November One-Day Workshops

November one-day workshops emphasize the connections between reading and writing: Reading gives us access not only to lives not lived but also to ideas we haven’t noticed and to ways of seeing the world not yet encountered. These workshops focus diverse literary and historical texts; each is led by an IWT faculty associate.

The November workshops demonstrate IWT practices that show rather than tell how writing identifies texts’ multiple meanings. These workshops present writing strategies that allow the reader to make both personal and intellectual connections to the texts; support close, imaginative reading; and help students develop an appreciation for the intersections between related but different texts.

Writer as Reader On-site: These, and past Writer as Reader workshops, are available on-site. Click for more information on bringing workshops to your school for teams of teachers, or even entire departments (limit 15 participants per section). Participants are asked to read the texts in advance of workshops.

If you have any questions or concerns before registering, please email

Writer as Reader: Discovering New Ways into the Text 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Among the key ideas embedded in the Common Core standards for English/language arts is a focus on close examination of texts—preparing students to read more carefully, grasp the meaning in more complex texts, and to infer meaning from what they read. IWT’s “Writer as Reader” workshops model writing practices that support Common Core standards in all subjects, and invite secondary and college teachers to consider “writing to read” as a central classroom practice, one that shows rather than tells students how writing clarifies the meaning of literary, historical, and nonfiction texts. These techniques are the starting point for each workshop. IWT workshops, however, also invite readers to find their own ways into a text. Working with diverse writing-to-read strategies, workshop participants discover what they bring to the text, what is noticeable in the text and what is inferred, and what questions the text poses. This year’s workshops focus on putting texts into conversations with other texts, with historical events, and digital media. The workshops look at the intersections of fiction and nonfiction, drama and history, and canonical and contemporary texts. Drawing on the IWT faculty’s experience as teachers of writing, history, and literature in diverse schools and colleges, and in Bard’s Language and Thinking Program for first-year students, the November workshops also emphasize the pedagogical value of teaching texts that are unfamiliar to students, prompting them to read closely, critically, and with an open mind.

These 10 concurrent workshops are not intended to be scholarly seminars, although they do offer opportunities for critical reading and discussion of the works presented. Instead, they explore writing strategies that allow students to make both personal and intellectual connections to the texts; support close, imaginative reading; and help readers develop an appreciation for the connections between related texts. The “Writer as Reader” workshops also model writing and reading activities that can focus class discussion, help students engage with difficult material, and emphasize the social character of all learning.

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1.*WORKSHOP FULL* Picturing Internment: Perspective, Politics, and the Graphic Novel

How can narrative strategies do the work of historical thinking? Working with Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660, a graphic novel about the history of Japanese internment during World War II, we will write to learn what illustrations can convey that text cannot and vice versa. What is the interplay between text and illustration, and can or should we read one without the other? How can we use different narrative strategies, including storytelling, documentary, and memoir, to convey the lived experience of internment? Putting Citizen 13660 in conversation with excerpts from Lawson Inada’s poem “Concentration Constellation” and Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor Was Divine, we will compare different approaches to this period and develop our own strategies for exploring how literary texts can teach us about history.

Text: Citizen 13660 by Miné Okubo

Workshop Leader: Julia Bloch

2. *WORKSHOP FULL* The Uncommon Core: “Song of Myself,” “A Talk to Teachers,” and The Fault in Our Stars

James Baldwin’s essay “A Talk to Teachers” addresses questions of race and power that are still relevant today, and argues that “the purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions . . .” Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” celebrates the possibility of living beyond the limits of imposed narrative. The dying heroine of John Green’s young adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars, determines to live outside the script of “noble suffering.” These three texts from different traditions call for radical self-determination. Working with them, we will explore our own narratives—imposed and chosen— for teaching and learning, seeking energy from the “uncommon core” of individual vision. In the process, we will model ways to take advantage of our own and our students’ perspectives as we write our way to new understandings.

Texts: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman, and “A Talk to Teachers” by James Baldwin

Workshop Leaders: Alfred E. Guy, Jr. and Alice Lesnick

3. *WORKSHOP FULL* The Rarer Action: Martin Luther King Jr. and The Tempest

How can Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Loving Your Enemies” help us understand William Shakespeare’s The Tempest? As the magician Prospero journeys from bitterness to mercy, Shakespeare challenges readers to see beyond a fairy-tale plot. The workshop will focus on how close reading and writing practices help us think through the believability of Prospero’s change of heart. What makes such moral transformations possible? What conditions might create the human capacity for change? As if in answer, Dr. King’s 1957 sermon, written while he was in jail for nonviolent protest, offers a rationale for why and how we must love our enemies. How can models of virtue—even unattainable ones—become essential to our students and to our culture?

Texts: “Loving Your Enemies” by Martin Luther King Jr. and The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Workshop Leader: Jeff Berger-White

4. *WORKSHOP FULL* Transformational Texts: Human Rights and the Literary Imagination

Empathy is the foundation of human rights, and literature a catalyst for “the alteration of individual minds, mak[ing] possible new social and political concepts.” In this workshop we will read selections from Freedom: Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (each story paired with an article of the Declaration) alongside Lynn Hunt’s Inventing Human Rights (quoted above), situating the literature within her theoretical framework. Through writing, we will note our own psychological and emotional processes—“what goes on in individual minds”—as we encounter imaginative narratives that touch deeply on human realities and rights. In light of our own experience as readers and writers we will inquire into the “transformative” agency of literature to produce “new understandings” arising from “new kinds of feelings.”

Texts: Freedom: Stories Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, edited by Amnesty International, and Inventing Human Rights by Lynn Hunt.

Workshop Leader: Alan Devenish

5. Diving into the Wreck: Foe and Robinson Crusoe

Marxist Ian Watt casts Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as a central myth of both Western modernity and capitalism. But what happens when South African novelist J. M. Coetzee recasts that myth? The self-made man who finds himself on an island, builds a little kingdom, and “civilizes” his man Friday, becomes a woman. She is joined by the character of Defoe, himself, and questions about race, gender, narrative, and language come to the fore. In this workshop, using a variety of writing-to-learn and performance practices, we will put Coetzee’s fascinating work in conversation with poetry by Adrienne Rich, theory by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and excerpts from Defoe’s The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.

Text: Foe by J. M. Coetzee

Workshop Leader: Derek Furr

6. *WORKSHOP FULL* Humans as Subjects: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and the Ethics of Scientific Research

Biomedical and behavioral research is rife with examples of human beings exploited by scientists for the advancement of scientific knowledge. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot documents one of these: the life and legacy of a poor African American woman who unknowingly provided the first “immortal” cells that would contribute to the development of the polio vaccine and breakthroughs in in-vitro fertilization. In this workshop we will write our way to an exploration of Skloot’s fascinating synthesis of narrative and historical research, and ask such questions as: How do we ally the common good with contemporary ethical standards for human subject research? How can we put Skloot’s fusion of biology and biography in conversation with the Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research, as we theorize about what gives life value.

Texts: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot and The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research

Workshop Leader: Alexios Moore

7. *WORKSHOP FULL* Psychology in the Classroom: To The Lighthouse and Are You My Mother?

We tend to be prudent, in the classroom, with the language of psychology and psychoanalysis; when reading literature, in particular, we want students to avoid reductive readings that turn characters into types or the psychological case studies of actual persons. But what if we could treat a literary text as a path to an effective understanding of the history of psychology? Virginia Woolf was closely associated with psychoanalytic communities, and her novel To the Lighthouse points the way to those associations. In Are You My Mother?, graphic novelist Alison Bechdel teases out the relations between Woolf’s novel and essays and the work of D. W. Winnicott, Alice Miller, and Jacques Lacan. Bechdel’s awareness of herself as reader and researcher, and the perceptive connections she draws between literature and science, allow her to enrich our own readings across these genres and disciplines. How do psychological models help us as readers of literary texts? How do the histories of psychology and literature intertwine in ways that mark them both? What is it about Bechdel’s graphic novel (and other hybrid forms) that allows for such productive cross-pollination? In this workshop, we will read and write about Woolf, Bechdel, and the constellation of sources that join them, and ultimately theorize about the principles of such a practice in the classroom.

Texts: To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf and Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Workshop Leader: Matt Longabucco

8. Paradise Lost: Writing to Read Milton, Marx, and “Man’s first disobedience

In Paradise Lost, John Milton writes: “The mind is its own place and in itself/ Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” In “Alienation and Social Classes,” Karl Marx presents the proletariat’s mind as, “the completed abstraction from everything human.” This workshop will investigate ways of putting these two writers in conversation with one another in order to reinvigorate and complicate our readings of them, as well as to discover new ways to think about how we teach them in our own classrooms.

With Milton’s epic “war in the heavens” as our backdrop, we will consider Marx’s insistence that religion is a “man-made” reflection of humanity’s anxieties and ask: How do we explore new ways to approach religious texts from theologically disinterested perspectives? Using writing-to-read and writing-to-learn strategies, we will explore questions including: What can we learn by putting Milton in conversation with Marx? How do we imagine god, political power, and the mortal’s “mind [as] its own place”?

Texts: Paradise Lost by John Milton (any edition based on the 1674 publication) and The Marx-Engels Reader (Second Edition), edited by Robert C. Tucker

Workshop Leaders: Erica Kaufman and Jennifer Eyl

9. *WORKSHOP FULL* Teaching Violence: Frederick Douglass’s Narrative and Shane McCrae’s Blood

The literature of violence brings the news into the classroom, but what are we teaching when we teach violent texts? How do we attend to their truth and their fiction? In this workshop, we will write to learn strategies for engaging students in a critical inquiry on the relationship between violence, art, and morality. We will consider two texts—Frederick Douglass’s autobiography and Shane McCrae’s Blood—as we explore the ethics and challenges of discussing violence. These particular texts force readers to think through the relationship between racial inequality and the representation of violence. The workshop will consider the texts’ distinct genres (autobiography versus poetry) and genesis (experience versus research), pairing Douglass’s canonical text with a contemporary one as we ask: What roles do literary depictions of racial violence play in addressing the wounds of racism? Why and how do authors assert their authority to represent or reproduce this violence?

Texts: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, chapter one; and Blood by Shane McCrae

Workshop Leader: Karen Lepri

10. *WORKSHOP FULL* Vision, Anger, and Social Transformation: A Small Place and the Oedipus Cycle

One of the challenges of reading Jamaica Kincaid’s long-form essay, A Small Place, is encountering the profound anger of the narrator. While readers who are well versed in Caribbean or postcolonial literature may understand this anger, students often lack a broader discursive (or experiential) context and find themselves at a loss.

In this workshop, we will pair Kincaid’s essay with Sophocles’ Oedipus cycle, focusing on Oedipus Rex and Antigone, as we explore a blindness that is both literal and figurative, setting the stage for the (in)visibility politics that hovers over the lives of contemporary subjects who inhabit “small places.” Using A Small Place and the Oedipus cycle to consider the idea of seeing as a way of accounting for the anger the texts embody, we will write to gain an understanding of Kincaid’s narrator and Antigone. We will also attempt to place the idea of postcolonial critique and protest in a broader context, asking: How can A Small Place and Antigone offer a lens for grappling with contemporary protest within the context of our classrooms? And how are literary studies and social engagement linked in works from the past and the present?

Texts: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid and the Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles

Workshop Leader: Kristy McMorris

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Participants are asked to read the texts in advance of the workshops.

Fee: $350 for tuition, morning coffee, lunch, and materials. The early-bird workshop fee is $300; the deadline for early registration is October 6, 2015.  IWT encourages teachers from the same school to participate by offering a 10 percent discount to schools sending a team of three or more teachers to any of the workshops. Groups must register together to receive discount.

Cancellation Policy: No refunds can be given for cancellations made later than a week before the event.

All workshops take place at Bard College on Friday, November 6, 2015, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Check-in is from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m.

Please email with any questions.