Seduction of Water, Punjabi Widows, Lost Friends
The Art of Teaching Writing and the Unexpected Results of Doing It Well
How do you inspire a group of disgruntled kids to WRITE? How do you inspire them to create meaning out of words? As any teacher of writing knows, it’s hard to overcome the difficulties of a classroom. In some cases, you’ve got students with a lack of fundamental skills. At other times, it’s like walking over an abyss of disinterest, carrying big loads of enthusiasm, encouragement, and assignments that matter to the student.
If you work daily to help students see the value of writing and then actually do it, you’ll appreciate these books about three different writing teachers and the unexpected results of teaching well.
Because writing teachers can be heroes!
The Seduction of Water by Carol Goodman
Sometimes you find a book by accident, and that book causes you to want to read more of whoever wrote it. That’s what happened to me. Recently, I just happened across a book by a writer named Carol Goodman, and after finishing The Seduction of Water, I can’t wait to read more of Goodman’s work.
The Seduction of Water is the story of Iris Greenfelder, working as a part-time English teacher while she’s finishing her dissertation. Her mother was a successful fantasy writer, penning two bestselling books, but before the third part of the trilogy could be published, Iris’ mother died in a mysterious fire. When Iris is struck by inspiration, she crafts a story based on the myths her mother used as bedtime stories: the legend of the selkie, seal-like women who shed their skins to come ashore and live as humans.
The story draws the attention of Iris’ mother’s an ambitious literary agent who believes the third manuscript exists. She encourages Iris to write a biography of her mother…and the quest for truth begins.
The world of hotels, literary agents, and World War II survivors mesh in this lovely, lyrical novel that is part mystery, part romance, part “Gothic,” and part teaching pedagogy.
I related to the main character because she was an English teacher who wanted to be a writer. Don’t we all?
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Don’t let the title turn you off….or on….as the case may be. This is a book that is both delightful and demanding of your attention, causing you to think about taboo topics and how to give silent communities a way to be heard.
Nikki is the daughter of Indian immigrants. Desperate for money, she answers an ad to teach creative writing to a group of mostly older Punjabi widows. But not only can Nikki not speak much Punjabi, but the members of the class also don’t even know the English alphabet. When their attention wanders, they begin to tell each other stories, most of which are not appropriate for mixed company.
If you believe in the power of storytelling, if you want a glimpse into a different community, if you’ve ever searched for your true identity, read this book. Still thinking that it sounds too racy? (I know. My mother would have looked askance at that title on my bookshelves.) Read this review from the New York Journal of Books.
The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate
Benny Silva is an enthusiastic, good-hearted young English teacher working with impoverished, down-trodden students in rural Louisiana. If she stays there for five years, her college debts are forgiven. But it’s a hard go because there are no supplies, no budget, and a previous lack of quality education.
To get her students motivated, Benny assigns them a local history project, asking them to research and write about a person, place, or event in their history. It isn’t easy, but a few students embrace the project.
As they’re researching, interesting facts start turning up about the real history of the town. The story splits into a dual timeline, as the reader learns about Benny and her class while the newly discovered history reveals a second story focusing on the history of a plantation owner’s daughter, her half-sister, a Creole mistress, and the slave who took care of them.
The novel incorporates real history: The Book of Lost Friends was a way for the almost 4 million newly-freed slaves to find each other.
Like all good stories, there’s an unexpected twist at the end, several revelations, and glimpses of the power of individual history that makes us who we are. More than that, for teachers, there’s joy in seeing students who increase their self-confidence, their skills, and their optimism for the future.
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