RIF's Multicultural Book Collection Launch - Part 4 of 5

Uploaded by rifweb on 13.02.2012

bjbj Moderator: I think the beauty of this selection is we also try to expand just a
little tiny bit and if you have an opportunity I hope you will look at Anna and Natalie which
is actually about children with disabilities and limitations. It is told in such a wonderful
way that you do not even know it and in the pirate. Unidentified Male: Yeah. Interviewer:
In the kindergarten about a child who actually has double vision and that is autobiographical.
Then some of our books like the National Geographic One World One Day that takes us through the
life of children across the world. Then what Visfer did in Wayne s is he takes the story
of Icarus who tries to fly too close to the sun. Remember it has the _____ [00:00:51]
and gets kind of shot down and he gives it a different twist. Then the um Boy Called
Slow what an irony that is actually the story of Sitting Bull. I am very pleased with our,
I am proud of it. Now what would you all like to say to each other about what you been talking
about? [Laughter]. Unidentified Male: Actually, I had one quick comment I wanted to make and
in line with what Christopher is saying, the fact that we recognize that there are roots
and branches and they are all connected together. I think one of the big problems we have in
American culture is we think we can deal with the problem by focusing on it briefly. We
can have Black History Month and just forget about it for the rest of the time. We can
think about Indians around Thanksgiving, thank you for the turkey [laughter] and then whoop,
forget about them. The thing is there are good events, but they should not be the be
all and the end all. They should be let us call attention so we will remember through
the rest of the year what we are talking about because we are not going to look at literature
in isolation. One of the things I learned in college and even in high school is that
when you dissect a frog you got a dead frog. You got all those parts the frogs dead you
know. [Laughter]. So when you start cutting it up too much you kill it. It has to be seen
as a living breathing entity. Our culture you know multiculturalism is different for
each of us. That point is so great. For you multiculturalism was western literature. That
was multicultural and multiculturalism is everything. It is all-inclusive, it is not
just these little pigeonholes that have been created to name a group of people and basically
to name them out of relevance to make the irrelevant by classifying them. Unidentified
Female: And technology I mean that is the thing. It is like well you can ban a book
but people can find it on the web. when I was growing up, there there were also I mean
I was born in 1963 so you know in 1970 I was seven, and I came across a book called And
Now and Again it was the first time I had ever read a book that talked about Hispanic
culture. I remember thinking that like oh I am special, look they are eating beans and
tortillas [laughter] and its cool. You know somehow finding yourself in a book helps you
to realize how wonderful your culture is. And I think that. Unidentified Male: Affirmation.
Unidentified Female: Uh-huh, it is affirmation. Unidentified Female: I did have a little boy
who read On the Road, you know the Jack Kerouac sophomore lit, and guess what he went on the
road and his mom called me and said where do you go [laughter]. Moderator: Okay so let
us take about five minutes. Unidentified Male: I would like to Moderator: Oh, I am sorry.
Unidentified Male: I mean I like to just make one comment or three basically. The first
one is about our construction of the child. I think that another kind of thread that is
going through all of the pushback that we hear is the idea of what is a child. We talk
about well has childhood changed and clearly there is all kinds of access to technology
and this sort of thing. However, I think that more just as much as much as childhood has
changed and developed our idea of what a child is seems to be getting more and more stultified.
Seems to be getting more and more I am getting all kinds of pushback from my editors and
from librarians about what a child is in their mind. What a child should be open to. I mean
as a kid I was surrounded by books, I was lucky enough to be surrounded by books and
picked up everything I possibly could. I loved Greek and Roman myths, probably because of
the death and the lurid. There is a lot of transformation and a lot of dead people, people
die in crazy ways. Turn in to a bird and then the blood hit the ground and became the hyacinth
and then you look at the hyacinth and you are like wow. I did not know what a hyacinth
was as a flower, but I did know that was Apollo s friend at the funeral. Therefore, this idea
of this understanding what a child is and we do not want to close the doors or that
definition. We do not want to children are made of possibilities. We want to leave those
possibilities open. In addition, more and more and more especially from certain quarters,
I am hearing well children do not need this; they should not have this kind of discussion.
The scary part of this of course is they are exposed to infinitely more nowadays. Unidentified
Male: Yes they are. Unidentified Male: And they do not have the framework with which
to understand that exposure. Therefore, if you say I am going to do a book that includes
death, you know and people will say children should not be exposed to death. They are exposed
to death. Earlier we had discussions with them about what death looked like; how do
you deal with death. Now we are going to shield them from that in the literature. That is
we refuse them the frameworks with which to understand these things. I think that definition
of the child is one thing I was thinking about. The other thing we talked about censorship
and that is another thing that is underlying our discussion. I spend a lot of time running
around the world because you can and that is nice. [Laughter]. I have dealt with the
censors in the last three years in China, in Vietnam, in Sudan and I have dealt with
this issue of censorship in a very direct way. If you mount a show an art show in Vietnam,
you first write a letter to the Cultural Police to tell them what you are trying to do. I
think that our understanding of what censorship is here just because we do need to eat still,
at least I do [laughter] and that is something to understand is that your support is so key
to being able to do what we do. Lastly, I wanted to talk about Moby Dick because you
mentioned it. [Laughter]. I will tell you I do not like that book, it has way too much
whaling terminology [laughter]. I do not know anything about whaling similar to the way
I do not know what hyacinth looks like and if someone shows me, I would appreciate that.
One of the things again you talk about these classics and you talk about a figure like
Quequay and this again this multicultural thread it lives in our literature. It is already
been there. You have Quequay; you have all these folks that Tony Morrison talks in her
lecture Playing in the Dark. Unidentified Male: Yep. Unidentified Male: That this is
our shadow history. It is our job to take that history out from the shadows to tell
the story of young women in the triangle shirt factory or all the factory-working women in
the world. Or to tell the story of little boys I know from Brooklyn who happens to have
wings. I do not actually [laughter]. Unidentified Female: I was going to address something with
the classics. What I really just like about _____ [00:09:01] it was always either or.
Unidentified Female: Yeah. Unidentified Male: Yeah. Unidentified Female: And we never, another
pet peeve of mine is that people are in storybooks. They do not know that what we consider to
be American classics are not considered to be American classics prior to World War II.
That if you were to be an educated person in this country first of all you had to read
Latin and Greek. Unidentified Male: That is right. Unidentified Female: And French because
that is what the literatures were written, that is what your academic training would
have been and it was only a very small percentage of people who would have been able to do that.
There was democratizing of American literature occurring after the world wars when we began
to look inward to say we have a voice. There are writers within our midsts and I am not
talking about African American writers or Latino writers, I am talking about people
who are for the most part writers who were not a part of the classic cannon then. But
now they are because of that inward turn that rejection of Europe as the sole model for
what we should know. Each year I start all of my undergraduate classes with reading the
classics. I give them a survey and it is based upon one of our former education secretary
s William Bennett. Now I like William Bennett for a variety of reasons because he was very
smart. He took materials that were in the public domain and wrote those books. Unidentified
Male: That is right. Unidentified Female: It reflects the kind of literature to which
kids were exposed. He also created a list in response to what E.B. Hershey did in terms
of cultural literacy. Unidentified Male: Right. Unidentified Female: He could not have created
that list by himself; he had to have some help of some librarians because it was multicultural.
Unidentified Male: Yeah. Unidentified Female: I always do the traditional classics as you
say because cannon are not dead they are living and there are going to be new works that challenge,
new works brought in to the cannon, it is an organic process. With these students initially
when I started this about 20, 25 years ago, I would list about 50 children s classics
in the cannon Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, things of that sort. I would say
which have you read, which have you not. typically the only people who read more than one or
two books and the most I ever had anyone read was about 25. She was the daughter of professors
and she had librarian classics; English majors and people who had families that had a collection
of the classics were the most. But over the years, those columns have expanded, I have
seen the film, I have seen a condensed comic book of this version or another or I have
seen some kind of dramatic reading or I heard of it but I have not read it. This year we
did, I was sixty plus undergraduates that I had the average number of books on that
about 50 list were about three that they had read. So it is not as if multiculturalism
plays a heavy place. Unidentified Male: It is as if literature is replaced. Unidentified
Female: This has been replaced and they are not reading that either. I make that point
to argue is that the cannons have always been the province of an elite portion of a population.
The majority of populous, we were serving you what you are reading now. How many of
you are reading John Grisham or whatever is on top of the best New York Times bestseller
list. Probably eight out of 10 of the top books of the New York Times bestseller list
are considered pulp fiction or popular fiction. Pop literature with a capital L has certainly
not the classics. When we place the classics on this pedestal, we need to understand why
they are placed on that, it is not usually
a democratizing act it is usually an act to limit access when we say that _____ [00:13:06]
the article appeared in the New York Times. My classes wrote papers on that. Why are they
reading Walter B. Myers and Socrates? Unidentified Male: Right. Unidentified Female: These kids
read Harlan and not Socrates. Well that is debatable. To always, make that argument that
if we give kids multicultural literature and they will never pick up these courses. You
cannot understand Tony Morrison unless you know classic literature. That is right. Unidentified
Female: If you want to know, why you are struggling with Song of Solomon is because of all the
references that she makes in Song of Solomon that are related to classic literature. And
also her style of writing draws from some related to the cannon later I was going to
say Steinbeck but it is not Steinbeck, _____ [00:14:04]. Unidentified Male: Wayne Faulkner.
Unidentified Female: Thank you, it would come to my head. That her thesis if I recall correctly
was on _____ [00:14:14], was very strongly influenced by his writing style, the stream
of consciousness in those books. In order to understand her at multiple levels, you
need to have that background. It is the same thing with Miles Davis says if you are going
to empathize you need to know. Unidentified Male: What your provising against. Unidentified
Female: You need to know how great those traditions so you need to know those traditions and the
same thing with literature. Most of the writers that we place on this list are those who have
steeped themselves in other literature, in the literature that we label _____ [00:14:52]
literature. They have chosen to break those rules and break those traditions in different
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