read over an Interview with Lorene Cary. Before viewing this I always wanted to know how she viewed race as a barrier in schools, and how race affected how successful someone could be when they’re put into an unfamiliar environment. Another question I wanted to know was how did she feel about giving up her African American roots to fit in more at a predominately white school. Through this interview we find out a lot about Cary and why she still doesn’t seem to like St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire.
    One of Cary’s main reasons for writing “Black Ice” was to show the hardships faced by a scholar ship student during the time of integration. Cary states, “I also very much wanted to figure out how to explain to people who lived on either side of American extreme privilege what it looked like from the other side”. When she said privilege it still seems to me that she is hard on herself. Like the pot smoking incident or her failing math she always takes her anger out on herself. She says nothing about her earning her education at St. Paul’s and later UPenn, but calls it a privilege, which instantly gives less credit to herself.
    Lorene Cary reminds me of another author who went through a similar experience. Back in high school we read a book titled “A Hope in the Unseen” by Cedric Jennings. Which is a true story about a young African American boy who grew up in the projects, similar to Cary in Philadelphia. He later went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and his Masters from Harvard. While he did not attend a private high school, I saw similar situations arising from him and Cary. Jennings’s was ridiculed for being so smart and that because his race would not succeed; this reminded me of Cary describing her emotions about how she wasn’t afraid but she new that white students thought she was.
    A huge part of Cary’s writing seems to be the use of emotion and how it all plays into her life. When asked about becoming emotionally involved in her stories this is what she has to say, “You can’t write it without becoming involved. Emotion is the currency of fiction. Nonfiction can manipulate emotion but the currency of fiction is emotion”. This explains why we can almost sympathize with Cary in her book despite not going through what she did, or being there with her. Another emphasis is the fact that if you don’t put any emotion into your writing then the reader won’t feel any emotion either and it will be hard to keep them hooked.
    While “Black Ice” focuses on racism in her time, she still continually shuts down myths that are commonly associated with race determining success in education. She explains a quote that she was once told, “You know, we’ve been sending these inner-city black children on this small scholarship to independent schools and it’s so hard and it’s mainly not doing well. We’re almost deciding that it’s not worth it, that we shouldn’t do it because it’s too bad for them”. Cary explains it all as a myth that is told to black children to make them think they can’t succeed. This quote reminds me somewhat of “This Boys Life” when Tobias is told what the workload would be like at his new school in attempt to deter him from coming.
    I feel that Cary has done a good job in her autobiography of explaining how there’s a misconception of race versus status and how it affects one’s education. While reading this interview I could almost make out her voice as I can hear it in “Black Ice”. This interview was conducted 2 years ago and it seems that Cary has not changed since her writing of her autobiography. She is a very intellectual, emotional and descriptive person who is able to convey her thoughts and emotions through both her writing and a simple interview.


  7. The title of the novel I chose to look at is The Price of a Child, by Lorene Cary. Part of the reason why I chose this book was that I saw that it partly takes place in Virginia, my home state, and I find that particular time period (1855) to be quite interesting, especially in Virginia, a state that was divided over the issue of slavery. Another reason that this novel interested me was the fact that a great deal of its content takes place in Philadelphia, Cary’s hometown, and I thought it would be interesting to see how she wrote about her childhood home in a novel setting. It was primarily those two elements that drew me to this novel (along with the fact that Cary really hasn’t published that many works to choose from).

    The Price of a Child is the slave narrative of Ginnie Pryor, a mother of three who flees from her owner in Virginia to Philadelphia. Contrary to the other slave narrative we’ve read in class (that of Frederick Douglass), Ginnie’s road to freedom was significantly smoother and she transitioned much more seamlessly into the Philadelphia culture. This was made possible by the assistance and support of a strong underground movement by free blacks in the North. Whereas Douglass was largely on his own in his pursuit of freedom, Pryor relies on outside sources whom she doesn’t know personally and she puts her trust in the belief that there is a fight against slavery being waged by blacks in the North. In this aspect, Pryor’s story is one that is much more about community and unity whereas Douglass’ autobiography was largely about the fight for personal identity and establishing one’s sense of freedom in an oppressive society.

    Another focus of The Price of a Child is the meaning of family. Pryor, due to the circumstances, is forced to abandon one of her children in her flight from slavery. Her action here brings up the ethical question of whether it is right to forsake one if you’re saving two at the same time (Pryor was able to take her other two children with her to Philadelphia). This was a side of the escape narrative that we previously hadn’t explored in class; Frederick Douglass was by himself and his escape was purely a singular voyage. This was an issue that repeatedly presented itself throughout the course of the novel; was it right for Pryor to run away from slavery?

    Comparing The Price of a Child and Black Ice, there are a number of similarities that jump out immediately to the reader. For one, home to both Cary and the fictional Pryor is Philadelphia. In Pryor’s story, Philadelphia represents freedom. Likewise, for Cary in her own life, Philadelphia holds a deeper meaning than just a place. At numerous points in her autobiography, Cary states her desires to leave St. Paul’s School and flee to Philadelphia. Both of these stories are escape narratives, in a sense. For Pryor, that escape is literally a physical escape from slavery. For Lorene Cary, she repeatedly expresses her desires to escape from the unfamiliar atmosphere of St. Paul’s and return to the freedom and comfort presented by Philadelphia.

  8. For my further reading, I read an article called “The Dinner Hour” by Lorene Cary. This article was in Inquirer Magazine on September 6, 1998. This article is about culture and the importance of close knit families joining together and spending mealtimes together. At the end of people’s busy days, dinner is the time to tell, ask, or learn, with the people which are most important in life. Cary reminisces about her childhood memories of watching her aunt, mother, and grandmother cook in the kitchen for hours together. She stresses her views on the importance of how dinner symbolizes closing the gap between generations, and jumps ahead in time to her adult life. The point in life where she and her husband must keep up the ways of her family members past to maintain a family as close as when she grew up.
    Cary’s style seems very similar in this article compared to her novel, Black Ice. There is less of a focus on being African American, yet the writing style and feel of the way the article is put together is recognizable. I notice she switches from past to present as she does in Black Ice. In the beginning of Black Ice, she tells the reader where she ends up: spending years working at the school after graduating. We know she survives, but we do not know about all the negativity in between. In “The Dinner Hour,” there is much more of a positive feel, an interesting side of Cary’s writing to read. She begins with childhood memories with lots of detail in her writing, as she uses in Black Ice as well. Then Cary elaborates from them creating idyllic family gatherings and their strong importance that holds families together. The theme of family connection is tied into both of these pieces of writings. Black Ice is about her new life at a school away from her parents and sister, a transition that was extremely difficult for her. On move in day she convinces her parents to stay for the entire day, and she is sad to know that life goes on at home without her. She even says she feels bad for leaving her sister. In “The Dinner Hour,” her parents and sister are brought up yet again, and in some ways it is through this article that I can better understand her relationship with her parents. And by the end of the article, she herself is a parent sitting at the table with her own children, remembering the days that she will cherish for the rest of her life.

  9. “Lorene Cary’s Aha! Moment” discusses the impacts her first daughter had on her life a week after her birth. At the beginning of the essay, Cary focuses on how she stayed in contact and frequently visited with all the members of her family while she was a child, after she was married, and continues to after the birth of her daughter. Cary then moves on to talk of visits at her grandparent’s house. Here I noticed Cary’s use of the “Eye” instead of “I”. She notes all of her daughters characteristics, habits, and likings in her first week while also describing her grandparents’ house – where she nursed her and laid her down for naps, how often she spit up, “Her staccato ah-ah-ah charged the air in the quiet pink-and-green house”, her sleeping and nursing patterns and how she dressed her and how she liked to be swaddled.

    The essay then turns to how the birth of her child made her realize that “death inhered in life, silent but active.” She gives examples from one extreme to another of how death has been a constant in her life, but also presents examples of how “life itself lay imbedded in each shiny moment.” She ends the essay referring back to her daughter, as “The week before I’d been pregnant. Now someone new and beautiful lay on the couch, dreaming new dreams all her own. It gave me hope where I hadn’t known I was hopeless.” Again, Cary’s use of the “Eye” instead of “I” to explain her theory of death and life was a craft in this essay that I could strongly relate to that in “Black Ice”.

  10. For my further reading, I decided it would be important to read a few of Natasha Trethewey’s poems, since she is a poet by trade. In Beyond Katrina, we are only exposed to a few and I enjoyed the simplicity with which they were written while conveying deeper thoughts or feelings. This interest is why I was interested in finding out more about her poetry and if it commonly followed the same patterns.

    I found two online that I really enjoyed. The first was titled Letter Home. Just within the name of this work, I knew it would be related to some internal insight of a place she knew. I gathered this would be similar to her style of looking into the destruction of Katrina and how it affected the place she once called home. This poem as it looks was not planned out the same as those we have seen in Beyond Katrina. It is more of a stream of lines rather than being separated into pairs.

    The ideas in the poem are similar to that of Beyond Katrina in that they both deal with struggle. However, in Letter Home, the author is struggling to find footing in a new life as they have chosen to, whereas in our book for class, it is about recreating a life after it has been taken away without consent.

    The second poem I read was titled Domestic Work, 1937. This was a poem containing very simple language, discussing the work of a maid or house worker in the middle of the 20th century. It creates an image of cleaning another person’s house and what time the worker has to enjoy for herself. In this poem I found a lot of imagery that helped me to see the story coming to life. I think this is very important to relate to Beyond Katrina, because images of what used to be and what has been caused by the destruction of the hurricane needs to be adequately describes to readers in order to make them feel as if they really have an understanding of what everything looks and feels like.

    I think this idea of using imagery within prose or a poem is the most important element of Trethewey’s craft to consider as we finish Beyond Katrina and consider our own writing styles. The ability to draw in the reader and help them to gain a greater understanding of the situation will help any story to become more interesting and allow readers to feel more involved. We may also want to consider how she uses actual pictures and images to portray characters and places to provide a very clear visual for readers.

  11. I found an interview conducted by Wendy Anderson, after Natasha Trethewey received the Pulitzer Prize for Native Guard. Native Guard is a collection of poetry about her mom, growing up biracial in the south and the Native Guard. The Native Guard was the first group of black men in the South to be in the Civil War. She becomes very intrigued with the history of them and their legacy. In the interview we learn that her writing really takes off in her mid 30’s when she moves back home and is surrounded by things she knows. She hides poems in drawers because she did not think people were interested in her writing. Obviously that was wrong.
    Trethewey tells us that the poems of Native Guard are about herself, and her place in the South. This contrasts to Beyond Katrina because we have really read a lot into her brother’s life. I would like to read Native Guard and get a feel for Trethewey’s life. Trethewey’s interest in her home town is apparent in Beyond Katrina also. She would not have written the story if it was not a big deal to her. The interview tells us that Trethewey wrote Native Guard because she wanted to write herself into history. I thought this was rather fascinating that she wanted to make her mark on the world by “recording another period.” I think that her interest in writing Native Guard is the same as Beyond Katrina. She was documenting this era that she wanted to people to know about.
    A rather strange point of discussion that I found was that Trethewey mentions her mother not having a headstone, I immediately pictured all the missing people from Hurricane Katrina and the amount of empty graves there must be without headstones. I also liked the point in the article where Trethewey tells us about her poems in 3rd grade that got published in the school library; they were about Martin Luther King Jr.

  12. For further reading of Momaday, I chose to explore something entirely different than the form of writing that we have seen from him so far. An interview of Momaday, conducted in 1996 in Sun Valley, Idaho, seemed to be an effective way to gain insight into Momaday’s life as a writer, and furthermore, insight into his creation of “The Names.”
    The most apparent theme of all of Momaday’s answers to the questions involved family, ancestry, and his heritage. Everything important in his life, including what inspired him to write, is focused around his family. What I found especially important was his mention of his mother (also a writer) and the fact that she was what inspired him to write. “My mother certainly tried to interest me in good books, and she did. She gave me incentive to write,” Momaday states. The section of “The Names” where he focuses on allowing the reader to gain insight into his mother reflects his deep connection to her in his journey to become a writer. Furthermore, his mother also inspired in him an interest and a concern for his heritage and ancestry. “My mother was born in Kentucky and some of her ancestors had come from Virginia. She was always very interested in that part of the world, and in that part of her ancestral experience. So I had an interest in the Old South, in the Old Dominion,” Momaday says.
    Much of the interview focuses on Momaday’s connection to what being Indian means to him. His connection to the Earth, the environment, and the spiritual depth of it all, stem from him Indian heritage. “I think the Indian is more secure than he was a half-century ago. He has a much better idea of himself and of the contribution that he can make. He’s only two percent of the population, but has an influence much greater than that would indicate.” Through reading the interview, it seems to me that he has a very grounded sense of who he is as a writer and as a person; this sense of peace and contentment is very much apparent.
    One aspect of the interview that I can connect closely with another work is his discussion on being a poet. More so than being a writer of prose, Momaday defines himself as a writer of poetry. I think we can see this as we read through “The Names” and notes points of rhythm and eloquence in the writing that is distinct to poetry. Furthermore, the connections that can be drawn between Momaday and Trethewey become apparent as well. While Trethewey finds a way to weave poetry and prose in “Beyond Katrina”, Momaday takes a path of focusing on prose, however allows this form of writing into his every day life. “I think of myself as a poet, I’d rather be a poet than a novelist, or some other sort of writer,” he states. “I think I’m more recognized as a novelist, simply because I won a prize. But I write poetry consistently, though slowly. And it seems to me the thing that I want to do best. I would rather be a poet than a novelist, because I think it’s on a slightly higher plane. You know, poets are the people who really are the most insightful among us. They stand in the best position to enlighten us, and encourage, and inspire us. What better thing could you be than a poet? That’s how I think of it.”
    Momaday’s articulation of what poetry means to him as a writer stood out to me the most in reading his interview, because I wasn’t expecting it. It wasn’t until I read about his love of poetry and writing it, that I began to draw connections to the way that he writes in “The Names.” Trethewey is very direct of obvious in her novel with her use of poetry to help tell the story, however I see connections between how they express themselves as writers. Both feel most comfortable with poetry, as Trethewey expressed in her recent reading on campus.
    I wonder what prompted Momaday to write his Indian experience in the form of prose, rather than poetry. Did he feel limited by the prose at all in being able to express himself fully? Why did he make the decision that he did?
    Through further reading, I was looking to gain insight into Momaday’s writing style and therefore into “The Names.” I believe this interview was the most effective method of doing so, as he was speaking what came to his mind—making him vulnerable in a sense. He didn’t have the freedom of editing and carefully his words that one finds in writing.

  13. For my further reading project, I read three poems by N. Scott Momaday from his book In The Presence of the Sun. The poems upon which I focused were, “Plainview: I,” “Carnegie, Oklahoma, 1919” and “The Delight Song of Tsoa-talee.” I chose to focus on his poetry because understanding the genre does not come easily to me. Many times have I been in a poetry class, and been astounded by what my classmates could glean from the works that, just the night before, had seemed frustratingly impenetrable.

    These poems are of a different style than the majority of The Names, yet complement some of its more lyrical paragraph breaks. They also se touch upon many of the same subjects. In “Plainview I,” for example, Momaday describes the approach of a storm on the Kiowa territory of Oklahoma. His rhyming couplets show a deep personal connection to the natural environment, as well as insight into its constantly changing nature. He speaks of silver crescents of wind and the revolution of wind and rain. The poem demonstrates a sense of circularity.

    In Carnegie, Oklahoma 1919, Momaday writes about a specific event for which he was not present, and which he describes in The Names—the honoring of Mammedaty during a gourd dance with the ritual giveaway of a horse. In this poem, Momaday stresses how his father connects him to this moment by telling him this story. He was not there, but due to this passing down of memories, he is there. He is a part of his father’s history.

    My favorite poem out of the three I read, however, is “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee,” in which Momaday links himself to the environment as well as Kiowa history. The poem consists of several repetitions of “I am,” and “I stand in good relation to.” He shows his connection to nonliving and living entities, as well as other human beings, including the great Kiowa chief, Tsen-tainte. Momaday lives a balanced life with the natural world, and therefore becomes a part of it.


  14. An Interview I discovered conducted by PBS really gave me some light on why Momaday felt that he had to write he memoir “The Names”. He stated that his father was a great story teller and that growing up he asked his father to tell him the same old stories over and over again until he had them memorized. as he got older Momaday soon realized that all of the stories his father told him were never written down but only passed through the generations by word of mouth.As he became an adult, he said he understood “How fragile the stories are”. Since then Momaday has spent his life trying to keep this oral tradition alive as well as protect the Indian culture that has been disappearing as globalization and the “New” western culture has been spreading. But Momaday still has hope that the Native American will regain their full identity and ways of life. Claiming that he has always straddled two very different worlds, he states “The turn of the century was the lowest point for the devastation of Indian culture by disease and persecution, and it’s a wonder to me that they survived it and have not only maintained their identity, but are actually growing stronger in some ways.”
    With all this said it is easy to see that the Native Americans have had it rough. Their homes, lands and rights were stolen from them and now we are destroying the land the Native Americans once took pride in and loved. In Momaday’s other poems one can really feel and admire Momadays and other Native Americans perspective about the environment and the earth, one that I truly admire. In his poem “The Earth” it is plain to see that the Native American culture truly felt a connection to the environment that has been for the majority lost in today’s society. Momaday writes,”For we are held by more than the force of gravity to the earth.
    It is the entity from which we are sprung, and that into which
    we are dissolved in time. The blood of the whole human race
    is invested in it. We are moored there, rooted as surely, as
    deeply as are the ancient redwoods and bristlecones”. The passion that this culture had and their understanding of the importance of nature is very refreshing. They were able to live in a world without technology and without fancy things and I feel that the Native Americans are far wiser and smarter than we as industrialized Americans will ever be. As we destroy our planet now and pollute the beauty and wonders the Earth has to offer, the Native Americans knew that the earth is far more precious than we will ever be.
    So what was it about our culture that was so different from the Native Americans? Why did they care so much about the planet and their oral traditions and we as Americans cared so little. It is my belief that religion has played a major role in the shaping of our ways of life. The Native American’s believed the Earth was the center of all things, however, Christianity has a very different perspective. Christians believe that God made the Earth for the benefit of humans. The Bible states that man has the right to use the earth and all it’s inhabitants any way they that they please. this ideal also goes along with Manifest Destiny in which in the 1800’s the white men believed that it was their God given write to settled the west and take as much land and resources as they pleased. The Native Americans believed the very opposite as we can tell. From Momaday’s writing and poems along with other Native American literature it can be seen that their way of life was more natural and humbling than ours. In this case with all the destruction of the environment and pollution it would be refreshing as well as very beneficial if we allowed the Native American population to grow and be strong like it once was and to learn something from them and their beliefs before it is too late.

  15. For my further reading presentation, I read two interviews conducted with the author N. Scott Momaday. These interviews provided insight into the person Momaday has become due to his rich history chronicled in “The Names”. As reader of “The Names” it is evident that Momaday’s ancestry has made him who he is and Momaday touches on this aspect of his works by stating that “his genetic makeup has governed his life”. He also discusses the style in which he structures many of his works. He talks about the importance of retelling his history the way it was told to him through oral tradition. Throughout these interviews Momaday discussed several significant influences on his creative processes for his literary works, specifically the influence of classical writers such as Dickinson, Melville and Shakespeare, and the influence his mother and father had on his desire to produce creative pieces. Both mother was a writer and his father a painter, both of which he has taken on himself. He mentions that he also considers himself to be poet, painter, and printmaker. Among these creative outlets Momaday holds poetry above all. He finds the possibilities in poetry to be “infinite”.
    Momaday makes mention of one of the central themes in his book, being a part of the land. For a brief part of one of the interviews he touches upon his belief that he has a duty to the land and to protect his spirituality and the places he holds most scared.
    In class I would like to discuss Momaday’s passion for the Native American culture and genetic makeup by making mention of his trust, The Buffalo Trust, which works to support indigenous communities in the preservation of their history, and his involvement in educational institutions. I would also like to make mention of Momaday’s influences that has made him the writer that he is today.

  16. I read an interview conducted with Kaysen years after Girl, Interrupted was published, and she talked about her writing style and elaborated on different elements of the book. First of all she mentioned how difficult it was to attain her medical records from McClean and she said her reason for including them in the book was to shed light on the differences in opinion that existed between the doctors and herself. She also briefly talks about her parents and specifically mentions her mother, who became an important figure to her only after she died. She says that her father was a director of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies. Having such a prestigious father hurt her academically because she was the only graduate from her high school not to go on to college. She also talked about the truth of her story. She said there were some fiction parts but that mostly dealt with protecting identities of some of her friends and families. While talking about her writing style, she said she is a very meticulous writer and may only produce three sentences a day, however, the 3 sentences she produces will be perfect and permanent. The only thing she really said about the content of her book specifically was she didn’t feel it revealed much about her as a person, rather her views towards a specific time period of her life. I found this interview very interesting because it gave additional insight to Kaysen’s life that was not necessarily known for sure through the text.

    Some questions to consider would be, was Kaysen’s parents a contributing factor for her running away to Boston? If so, why wouldn’t she want to follow in their footsteps of being apart of a prestigious academic institution?

    An argument that people have against Kaysen is that she portrayed McClean negatively. Do you feel this is true?

    Why do you think McClean was reluctant to allow Kaysen to see her medical files?

  17. Natasha Trethewey is known primarily for her poetic works. Considering that I’ve spent most of this semester working on learning the delicate craft of poetry, I chose to read more of her poetry for my Further Reading. In her part novel, part memoir Beyond Katrina, we got samplings of her work, but those were set to compliment her prose writing. Her actual poetry, I discovered, stands on its own quite beautifully.

    I read Letter Home, Domestic Work, and Flounder, to name a few. I discovered several short and some long poems as well, copied in a way that I’m sure the copywriters didn’t intend. Regardless, her poetry was very beautiful, artful, and creative. The more I read of her poetry, the more I realized that her works all had similar themes. In comparing them to her writing in Beyond Katrina, I found that not only is her poetry all focused around similar themes, her prose writing echoes around the same issues. Her family, feelings of loss, and issues of race all play strongly throughout her writings. In fact, several pieces seem devoted to amplified instants, allowing the reader to see a well crafted piece of the writer’s soul.

    Flounder is a poem that narrates from the perspective of a young girl, a moment when she was fishing with her aunt. The issue of race, of stereotypical behavior are hinted at so subtly that they may well not even be there. If not for her similar style of writing in all of her works, they could be disregarded as happenstance or coincidence. But the color descriptions of the flounder, one side white, one black, and the girl who watches as it flops, seeing how the colors change each time, paint an image of something else. Biracial confusion, to be both black and white at the same time, is a theme that recurs everywhere in her writing, in as poetic a way as verse allows and in as expository a manner as prose can convey.

    Letter Home is a narrative poem as well, though different in that its form is one of an actual letter. Her portrayal is that of a black woman walking around, surrounded by white people, and the social pressures set upon her by their stares. It was this poem that gave me the startling insight into Trethewey’s work that I mentioned in class. Though all of her works that I’ve read share similar themes, they do all differ except in one aspect. The focus of all I’ve read is an individual centered perspective that forms a sort of scope, through which the reader can experience a moment as seen through her eyes, or through her character’s eyes. It is a a powerful thing, to create perspective so subtly that the reader in a sense lives it, through the narrow perspective that Trethewey chooses.


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