Friday, May 17, 2019
May 17, 2019: Spring Semester Reflections: Short Stories in my Adult Learning Class
[April showers bring May flowers, and May flowers bring, besides Pilgrims, the end of another semester. So this week I’ll share a few reflections from my Spring 2019 semester, leading up to a special weekend post on what’s ahead for the summer and beyond. I’d love to hear your Spring reflections in comments!]
To be honest, all ten of the stories we read from the Roxane Gay-edited Best American Short Stories 2018 anthology were amazing; you gotta get that anthology, friends! But here are three particular standouts from across our five weeks of paired readings (without saying too much about any of them, because as usual part of the pleasure of a great short story is in how they unfold):
1) Alicia Elliott, “Unearth”: To say that I was disappointed when John Sayles’s in-progress film about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School fell through would be to severely understate the case. The Native American boarding school is one of the American settings and stories most in need of better representation in our cultural texts, and I would have loved to see what Sayles and company did with those histories and stories. Well, we might never get that film, but we do have Elliott’s short and shattering and yet still somewhat hopeful story, which takes a very different angle on the schools and their histories and effects and ends up unearthing so, so much for its protagonist, its themes, and us all.
2) Danielle Evans, “Boys Go to Jupiter”: On the other hand, the Confederate flag might seem to be one of the historical and cultural symbols most thoroughly present in our current collective conversations and memories, most difficult to view through a new lens. Well, I’m here to tell you that Evans has provided such a lens, and in so doing has created one of the richest and most multi-layered short stories I’ve ever read, a text that has a great deal to say about not only that contested symbol, but also social and digital media and identity, race and gender and sex, whether and how a young person can establish an adult identity separate from her starting points, and more. We could have debated the ending of Evans’s story alone for many more 90-minute class periods, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it as well!
3) Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, “Control Negro”: Thanks in no small measure to Get Out, but also to works like Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country among others, the intersections between African American identity and the horror genre have become central to our pop culture over the last couple years. Johnson’s dark and dense story offers its own such intersections, creating a Poe-like unreliable first-person narrator who recounts (confesses?) his Frankenstein-like experiments into race, family, and America. That the story also reframes one of Charlottesville’s many violent and painful recent racist encounters in the process is just one more reason why this story, like all three of these and really all in this magisterial anthology, is well worth your time.
Special post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Spring reflections you’d share?