mlk day weekend readings 2012

A weekend for democracy –

First – Saturday – there was my St. John’s alumni seminar on Thoreau’s On Civil Disobedience, a lively discussion whose participants span the Classes of 1946 to 2011.

Then further reading of essays in Liu Xiaobo’s No Enemies, No Hatred (2012). One brief reference to Ha Jin reminds me to mention his novel Nanjing Requiem (2011), a story of the courage and faith of real life Minnie Vautrin and the people whose lives she touched. 

Women’s stories are told inspiringly also in Anita Hill’s Reimagining Equality: Stories of Gender, Race, And Finding Home (2011). Alternately, Toure writes about the changing face of race in Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means To Be Black Now (2011).

These discussions are not far removed from the delightful syntactic analysis by Stephen Dobyns contrasting the styles of Henry James and W.B.Yeats, or of Yeats’s role in the struggle for Irish independence as assessed by Clare Cavanagh [Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry (Dobyns 2011) and  Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics (Cavanagh 2011)].

Sandwiching these meaty topics were Remica L. Bingham’s “Marchers Headed Toward Washington, Baltimore 1963” and “And Yeah…This Is A Love Poem” by Nikki Giovanni from her fantastic The 100 Best African American Poems, read in my classes on Thursday and Friday; the opening of a familiar bookstore in a new location – Weller’s Bookworks, at Trolley Square – and Sam Wheatley’s sermon this morning from James 3 on the use of the tongue to either “poison” or praise others. Xiaobo says such “poison” is a habit which will not be easy to eradicate: “Every day the dictatorship continues is a day that this poison cannot be purged.” (“Roots of Chinese Patriotism,” p.83)

Thought, speech, and action are related. In my weekend’s readings, human language can be a celebration of human freedom and dignity. But, Liu Xiaobo warns, “Thuggery in language and thuggery in life are related.”

I have been wondering about those of us who teach language arts. Besides doing all we can to bring meaningful language and language play into the lives of our students – through traditional means and through digital mentor texts such as animated poems and “kinetic type” versions of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, how do we help them see the importance of reading and the preservation of human freedom and dignity?

Why Read Moby-Dick describes the abolitionist sub-theme in Melville’s narration; Thoreau emphasizes the “humanity” possible if government will recognize the authority of individuals to act “from principle” and with “wisdom”; “[t]he tongue too is a fire”, James writes in his urging that not many should become teachers, because no man “can make a subject of the tongue”. But there is a kind of “wisdom which comes from above” which is “pure, peaceful, forbearing, open to persuasion, filled with mercy and a good harvest, impartial, not hypocritical; the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” [translation by Richmond Lattimore]

Peace to you this weekend. Teach someone you love the power of words.    




3 Responses to “mlk day weekend readings 2012”

  1. January 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I love these connections.

  2. 2 Susan Houg
    January 17, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Wow, Gordon. What a rich collection of reviews and ruminations. I’m especially interested in finding the Ha Jin book. I just listened to an interview with a historian, David Barton (Wall Builders), who collects original manuscripts and had some revealing things to say about black patriots in the American revolution, and how much of the “official” history of this period was written by southerners after the War Between the States, and how these writers wrote the black contributions to our founding right out of the record. I never knew this before. The power of false words, neglected words.

    • January 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Thank you, Susan. I know his name, because I think I saw him present at a Sacramento convention once, possibly. I especially enjoy reading the personal stories in Anita Hill’s book, and going through Nikki Giovanni’s collection of poems, which I had my library purchase over the summer. It comes with a good number of recordings on disk, performed by poets or actresses such as Ruby (Raisin in The Sun) Dee.

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