Tag Archives: lgbtq history

Cultural Literacy: Willa Cather

She’s not much read today (though I have loved the books of hers I’ve read), but I think this Cultural Literacy worksheet on novelist Willa Cather ought to have some currency in our secondary classrooms in the United States (at least!). This is a half-page worksheet with a reading of one compound sentence with two comprehension questions.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Adrienne Rich: The “Newsworthy” Element of My Refusal of the National Medal for the Arts

“The invitation from the White House came by telephone on July 3 [1997]. After several years’ erosion of arts funding and hostile propaganda from the religious right and the Republican Congress, the House vote to end the National Endowment for the Arts was looming. That vote would break as news on July 10; my refusal of the National Medal for the Arts would run as a sidebar story alongside in the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

In fact, I was unaware of the timing. My refusal came directly out of my work as a poet and essayist and citizen drawn to the interfold of personal and public experience. I had recently been thinking and writing about the shrinking of the social compact, of whatever it was this country had ever meant when it called itself a democracy: the shredding of the vision of government of the people, by the people, for the people.

‘We the people–still an excellent phrase,’ said the playwright Lorraine Hansberry in 1962, well aware who had been excluded, yet believing the phrase might someday come to embrace us all. And I had for years been feeling both personal and public grief, fear, hunger, and the need to render this, my time, in the language of my art.

Whatever was ‘newsworthy’ about my refusal was not about a single individual–not myself, not President Clinton. Nor was it about a single political party. Both parties have displayed a crude affinity for the interests of corporate power, while deserting the majority of the people, especially are most vulnerable. Like so many others, I’ve watched the dismantling of our public education, the steep rise in our incarceration rates, the demonization of our young black men, the accusation against our teen-age mothers, the selling of health care–public and private–to the highest bidders, the export of subsistence-level jobs in the United States to even lower-wage countries, the use of below-minimum-wage prison labor to break strikes and raise profits, the scapegoating of immigrants, the denial of dignity and minimal security to working and poor people. At the same time, we’ve witnessed the acquisition of publishing houses, once risk-taking conduits of creativity, by conglomerates driven single-mindedly to fast profits, the acquisition of major communications and media by those same interests, the sacrifice of the arts and public libraries in stripped-down school and civic budgets, and, most recently, the evisceration of the National Endowment for the Arts. Piece by piece the democratic process has been losing ground to the accumulation of private wealth.”

Excerpted from: Hunter, J, Paul, Alison Booth, and Kelly J. Mays. The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Ninth Edition. New York: Norton, 2007.

Adrienne Rich: Why I Refused the National Medal for The Arts

[This is the letter poet and essayist Adrienne Rich sent  on July 3, 1997, to then director of the National Endowment for the Arts, actor Jane Alexander. In it, Ms. Rich explains why her conscience forbids her to accept the National Medal for the Arts that year. Incidentally, this wasn’t the first time Adrienne Rich took a principled stand in refusing an award.]

“Dear Jane Alexander,

I just spoke with a young man from your office, who informed me that I had been chosen to be one of twelve recipients of the National Medal for the Arts at a ceremony at the White House in the fall. I told him at once that I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. I want to clarify to you what I meant by my refusal.

Anyone familiar with my work from the early sixties on knows that I believe in art’s social presence–as a breaker of official silences, as a voice for those whose voices are disregarded, and as a human birthright. In my lifetime I have seen the space for the arts opened by movements for social justice, the power of art to break despair. Over the past two decades I have witnessed the increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice in our country.

There is no simple formula for the relationship of art to justice. But I do know that art–in my own case the art of poetry–means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power that holds it hostage. The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate. A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.

I know you have been engaged in a serious and disheartening struggle to save government funding for the arts, against those whose fear and suspicion of art is nakedly repressive. In the end, I don’t think we can separate art from overall human dignity and hope. My concern for my country is inextricable from my concerns as an artist. I could not participate in a ritual that would feel so hypocritical to me.

Sincerely.

Adrienne Rich

cc: President Clinton”

Excerpted from: Hunter, J, Paul, Alison Booth, and Kelly J. Mays. The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Ninth Edition. New York: Norton, 2007.

Adrienne Rich on the Needs of Art

“Art can never be totally legislated to any system, even those that reward obedience and send dissidents to hard labor and death; not can it, in our specifically compromised system, be really free. It may push up through cracked macadam, by the merest means, but it needs breathing space, cultivation, protection to fulfill itself, Just as people do. New artists, young or old, need education in their art, the tools of their craft, chances to study examples from the past and meet practitioners in the present, get the criticism and encouragement of mentors, learn that they are not alone. As the social compact withers, fewer and fewer people will be told Yes, you can do this; this also belongs to you. Like government, art needs the participation of the many in order not to become the property of a powerful and narrowly self-interested few.”

Excerpted from: Hunter, J, Paul, Alison Booth, and Kelly J. Mays. The Norton Introduction to Poetry, Ninth Edition. New York: Norton, 2007.

Multiculturalism

“Multiculturalism: This movement focuses primarily on changing traditional canons throughout the humanities. With the expansion of canonical traditions and exposure of students at all levels to artists, writers, and historical movements previously marginalized in general bodies of knowledge, the next generation is expected to have a better grasp of an increasingly diverse society in a world in flux. In the realm of art in the United States, this has resulted in a greater emphasis on and interest in non-Western art and on works produced in communities without previous access to museum and gallery exposure (e.g. African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, women, gays, and lesbians).”

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

Gay Rights

Again, and as below, hearings on Amy Coney Barrett’s elevation to the United States Supreme Court are in session as I write this. Judge Barrett’s presence on the high court could be consequential indeed, especially for the LGBTQ community.

So you’ll understand why I think now is a good moment to post this reading on Gay Rights along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Book of Answers: The Bloomsbury Group

“What gave the Bloomsbury Group its name? The group of writers and thinkers, which included Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, and Lytton Strachey, among others, was named for the place where they held their meetings, 46 Gordon Square, in Bloomsbury, London.”

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Media Art

“Media Art: When ‘media’ refers to the mass media rather than to a particular art medium, this term refers to a trend in art production that involves the representation of representations, i.e., the depiction or deconstruction of mainstream images of those societal groups traditionally marginalized and depicted as stereotypes (e.g., African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, gays and Lesbians). It has also come to include works appearing in mass media spaces, such as those usually reserved for advertising. Jenny Holzer’s fake television commercials on MTV are directed to an audience that might never enter a museum.”

Excerpted from: Diamond, David G. The Bulfinch Pocket Dictionary of Art Terms. Boston: Little Brown, 1992.

Provincetown

I worked part of a school year in Springfield, Massachusetts. The kids I served there–and this was more a function of social class and the dismal high school they were compelled to attend–had a vague knowledge of Cape Cod, but not really any understanding of its geography, history, or role in the origins of the United States. Others, alas, weren’t aware it was geographically and legally part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Since I was a “literacy interventionist” (whatever that is), without a set curriculum, I prepared this reading on Provincetown and its vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet to foster understanding of the Cape and its history. The LGBTQ kids were pleased to get ahold of this information.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Rotten Rejections: The Man Everybody Was Afraid Of by Joseph Hansen

[This sentence from a publisher dismisses one of Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter books, which is a series of hard-boiled detective novels that feature a gay protagonist, i.e. Dave Brandstetter. I am an inveterate reader of mysteries, but have only read one Mr. Hansen’s books; it was quite good.]

This was put together with chewing gum and a paper clip.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.