[This post originally published May 23, 2011.]
This time of year, thoughts often turn to summer book lists. The International Writing Centers Association discussion list includes a query and recommendations for summer reading. The University California at Berkeley publishes a summer reading list with archives dating back to 1985; while intended for incoming first-year students, teachers will find many titles here that invite participation in the three Rs of summer: reading, reflection, and renewal.
My own summer reading list overlaps with my summer writing, which includes the revision of Teaching Developmental Writing: Background Readings for a fourth edition. As I revise, I want to consider more of the historical context out of which basic writing and open admission college education emerged for poor and working people in New York City and other urban locations. So my reading list includes Mina Shaughnessy’s essays and Manning Marable’s new book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.
As a child born and raised in the American Midwest who now lives in one of New York City’s five boroughs, I am intrigued by the journeys of other Midwesterners to New York. Mina Shaughnessy (1924–1978: Lead, South Dakota; Evanston, Illinois) and Malcolm X (1925–1965: Omaha, Nebraska; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Lansing, Michigan) both took this journey, although their roots were quite different. Shaughnessy studied theater at Northwestern University and acted in summer stock productions. Malcolm X dropped out of school after eighth grade, moved from Lansing to Boston, and became absorbed in reading and writing while incarcerated in a Massachusetts prison.
Because Manning Marable’s biography is a cultural history, I look forward to learning more about this earlier generation and the world into which I was born. Like my parents and many of my teachers in K–12 public schools, Mina Shaughnessy and Malcolm X grew up in the catastrophic years of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and came of age in the midst of the tumult of World War II in the 1940s.
In 1965, I was a small child living in a segregated suburban Chicago, and I do not remember Malcolm X’s was assassination in New York City. I first read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, cowritten with Alex Haley, several years after I finished my BA. My copy of the book was old, and the yellowed pages often fell out of the binding as I read. That first reading left me confused, intrigued, and hungry for more. Although it was never assigned in any of my classes in undergraduate or graduate school, I have many times since reread and taught the Autobiography.
Similarly, I did not learn about Mina Shaughnessy’s work until I began my MA program in English in the mid-1980s, not quite a decade after Shaughnessy’s death from cancer. Yet in becoming a writer and in teaching writing, I recognized the struggles and potential transformations described in Errors and Expectations, and in Shaughnessy’s essays, and I felt a strong attraction to basic writing and to urban open admissions education.
So my summer reading focuses on political, historical, and cultural contexts that helped shaped basic writing and urban open admissions programs for poor and work-class college students. With these plans, I look forward to a summer of passionate engagement with reading and writing—and perhaps a time or two at the beach.
What will you do for the three Rs of summer? What are your plans for reading, reflection, and renewal? Where do you hope your reading will take you? And what will you do once you get there?