Last Tuesday, I walked in my Advanced Fiction Writing workshop eager and nervous—the typical first-day-of-class jitters we all know too well. I find my seat, and prepare for the inevitable and infamous ice breaker.
“Tell me your name, major, writing history if any, and what the last thing you read was.”
Easy enough, I thought. It was my turn to break the ice.
“Sam Garfinkel, English major, peer tutor at the Writing Center, and the last thing I read, well, reread, was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”
We continued around the room until the metaphorical ice had melted.
Then, my Professor announces: “You know, I HATE when my students, especially my advanced writing students, tell me that they read Harry Potter, or really any young adult fiction in their spare time. You guys should be CHALLENGING yourselves! Don’t regress to basic stories that you have already read and that are meant for KIDS! C’mon guys! I will say this right now: I will expect more from you.”
My face burned. I was so embarrassed. I should have said one of the other books I read over break, like Watership Down, or The Woman Destroyed. Those would have been impressive. Why had I even picked up my old, water-stained copy of the first Harry Potter book in the first place?
And I remembered why. I had been feeling homesick and nostalgic. The winter weather was getting me down, and I reached for something I knew I loved, because it would undoubtedly bring me comfort. As I sat red-faced in class, I started wondering what was so awful about seeking solace in something that was easy and gratifying.
But, I understood what my Professor was saying. We should challenge ourselves. If we pick up something new, a classic, a difficult piece, which would advance our reading, and by extension our writing, to a higher caliber. Still—the whole thing didn’t sit right.
I realized it was because the incident was just one of the infinite examples of literary elitism in the academic setting.
We can say that everyone is a writer, and that is true to an extent. But not everyone enjoys writing, and not everyone likes to read. I think one of the reasons people resist reading and writing is because of embarrassment—what they like may not be in the literary canon or written by a Nobel Laureate, and they my feel excluded, and rightfully so, because they are told what they love is not good enough.
So, I’ve come to the driving questions of this post, ones that I hope my fellow tutors will feel compelled to help me answer:
Are there works that are considered “wrong” or “not good enough” to read as a college student?
How can we encourage our writers to continue to challenge themselves, yet still validate their tastes in books and styles of writing?
How can we, as writing tutors, make the process of reading and writing, and by extension the literary DePaul bubble, more inclusive?