MnWE News Fall Issue
Next Conference: Zoom and Minn.
Humanities Center, St. Paul, Th.-Fr., Apr. 7-8, 2022
1. NOBEL: TANZANIAN-BRITISH AUTHOR ABDULRAZAK GURNAH
NEW MINNESOTA POET LAUREATE GWEN WESTERMAN
TEACHING: HOW CAN YOU HELP IMPOVERISHED STUDENTS?
BOOK REVIEW: LAROSE BY LOUISE ERDRICH
NEW FEATURE: BIPOC & LGBTQ LITERARY RESOURCES
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NOBEL 2021: TANZANIAN-BRITISH AUTHOR ABDULRAZAK GURNAH
Abdulrazak Gurnah, 72,
is this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is an emeritus
professor of English at University of Kent, Canterbury.
The Nobel committee praised
"his uncompromising and compassionate penetration of the effects of
colonialism and the fate of the refugee.... [H]e consciously breaks with
convention, upending the colonial perspective to highlight that of the
Gurnah arrived in England as a late-1960s refugee from the island of
Zanzibar, now part of Tunisia. His native language is Swahili, but he has
written in English since he was 21. He has dozens of short stories to his
credit and ten novels, the best-known of which are, perhaps, Paradise,
about an East African boy’s coming of age during World War I; and
Desertion, connected stories of various lovers in post-colonial Kenya
as they navigate cultural, religious, and racial differences. Two of his
novels also have been short- and long-listed for Great Britain’s
prestigious Man Booker Prize.
The Nobel committee noted that though his writing has been
inspired by the British tradition from Shakespeare to Naipaul, he also
draws upon Arabic and Persian poetry and the Koran. Gurnah is the fourth
writer of English in the past six years to win the Nobel, an unusual reign
for one language. He will receive $1.14 million. Though the Nobel
committee said he was not awarded because of current immigrant issues,
Gurnah is famous for highlighting the problems of displaced peoples.
Reuters News Service
Nobel Prize in Literature 2021
2. NEW MINNESOTA POET LAUREATE GWEN WESTERMAN
Governor Tim Waltz recently named Gwen Westerman of Minnesota State
University-Mankato as the new state Poet Laureate. She is the first Native
American to hold the position.
Professor of English Literature & English Studies and Technical
Communication, and a longtime poet, scholar, memoirist, and speaker of the
Dakota language. Her PhD is from the University of Kansas, her MA and BA
in English (with a minor in Philosophy) from Oklahoma State.
especially enjoys mentoring students and offers first year through
went to college as a first-generation student to major in chemistry, but,
she says, an English lit course swept her away. She is an enrolled member
of the Sisseton Wahpeton Dakota Oyate through her father and, through her
mother, the Cherokee Nation. Both parents attended boarding schools. She
is Minnesota’s third person to become Poet Laureate after Robert Bly and
Westerman’s recent poetry collection, was written in English and in
Dakota, which she learned as an adult. Her poetry and essays are in
Medicine Review, Water-Stone Review, Natural Bridge, poetryfoundation.org,
and in Graywolf Press’s collection
New Poets of Native
Nations edited by Heid Erdrich.
She also is a
Bruce M. White
of a history,
Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota, which
won two Minnesota Book Awards and an AASLH Leadership in History Award.
In addition, Westerman is an award- and fellowship-winning fiber
artist whose quilts are on display in several regional museums and the
Great Plains Art Museum. She says she plans to use her new Poet Laureate
position in the state to advance poetry and poets, especially after a
congratulatory phone call from previous activist-laureate Sutphen.
Oct. 1 Star Tribune Interview of Westerman by Laurie Hertzel
HOW CAN YOU HELP IMPOVERISHED STUDENTS?
An article in the July 27 issue of The Chronicle’s Race
on Campus (race-on-campus/2021-07-27)
about financial aid officers and equity says that most financial
directors think themselves fair because they deal strictly in quantitative
numbers. However, the article describes an impoverished student who lost
all his aid because of a flat tire: he couldn’t go to class for a week,
which caused him to drop one course, which caused him to go below the
minimum credits needed for financial aid, which forced him out of school.
How many of us also see students as numbers, rather than individuals with
problems we can’t imagine but just might fix?
This does not mean we should put up with poor excuses or lies from
nonperformers. And, of course–in undergraduate education–we must deal with
hundreds of students each semester in undergraduate education.
But how many of us have lived in a poor, first-generation
student’s shoes? It can be a life of poverty with no older parent or other
adult to come to the rescue, no idea of college culture, and even,
perhaps, with a parent or two who don’t want the student in college?
Equity also has caused increasing demands for justice, especially
during the pandemic and after Geore Floyd. According to Race on Campus,
The U.S. Department of Education reports “steep enrollment declines
this spring among low-income and minority students.”
Race on Campus offers some solutions for financial officers
that also work when modified for faculty. They are paraphrased here:
1. When students cite problems with completion, ask questions without
being judgmental. Use clear, inclusive language. Tell them you want to
learn from them.
2. Make use of campus resources. For example, does your school have an
emergency fund? Can counselors or others speak with you or in your
classroom? Can you offer–and explain–school handouts? Can you send
students with immediate problems to counselors for help right away?
3. Create options for students to complete assignments, possibly with
extra credit. Can you offer cascading penalties such as one letter grade
lower for each week an assignment is late?
4. Consider allowing students in particularly difficult circumstances to
take an Incomplete. Some teachers offer an “F” with the stipulation that a
student can later turn in missing work to have the “F” changed, or attend
the same class in a new term.
5. Consider teaching “college culture” in entry-level courses: a few
minutes each week of short, helpful lessons about how to navigate college
and university expectations.
6. If you don’t know what a student is experiencing, tell the person you
don’t understand but would like to hear an explanation.
7. Remember that many students may come from cultures (American or
foreign) in which cheating may be normal, even encouraged by parents and
peers. Remediation and makeup opportunities may do more for a student than
just an F.
8. Imagine working with poor students as an interesting, needed journey on
which you learn to travel. As with any trip, try to figure out where you
can go and what you can see without excess work or stress and with good
views along the way.
Race on Campus 2021-07-27: Financial Officers and Equity
4. BOOK REVIEW: LAROSE BY LOUISE ERDRICH
Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins, 2016, 384 pp.
fifteenth novel is tense, richly detailed, and magical. Once again she
locates us on her fictional North Dakota reservation. Her first novel,
Love Medicine, received the National Book Critics Circle Award and
American Book Award in 1985. She’s added seven more major awards for
novels and poetry, one of them for LaRose. This year, she added a
Pulitzer for The Night Watchman.
Erdrich often starts her novels with an impossible-to-solve
conflict. Here, the families of two Ojibwe sisters live side by side, one
with a white husband on a farm, the other on the reservation with an
Ojibwe hunter. The husbands and the six children visit often.
One day, the
Native father–a recovered alcoholic and top sharpshooter, stalks a prize
stag for food. He shoots, but it springs away. Something falls to the
ground, though. He has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son.
grief, he concludes he must honor an ancient custom. He and his wife give
their own boy the same age, LaRose, to the other family.
grieve in great pain. But LaRose, one of several level-headed children
with the same beloved name in his family history, cautiously charts a
difficult path. He must learn how to keep his new sister from hating him,
distract his new mother from committing suicide, and continue to love his
the reservation, an old enemy of the father begins plotting how he can
wreck the life of LaRose’s father. The two men were youthful friends who
ran away from a white boarding school to the street life of Minneapolis,
sleeping on a Mississippi River pier. LaRose’s father accidentally topples
his friend to the ground, permanently crippling him.
much of us. How crippled, emotionally or physically, can you be and still
return from it. How badly did the inhumane boarding system hurt Native
Americans forced by whites to endure it? What happens to homeless Native
Americans? Are reservations sites of hopelessness? And how are we all,
readers and characters, symbolically similar?
of LaRose is that she show us three of the mentally healthiest
characters in all of her books. Very real, though not perfect, they are
young Ojibwe role models. Two are high school sports-leader sisters. The
third is the child LaRose, who can see the dead, including ancestors. He
demonstrates a budding genetic sagacity, kindness, and thoughtfulness that
impress even wise female elders. Other characters, more damaged, begin to
heal–a job on the reservation requiring each individual’s hard work and
the benediction of a caring community.
calls LaRose “astonishing”–“of rare beauty.” Kirkus Reviews
says it is “electric, nimble, and perceptive.” The Washington Post
honors it as another “recurring miracle of [her] fiction.”
Now with a
Pulitzer, Erdrich continues her slow, impressive march to the literary
mountaintop. As the U.S.’s most frequently honored Indigenous literary
novelist, she already has earned a seat beside revered speakers for the
lost and the forgotten such as Morrison, Steinbeck, and Minnesotans Lewis
person is humble (and a dramatic reader of her stories). But on paper she
dares to experiment, often with wild success. She understands the rules of
English so well that she can move outside the box yet make her
improvisations sing. One example in LaRose is that dialogue has no
quotation marks. After the first sentence, it makes perfect sense. On top
of such skills are her genius for realism, magic, conflict, and
as in all of her novels, Erdrich is writing about humanity. The metaphor
of her small, fictional reservation becomes, in her hands, an expansive
map for all of our souls. As she directs our journey, her heart suffuses
us with abounding love.
Biography at PoetryFoundation.org
FEATURE: BIPOC & LGBTQ LITERARY RESOURCES
This is a new feature,
hereinafter repeated in each issue. What BIPOC and LGBTQ books might you
or your students read? These are starting links. Let us know your
additional/alternative suggestions! –Richard at Jewell dot net
Graphic Novels and Diversity
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