Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jhumpa Lahiri

A change in my school's daily schedule decreased the number of class meetings we have in a year. While I tried mightily all year to trim and condense, I still arrived here, a month before the AP exam, with not enough class meetings to "finish." Deciding to cut texts/authors is very hard for me. What if they are never given a TS Eliot poem in the future and I cut mine? What if Kafka was going to be the spark for that one student?

But with the brick wall I found myself faced with, I could not pretend I could go without dropping Kafka's The Metamorphosis. I just did not have the four days I know I need (at minimum) to do the text justice as an introduction to our Cultural Identity and Isolation theme. So, I punted and ended up making a homerun (sorry for the mixed sports metaphor). I had my students read two stories by Jhumpa Lahiri.

I read her collection Interpreter of Maladies in the fall and loved it. So a few weeks ago, I thought, "Well, she certainly introduces culture and the struggles that come along with it, and her stories are shorter than Kafka. Let's give it a whirl."

What an amazing two days of whirl. My students were fascinated from the start because Lahiri is a living, breathing writer (listen to her in this NPR interview). They said, "She makes us think we could do this too -- she is not Sophocles writing milennia ago." Then her stories delivered. I let them choose between "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" and "Mrs. Sen's," and they spent the next class period discussing their story with a partner who read the other story. The window into lives defined by culture was paradigm-changing for them. Her style was even more than this -- they read quotes by her and struggled with how to articulate the power they felt running under her words. We worked hard that day and loved it.

So if you can, add Lahiri into your curriculum. Even just two stories. But more importantly, I was reminded again of the spread of literature I can and should show my students. They really liked Sophocles last week, and they loved Lahiri this week. They know where writing came from and where it is today. They can join the conversation.

1 comment:

  1. Susanne,
    I was so glad to read about your experience with Lahiri. We have included Interpreter in our 10th grade curriculum for that past two years and have been really pleased with many of the same things you mentioned in your post. One of my colleagues reports her new collection, Unaccustomed Earth, is even better. I haven't gotten to it yet. Also, thanks again for the your help with the ning. We launch this week with our work on Their Eyes Were Watching God. I hope it goes well!