Spring 2018 Course

A COPLAC Digital Distance Learning Course

Author: forbes (page 1 of 2)

Defense of Contract

Today is the day that we finally present our website to the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. I could not be more thrilled to finally see the fruits of our labor on our finished website.

While we ended up not always being able to meet in person, Rosanna and I always made full efforts to get our parts of our work done. As our instructors pointed out, we have plenty of Internet tools that we can use to collaborate from afar. I think that our instructors would agree that we put the resources we had available to full use. For instance, I think about how Rosanna and I strategically color-coded our Google Doc sheets and assigned tasks to one another that we knew would take advantage of our individual strengths.

One thing was always consistent: We were always working on at least something each week. And when we did get together, we put our heads together and got as much finished as we possibly could with the time we had allotted.

Rosanna and I spent a full week going over suggestions from our peer review session and the Google Doc our instructors sent to us. The vast majority of the work we put in last week was content-based; we spent hours making sure that we added more interpretation and analysis of our case and revised pages until we couldn’t bear to look at our website anymore. When we didn’t trust ourselves to make edits, we sought assistance from our peers and family.

There were a few times when I had to tell Rosanna that there are moments when we have to do what I call “killing our darlings”. Although we loved the three panels of news coverage that we previously had on the home page, it didn’t get the response from our peers and instructors that we had anticipated. Rosanna and I had to brainstorm what to do with the homepage. I suggested we go with what started our research on our case to begin with: news coverage of The Bluest Eye, but in a medium that wouldn’t take our viewers away from the website. So we went with a video instead of reading material.

I thought that we had put in a lot of brain power while we were building our website in the beginning, but now I’m realizing that was all a warm-up in comparison to the work we put in last week.

I think we exceeded our initial expectations of what would go up on our website. For example, we added a page that discussed the merit of The Bluest Eye and how people may analyze merit in general.

We also put all of the technology we said that we would utilize into action. For instance, we made a digital timeline and used Coggle to map out our website.

I think that Rosanna and I make a great team. While we tend to operate and think differently, we still manage to combine our strengths to create the best final product possible. Rosanna is definitely the more technologically inclined between the two of us, so I often had to seek help from her when I had trouble with website layout or troubleshooting technical difficulties. In return, I often found myself assisting Rosanna in written communication.

This is a photo I took from my last website revision session with Rosanna. She’s sitting behind a random apple and orange that someone left on our study room table.

Peer Review and Native Author Interaction Reflections

I have had quite the exciting April this year. I got to meet two Native American authors who I greatly admire. I’ve also been busy with finishing up final papers and projects for my second to last semester before graduating!

But before I give details on those encounters, I’ll dive into my experience with peer reviewing SUNY Genesco’s website:

I think Liz and Sean did an excellent job with creating and putting together the website. I love the rainbow background. I was a little nervous that it might be a bit difficult for me to read, but the text was dark enough to where I could make everything out without any issues. I read as much of the actual content as I could. I thought it was super interesting. I had never heard of Rainbow Boys before I took this class, so it was a new learning experience for me.

My only concerns that I recall having is that I found some typos in one of the timelines. And it was a little difficult for me to see that some text was hyperlinked since the hyperlinks were so close to the color of the regular text.

My favorite part of the website was the video where Alex Sanchez talks about his experience as a homosexual man and writer. I thought it fit so well with the content of the interview transcription above the video. It was a perfect touch in my mind.

I think that one good addition to the site might be some excerpts from the book that Liz and Sean may think have been challenged. It also would have been nice to see more photos to compliment the interview transcriptions and some of the text. Though I wonder if they were minimalist with extra media because of the rainbow background.

On that note, one page that I saw on Sean and Liz’s website that I think would be a good addition to my and Rosanna’s website is a page that lists what we know about the parent who challenged the book. Even though we didn’t get to interview the parent, I think it would be useful to have one page dedicated to listing all that we unearthed about him so that viewers can have that context.

It was really cool to go through the website. It not only made me think about this particular case of censorship, but the evolution of LGBTQ literature throughout history. I think that we have come a long way. Though we still have more ways to go in that literary arena.

Now I’ll jump to my interactions with Annette Clapsaddle and Joy Harjo.

A little background on Annette:

She is an author and journalist who is both local and native to western North Carolina. Annette is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians who grew up in Cherokee, North Carolina. She currently resides in Qualla, North Carolina with her husband and children. She earned her bachelor’s in American Studies and Secondary English from Yale University and her master’s degree in American Studies from the College of William and Mary. Her first novel, Going to Water, whose main character is loosely based on her grandfather, the late former Principal Chief Osley Saunooke, is the winner of the Morning Star Award for Creative Writing from the Native American Literature Symposium, a finalist for the PEN/Bellweather Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, and the 2017-2018 selection for Western Carolina University’s One Book program. When she was the assistant to the former Principal Chief Michell Hicks, Annette produced Cherokee Elders: Our Greatest Generation and a series of children’s books including: The Elder TreeTrue Blue, and What Wonders. Her recent publications also include “Undertow” in Carolina Mountain Literary Festival Anthology: Ten Years of FestivalsNaked Came the Leaf Peeper, “It All Comes Out in the Wash” from Appalachian Heritage Quarterly, and “Camouflage” from Night is Gone, Day is Still Coming. After she served as the executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, Annette returned to teaching English at Swain County High School. She has been National Board Certified since 2012. She is coeditor of the Journal of Cherokee Studies and has written bimonthly columns for Smoky Mountain Living magazine.

I got to introduce Annette at Western Carolina University’s annual spring Literary Festival this year. I didn’t get to speak with her much. I wanted to give her some space while she prepped for her talk and had to run out after her presentation was over to make my long trek back home, but I did get a lot out of her presentation and the little bit that I got to converse with her.

One thing that Annette stressed during her presentation was how being a Native American writer is inherently political. Native writers have the power to shape how the world perceives us. However, we also have the burden of dealing with an industry that tends to not understand our people and that sometimes requests that we portray our people in a stereotypical light. For example, Annette described how she has sometimes been asked to write fiction set during the Trail of Tears and how she doesn’t give in to that. While the Trail of Tears is a big historical event for our people, she does not think it should fully define who we are.

Again, it makes me think about the day that my class discussed the lack of Native voices in literature and some obstacles that Native writers might face. What we want to share may not always be what publishers are interested in. And I think that this really stems from stereotypes that certain individuals buy into. In my own experience, sometimes it feels like people don’t want anymore than what they’ve been told. And, in my mind, that kind of defeats the purpose of diversifying the literary canon with more Native voices. We don’t all share a single story. Our tribes and experiences are varied and rich.

After the festival, I was invited to attend a Q&A session with Joy Harjo. Here is some quick background information about her from the Poetry Foundation:

Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She earned her BA from the University of New Mexico and MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.Harjo draws on First Nation storytelling and histories, as well as feminist and social justice poetic traditions, and frequently incorporates indigenous myths, symbols, and values into her writing. Her poetry inhabits landscapes—the Southwest, Southeast, but also Alaska and Hawaii—and centers around the need for remembrance and transcendence. […]Her work is often autobiographical, informed by the natural world, and above all preoccupied with survival and the limitations of language. A critically-acclaimed poet, Harjo’s many honors include the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award. She has received fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rasmuson Foundation, and the Witter Bynner Foundation. In 2017 she was awarded the Ruth Lilly Prize in Poetry. In addition to writing poetry, Harjo is a noted teacher, saxophonist, and vocalist. She performed for many years with her band, Poetic Justice, and currently tours with Arrow Dynamics. She has released four albums of original music, including Red Dreams, A Trail Beyond Tears (2010), and won a Native American Music Award for Best Female Artist of the Year in 2009. She has been performing her one-woman show, Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light, since 2009 and is currently at work on a musical play, We Were There When Jazz Was Invented.

One major takeaway that I got from the session with Joy was her own self-censorship. At one point, she said, “I don’t want to write anything to cause harm. Words can really hurt somebody.” Towards the end of the session, I had a chance to ask her a question. “Do you think that there are some things that are too sacred to write about?” I didn’t get to write everything from her reply, but she essentially said that she thought so. What I gathered is that there are some things in our lives that are too intimate and sanctified to share with the world in our literature.

UNC Asheville’s Native American Student Association with Joy Harjo. (I’m the fifth person from the left side.)

That’s me with Annette Clapsaddle at Western Carolina University’s Spring 2018 Literary Festival.

 

Going Into Peer Review

If I can be honest, I didn’t get around to adding what I needed to on the website this week until this morning. Most of what I needed to do was scour The Bluest Eye for passages that we think sparked the book challenges we address on our website. That took more work than I was expecting, but I was at least able to mark everything I found with a red ink pen. So I just relocated all the passages I wanted to add to the website this morning.

I made sure to add a trigger warning on the page where I put down the passages. I figured their sexually explicit content calls for some caution.

I’m actually looking forward to seeing everyone’s websites here soon. I think it is going to be really cool to take a peek at what everyone has created so far. I think it’ll be great for me and Rosanna to get some feedback from our peers on our website. I want to make sure it is one hundred percent ready for when we present it to the COPLAC system.

Rosanna and I have had a lot of difficulty with being able to meet in person lately. She texted earlier last week saying that she had to cancel meeting with me on Wednesday since she had a doctor appointment scheduled. So she asked to meet on Friday. But I had an appointment scheduled then too and I couldn’t miss it since I had it scheduled for three weeks. As a result, we’ve been emailing and texting each other back and forth to communicate what we plan to do with the website and what we need from each other. It has worked so far, but I do hope we can meet in person and collaborate more this week. I’m not exaggerating when I say our schedules conflict completely.

In the meantime, I’ve been listening to a very interesting audiobook while I commute back and forth from school. It’s called Educated: A Memoir and was written by Tara Westover, an American author born to a survivalist and radical Mormon father who strongly opposed public education. (I take great care to say “radical” since his views are pretty extreme and not representative of all Mormons.) So she was virtually forbidden from attending school.  Most of her childhood was spent working in her father’s junkyard or stewing herbs from her mother, a self-taught herbalist and widwife. At some point she decided to follow one of her brothers’ footsteps and pursue a higher education to escape her dangerous living conditions and abusive environment. She taught herself algebra and trigonometry from textbooks so she could prepare herself for taking the ACT, the first exam she had ever taken in her life. She ended up graduating magna cum laude from Brigham Young University and winning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She earned her MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge and was a visiting fellow at Harvard University in 2010. She was awarded a PhD in history from Cambridge in 2014.

I can’t even begin to fully detail how remarkable her journey to her educational credentials were. So far, I just got past the part of the book where she asks her art history professor what the Holocaust was and the backlash she got from asking that question. Her early life, to me, is an extreme case of censorship and shows what that level of censorship can lead to – a life of conformity to your family’s values or a life where a person struggles to assimilate into the very world your family abhors. I just find it fascinating and think everyone needs to read that book.

That is all I have for now. I’m finding it more difficult to write lengthy blog posts as we have less and less work to get done. We’re almost to the finish line and it’s bittersweet for me.

Tara Westover

Getting All The Pages Written

I’m currently sitting with Rosanna and talking to her about all that we need to finish by next week.

I looked back through our Coggle to see exactly what pages I was assigned to complete myself:

  • “About the Author” subpages
  • “About the Researchers” Mini Bios (CHECK!)
  • “About the Research” page (I think I just have a little more to add to that…)
  • “Literary Critique” (We’re actually going to change that one to “About the Book” so it sounds less academic.)
  • “About Buncombe” (So I’ll be going back to look at the demographics we found for Buncombe County and add what we found on The State of Black Asheville.)
  • I need to make sure that all of the images I wanted to put on the website get on the appropriate pages. I think I’ll feel better about picking where to place each photo once all the writing is complete.
  • And I’ll be making sure that all of our timelines are up on the website.

Before I looked that over, I was feeling kind of overwhelmed about the upcoming weekend, but now everything feels much more feasible to get done since I listed it out.

Originally, I was feeling the most overwhelmed with the “About the Author” subpages. I think that since I’ve learned so much about Toni Morrison, I want to put down everything, but that felt intimidating. Rosanna helped me think about ways to find a focus and keep things more succinct. I guess the literary academic in me just wants to make those pages more detailed than what they need to be in reality.

Rosanna is still contacting Lisa Baldwin to set up an interview with her so we can get that up on the website before it’s due. Whether or not that happens is out of our hands for the most part. But it sounds like Rosanna is remaining persistent with it all.

Rosanna is also going to work on getting an updated headshot of herself to put on the “About the Researchers” page.

We also discussed putting the interview transcriptions onto actual pages instead of Google Doc files, per Dr. Dierking’s suggestion.

As for finding time to get everything done over the weekend…that’s going to be a bit of a challenge. The daycare will be closed on Friday, which was when I was originally thinking I’d get a lot of this finished. That’s my fault for not double-checking to ensure all of my calendars matched up, but I’m going to adapt to all of this. I figured the best use of my time right now would be to make sure that this blog post gets done before Monday since I’ll be traveling that day. However, I will be arriving at my destination considerably early if everything works out as planned, so I can work on the website a bit more then if need be. During the weekend, I can work on the website a little here and a little there during my daughter’s nap time. And I’ve gotten into the routine of reading my literature assignments under the covers while my daughter sleeps at night (we co-sleep), so getting my work done for other classes shouldn’t be a problem.

We’ll get everything done. I don’t have too many worries. It’s a matter of taking advantage of all of the time that I do have available to me and balancing that with proper self-care.

Craggy Gardens at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo taken by me.

 

Post Interview Reflections

Reflection

Rosanna and I did not get to interview everyone who we initially wanted to for our research, but I think we still got a lot out of conversations that we were able to schedule with people.

Looking back through the interview transcripts as I performed my edits this past week, I pulled out some quotes that made me think differently about issues of censorship.

The first quote in particular is from Rosanna’s interview with Gene Hyde, where he talks about how an institution’s community standards can hold sway on how censorship is carried out (or not):

“Well, when you say censor stuff, it’s one thing to have it in a formal educational setting and it’s another thing to have it in the privacy of your home and what you choose to do there. There’s the idea of community standards, too, I am not a public school teacher, but I have, however been on the board of trustees of a public library system, so I’ve dealt with it from the public library situation. I think that parents have to make their own decisions about stuff, but I also think that part of what the public education system is going to do is it is, by definition probably going to challenge some of your assumptions, and challenge things. I’m not going to say specifically that this should be banned or that should be banned but I will say, that as a librarian, I agree with the American Library Association’s code of ethics which says that all information should be free, or freely available, actually, I will read you a excerpt from the ALA code of ethics, it says, “As librarians we significantly influence or control the selection, organization, preservation and dissemination of information in a political system grounded in a informed citizenry we’re members of a profession explicitly committed to intellectual freedom and freedom of access to information. We have a special obligation to ensure the free flow of information and ideas to present and future generations.” So, I’m a librarian. This is where I come from. So I personally think that the curricular decisions of an instructor in a school system should reflect that as much as they possibly can within their community standards.” – Gene Hyde 

In other words, how a library approaches censorship is going to differ from how a school system will approach censorship since their community values in terms of access to certain materials will have certain distinctions in terms of the communities that they serve. From what I gather, libraries typically serve the general public, so if you were censor information within a library, you would be censoring just about the entire community’s ability to access materials (which is clearly against the ALA’s standards). As we learned from the interview we had with Ken from Pack Memorial Library, censorship can still happen, but it will not manifest in the form of a ban, per say. Instead, certain materials may be moved to a certain section of the library to make it more visible to a certain type of reader or age group. On the other hand, school systems serve students and their parents. And since parents should ideally work with the school system to mold their children, then that’s going to make how schools as institutions approach censorship. And, typically, children in secondary school systems are minors, so that holds sway as well.

Another takeaway that I got from the interviews we conducted was the direction we began to take our research in terms of looking at Buncombe County’s general demography. In this respect, I look to Amanda Glenn-Bradley’s interview in particular:

“I think after reading it [The Bluest Eye] as a student, and – goodness gracious – it’s been like twenty years since I read this book for the first time – but one of the things I think it brought up was a diversity of experiences. I grew up outside of Asheville, but I went to a . . . let’s just say not very diverse school . . . where people lived in the dark, for a lack of a better term. We weren’t a diverse community at all. And it brought different perspectives in. And I think that one of the most important things you can get when you’re reading as a young person. You need as many different experiences presented to you as possible. You need as many points of view presented to you so you can think outside your somewhat limited world view.” – Amanda Glenn-Bradley

Amanda’s reflections made me start thinking about how Asheville is still lacking in diversity to this day. And I think that having that context will be very important as we put together our project site. As I said in previous blog posts, I found a website that gives the run-down on the state of the black community in Asheville. It brings light to how texts such as The Bluest Eye has the potential to provide a cultural learning experience for Buncombe County students.

I was also surprised by Dr. James’s personal commentary on censorship of The Bluest Eye.

“I actually think that The Bluest Eye is more appropriate than Beloved, which is the one that’s taught most often, to seniors. And when I first heard that they were teaching Beloved in high school, I had qualms about it because there’s a lot of stuff in Beloved that is both violent and difficult. And I don’t believe that the book should be censored, but I do believe that if folks are not well prepared . . . if it’s just a book that they give the kids, then we do a fact quiz about it, I don’t think that’s a good way to handle it. The issue I think we’re facing, that universities are facing now about trigger warnings is that so many kids have been traumatized in so many ways, and to re experience that trauma . .  to re-experience that in a book that was assigned to you in class . . . so you didn’t really have a choice about reading it . . . your grade depends on it . . . I think that that can be problematic.” – Dr. Deborah James

I don’t think I quite expected a Toni Morrison scholar to have any qualms about high school students being exposed to it in the classroom, but after hearing her explanation, I thought more critically on certain aspects of what may be considered “age appropriate” or not and, most importantly, why.

While we did not get the specific artifacts that we were hoping to put onto the project site and while we did not get as much information about the challenge as we would have liked,  I think that this research experience has helped me to personally think about censorship within certain institutions, communities, and age groups more deeply.

 

 

Making Headway with the Website

Never would I ever have imagined that it would take me so long to edit interview transcriptions. Rosanna did an incredible job of transcribing interviews from the audio files I sent her. And she did it more quickly than I ever would have been able to do myself. However, one of the interview transcriptions I edited took forever. I found myself having to read some sentences out loud to make sense of them. I had to really take my time to experiment with the syntax for that one so I could make sure it all read well and made sense. I’m not sure if I did the best job with it, but the important thing is that it’s done and that I did the best I could.

Also, we had some snow come in last Wednesday while Rosanna and I were meeting. I got an urgent email from my daughter’s daycare saying I needed to pick her up early, so we had to cut our meeting time short. It was a sort of a bummer, but we worked around it. I just did the best that I could with the time that I had. I used every minute I had left to work through transcriptions. Once Friday came around, I went straight to the Media Design Lab in Ramsey Library to work away on the last bit of transcriptions. The Media Design Lab looked different from what I expected it to be. As soon as I went in, I felt right at home. The staff greeted me immediately and told me not to hesitate to ask for help whenever I have any difficulties with building our website. So I’ll definitely be going in there more often. I think it would be a great place for me and Rosanna to start meeting regularly. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, and we have access to technological assistance whenever we need it.

Meanwhile, while I was getting the interview transcription edits finished, Rosanna worked super hard to figure out how to change the aesthetics of our website. For a minute there, I thought we were going to have to pick a new theme. Neither of us wanted to do that since (1) we love it and (2) we weren’t sure how changing the theme this far into the game would impact the site’s navigation that had already been set up. Thankfully, Rosanna was able to work things out with Leah over email. I think our website looks beautiful now.

I used the bit of time I had over the weekend to add some of the images that I found onto our website where I thought they would be appropriate. Rosanna added a lot of content herself. I think we should have almost all of our content put up on there by next week so that we’ll be ready for peer review. Come Wednesday and Friday, we’ll be meeting together to collaborate some more.

I did have some confusion yesterday when I went through our website pages. I went on our “About The Researchers” page to see what Rosanna had added in. None of what I had entered in before (the short bio…the photo…nothing) was in there. But Rosanna’s information was in there. I wondered if something had gone wrong on my end. Then I looked through all the pages and realized that we had two “About The Researchers” pages. I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m glad I caught it. I just deleted one of the pages and made sure both of us had what we wanted on there.

That reminds me. I’m going to have to ask Rosanna if she has any head shots she wants put on that page. I thought about bringing one of my blazers to a meeting and taking a quick photo of her wearing it really quick. I can do some basic photo edits (though I’m certainly not a professional photographer).

To be honest, I didn’t get as much done at this point as I originally planned, but, nonetheless, I think I’m pretty comfortable with where we’re at in the moment. I don’t feel super anxious about getting the website together at all. I think we’re on the right track and that as long as we continue to work a little bit here and a little bit there, we’ll have an awesome website put together.

This is a super old photo of me at an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I think it describes how I’m feeling about our progress at the moment. “Build a mountain. Build it high! Only gotta try.”

 

Progress Report

Now that we’re getting closer to the end of the semester, it’s really starting to feel like “go time” with our project site.

Rosanna and I finished our timeline over spring break. Gathering the photos for that made me realize how I might be able to think more creatively about visuals and media to add to our website as we go along with our project. For example, I found a really great YouTube video that discusses approaches to teaching The Bluest Eye in a classroom. I got really giddy and messaged Rosanna right away to tell her that we simply must put it up on our project site. I think that more ideas are going to pop up as we add more content to our pages.

Speaking of which, I finally found what I feel is a sufficient stockpile of general photos we can use for our project site. It should give us a good place to start. I yielded more fruitful results from Flickr than anywhere else. I’m just not quite happy with what I was able to pull for photos relating to Buncombe County. I’ve found a lot of photos of the Biltmore Estate and Downtown Asheville. I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for other than something of the outside of North Buncombe High School. Maybe Ramsey Library has something. Or I could always just snap a photo myself if nothing else works for me.

We have almost all of our interviews finished. Rosanna and I spoke to each other on the phone during spring break to go over interview questions to ask Lisa Baldwin. I might not always be able to meet Rosanna in person, but I feel like we make a really great team. Our strengths tend to compliment each other. We do whatever we can to work around our schedules and make sure that we get done with what we need to do each week. I could not have asked for a better partner to do this project with.

I definitely want to start adding more content to our website, so I’m really excited for me and Rosanna to have our regular class times on Wednesdays free to collaborate with each other. That’s going to help so much. I think that one thing I need to do before we meet up next time is to go back on the Trello and make a list of all of the pages we need to finish. Yes, we have the Coggle, and it’s color-coded, but I tend to work better with lists.

I think I need to print out a copy of our contract to keep for more immediate reference. It’s a little disorienting to have so many different deadlines floating around cyberspace. I’m really learning a lot about how I best operate while going about projects like this. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s nice to figure these things out about myself now.

I need to email interviewees to get biographies from them that we can put on our website tomorrow.

Also, I see why people hire personal assistants now. Does anyone want a part-time, remote job that pays in kind words and cookies? I’m only halfway joking. I really dread email correspondence and setting appointments on Google Calendar these days. Maybe when I’m rich and famous. (Let’s all take a moment to laugh at that one together.)

Rosanna has done a great job with transcribing interviews. I’m going to be flexing my English major muscles all through the morning to provide proofreading and editing assistance before we put the transcriptions up on our project sites.

I still haven’t heard anything back from the Tim Cooleys I messaged. So, at this point, I’m not sure if we’ll be interviewing him at all, but I’m still trying to be persistent.

I’ve been trying to think harder and deeper about adding a historical context to our case. I did find a website called The State of Black Asheville and think it could provide some great insight into the state of race (for lack of a better phrase) in Buncombe County. I realize that the challenge was made on the grounds of sexual content, but I just can’t let go of the fact that there was an attempt to censor perhaps the most prominent black author of our time within a predominantly white community.

The Bluest Eye

 

Interview with a Librarian

 

I actually ended up interviewing two librarians. I was originally just going to interview the Adult Services Librarian, Ken Miller, at Pack Memorial Library, but I decided to reach out to UNC Asheville’s User Engagement Librarian, Amanda Glenn-Bradley, in addition as backup since, after weeks of emailing each other back and forth and with my deadline fast approaching, I thought that having a back-up interviewee would be wise.

Funny enough, I ended up interviewing them both on the same day. Though I’m actually glad that it turned out that way. It was extra work on my part in terms of preparation and travel, but I thought it was interesting to see the difference between public and university libraries. Ken did a particularly great job of enlightening me on the distinctions during our interview together. Knowing what I know now, I should have posed different interview questions for Ken since public libraries do have their differences, but hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Neither one of the libraries these librarians represent had anything to do directly with The Bluest Eye challenge in Buncombe County, but I did learn a lot about the process of censoring (or at least moving books into other sections of the library per a patron’s request) within the public library sphere. I found it interesting that public libraries have such a process in place and I was intrigued when I flipped through a form that Ken gave me called “Statement of Concern about Library Records”. I think that even though this wasn’t used in the case we’re researching, it would still be useful to put up on the website so that viewers can learn more about the process of book censorship in Buncombe County more generally and holistically.

Amanda also had some interesting insights to offer in terms of the historical context of our case. Figuring out what to say about why the book might have been challenged has been tough. I liken it to being a fish and not fully noticing that you’re in water all the time.

“I think, right now, it’s people are being encouraged, for better or for worse, to voice their opinions on everything. And social media and the Internet make it very easy for people to voice their opinions on everything. Even, sometimes if those opinions are either not very well-formed or maybe misinformed. Bans and challenges have always gone on, but now we’re paying more attention to them. We’re learning about them. For example, the ban in Buncombe County got picked up by a major website, who said that they were going to follow it (it’s actually an advocacy group around comic books in libraries) and, years ago, back when I would have been in high school – back in the dark ages in the nineties – news like that would have barely gone outside our community. So I’m not sure that more challenges are happening. I think they’re being better covered now.” – Amanda Glenn-Bradley

I’m not sure if I think that book challenges are happening more or less, but I do think that putting social media into historical context for this case might be interesting. Some questions I have in mind now are:

How does our own free speech make us feel empowered to challenge the speech of others?

How has the rise of social media and the Internet in general impacted how people approach censorship?

Overall, I think that the gems that I got out of these two interviews will prove to be valuable contributions to our project.

Interview Protocol

 

I had a total of four interviews I conducted for our case study on The Bluest Eye within the past two weeks. My days were certainly packed with travel and preparation.

I started by looking up interview protocols on our course website and making sure I did what was recommended.

The main thing I made sure to do above all else was to express my appreciation. I know the people I spoke with over the past few weeks are very busy professionals, so I wanted them to know that I valued their time, knowledge, and viewpoints.

I also did what I could to involve Rosanna in the process as much as possible. My schedule is much more flexible than hers, so it was more feasible for me to conduct the interviews these past four days. She helped me prepare by listing some questions to ask each interviewee on a Google Doc. I was sure to list my own questions. Rosanna volunteered to do all the transcriptions, which I will be proofreading and editing as Rosanna adds them to our shared Google Drive.

When scheduling the interviews, I did my best to accommodate to the preferences of the interviewees as far as the day, time, and location went. I also made sure to interview everyone in the way in which they were the most comfortable (in person or over the phone).

Making sure the contracts are signed was also an item I kept in mind.

While conducting the actual interview, I tried to think of some questions that followed up with a statement the interviewee made in a previous answer. I found that I stumbled on this at times and got a little tongue-tied when figuring out what exactly I was trying to ask and how to phrase it. I made it through alright, though.

I also asked each interviewee if there was anything they wanted to add that we hadn’t discussed towards the conclusion of the interview. I figure that you never know what else might be on their minds. You never know what gems they still have to offer.

What Should We Do With Sherman Alexie’s Literature Going Forward?

By Tulane Public Relations (Sherman Alexie-4 Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Just a matter of weeks after I finished reading about and discussing the scarcity of Native American writers, I caught wind of some disheartening news concerning Sherman Alexie, who is one of the most well-known and prolific Native American authors of our time.

Being an ambassador for the Generation Indigenous National Native Youth Network and a contributing writer for Natives In America, I have many platonic Facebook friends from across Indian Country. It was through several Facebook posts referencing the current conversation on Alexie that I figured out something was up. Shortly thereafter, I came across this letter by Debbie Reese, the Editor of the blog American Indians in Children’s Literature. After clicking on some hyperlinks included in the Reese’s letter, I stumbled upon this Twitter thread, which helps put the conversation about Sherman Alexie’s apparent sexual harassment into more context.

In short, Sherman Alexie is facing accusations from women, many of which appear to be making their claims anonymously, that he has sexually harassed them. And, evidently, some claim that he has gone so far as to threaten to undermine the careers of female Native writers who dared to speak up about his harassment of them.

National Public Radio released this article detailing his accusers’ testimonies today. Teaching Tolerance, a website offering free materials to educators to supplement their classroom instruction and create inclusive school communities, published a post detailing a teacher’s reasons for pulling Alexie’s young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, from her curriculum.

Having just finished reading that book not that long ago (along with once having considered writing Alexie fan mail) – as an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, a literary scholar, and a writer – I am perplexed, outraged, and disappointed beyond words to even think that the truth of these accusations could even be a remote possibility. As we discussed in class, he is (or was) one of the most celebrated writers of Indian Country. What we have here is a case where many people are choosing to respond through censorship.

As far as my own personal opinions about the censorship of Sherman Alexie go, I will say about it is that I have struggled with thinking about the ethics of it. While I have found myself believing that I wouldn’t censor myself from literature that has held so much value to so many people, it is disheartening to think about supporting the bank account of someone who has so many shocking and repulsive accusations about his behavior towards Indigenous women pinned on him – and thinking that I could have been among the pool of victims myself. That said, someone did point out that my university has several copies of Mein Kampf on their shelves and that there is still a historical value to studying his writing. I am certainly not equating Alexie to Hitler here. My point is that we can find certain writers to be absolutely horrid in character, but there is still a value to studying their literature. Though, from my personal observations, that often tends to happen when they have passed on. I could check Alexie out from a library, but how much would I be supporting him? And how much would that matter considering that I also feel it is important for me to study Indigenous authors?

As I grapple with these questions, I look to other Indigenous authors. I have found lists upon lists of other authors from across Indian Country who I have never heard of before. So perhaps the silver lining is that I have found myself pushing myself to explore the realm of Indigenous writers more broadly than I ever have before. And I would strongly encourage others to do so as they make their own decisions about what to do with Sherman Alexie. While I am not entirely sure how to handle the matter of my own possible self-censorship, I do think that it may be time that we pass the limelight to other Indigenous writers who are producing incredible works of literature. And I pray we see far more than just one token Indian leading other rising Indigenous authors into a Native literary renaissance.

 

 

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