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MnWE News Fall Issue
September-October 2021
Next Conference: Zoom and Minn. Humanities Center, St. Paul, Th.-Fr., Apr. 7-8, 2022

In this issue:
1.  NOBEL: TANZANIAN-BRITISH AUTHOR ABDULRAZAK GURNAH                                   


2.  NEW MINNESOTA POET LAUREATE GWEN WESTERMAN                                     





6.  Free Teaching/Learning E-Newsletters (in each issue)

7.  About MnWE (in each issue)

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1. 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 indigenous populations."

        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  

      Minnesota 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.
        Westerman is 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.         

        Westerman especially enjoys mentoring students and offers first year through graduate courses. Originally, she 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 Joyce Sutphen.
        Follow the Blackbirds, Westerman’s recent poetry collection, was written in English and in Dakota, which she learned as an adult. Her poetry and essays are in POETRY, Yellow Medicine Review, Water-Stone Review, Natural Bridge,, and in Graywolf Press’s collection New Poets of Native Nations edited by Heid Erdrich. She also is a coauthor with 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
        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 
LaRose by Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins, 2016, 384 pp.
        Erdrich’s 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.         
        Overcome by 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.   
        Both families 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 old family.                                 

        Meanwhile on 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.                                 

        Erdrich asks 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?                                 

        One highlight 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.
        The Guardian 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 and Dylan.  
        Erdrich in 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 multi-dimensional characters.
        In LaRose, 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  
Wikipedia Page

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      


50 Top Asian American Literary Books
Time's 25 Asian-Am. Books to Celebrate 
Minn. Hum. Center’s BIPOC Resources

Wikipedia Asian-Amer. Lit., Writer List
2000+ Books on Asian American Lit
Graphic: 85 AAPI Novels  Angel's 60+



44 Best Black Books–
30 Top Black Literary Books
MN Black Children's Books–Strive Publ.
Minn. Hum. Center’s BIPOC Resources

Wikipedia African-Amer. Lit., Writer List
41 Black Fiction Classics–B & N
700+ Black Books–
Black Graphic Novels and Comics


Indigenous/Native American:

50 Native American Bestseller Books
32 Native American Authors
Minn. Hum. Center’s BIPOC Resources

Wikipedia Native-Amer. Lit., Writer List 
Minn. Hist. Society Native-Amer. Books
Indigenous Graphic Literature



Latinx Writers’ 14 Recommended Books
10 Best Latinx
Minn. Hum. Center BIPOC Resources

Wikipedia Latinx LiteratureWriter List
2000+ Latinx Books–
Latinx Graphic Novels



25 Best Classics
40+ LGBTQIA Gay Fiction & Lit Bks.
50 Bestsellers

Wikipedia LGBTQ General, Writer List
1000+ in Multiple Genres
LGBTQ Graphic Lit: Bestsellers  800+

Graphic Novels and Diversity

NCTE: "Diversity in Graphic Novels"
NCTE: "In Defense of Graphic Novels"
NPR: "100 Fav. Comics/Graphic Novels"

Social Justice Graphic Novels (All Ages)
Best Graphic Novels of All Time
Top 10 Literary Graphic Novels


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Minnesota Writing and English

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Format updated 13 May 2021