Reading is going away and then being able to come home. When I was a little girl, my mom worked a lot and was hardly home. While that may sound freeing, I missed her and often felt lonesome. I would return from school with library books each week and while away my time with reading, where books took me by the hand and showed me the world. I was moved by Sadako’s hope to survive a sickness that I, even as a child, knew she could not (“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes,” by Eleanor Coerr). I learned about joy and accepted death, albeit with sadness. I learned compassion. Through books I went everywhere and became other people, but more importantly, reading was home. My mom loved Kenny Rogers and would listen to him on the cassette player when she was home. I remember sitting on the floor with “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott, in my lap and Kenny Rogers crooning from the kitchen. I read until the light had slanted and darkness had descended but did not realize it. It was only when I could no longer see and had to reach for the light switch that I returned to my living room. Today, I cannot listen to Kenny Rogers’ album “Eyes That See in the Dark” without returning to that moment when Jo turns down Laurie’s marriage proposal. Reading has been a life-giving rite of passage, and it fed my soul. As a teacher, I wish to give to my students this magic. In the busyness of our lives, it is important to stop for silence. And read.
Chong Yang Thao, Como Park High School, St. Paul
Kiese Laymon, writer and professor of English and African-American studies at the University of Mississippi, was the judge for the Loft/McKnight Fellowship Award in creative prose this year. He identifies as a black writer who was born and grew up below the Mason-Dixon Line in Jackson, Miss. His first memoir and his first novel have received wide critical acclaim. Among numerous systemic long-term and contemporary social and political issues, Laymon’s elegant writing considers issues of race, place and oppression, and the complex ways these factors may intersect with class, gender and family. I will be reading two books by Laymon: “Long Division: A Novel” and “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: Essays.” I am teaching a topics in literature course in the fall, “Women Writers of Color in Minnesota,” and Lesley Nneka Arimah and Kao Kalia Yang are on the course’s reading list. “What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky: Stories,” by Arimah, and “The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father,” by Yang. Arimah’s short story collection is her writing debut and has received local and national praise. I have faithfully and successfully taught Yang’s “The Latehomecomer” to my writing, literature, and women and gender studies students, and it is always their favorite text. I am excited to read and to teach Yang’s second memoir, which won a Minnesota Book Award this year, with my students.
Taiyon Coleman, St. Catherine University
I plan on reading mostly books that were hits two, three, maybe even 10 years ago. The curse of being an English teacher is you love to read, but don’t have the time to do it anymore. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah,” Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout,” Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad,” Lisa Carey’s “The Stolen Child” and Stephen King’s “11/22/63” are all on the pile. I’m especially excited to read David Sedaris’ “Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002,” which just came out in May.
Ursula Becker, Highland Park High School, St. Paul
I’ll be reading “The Swerve — How the World Became Modern,” by Stephen Greenblatt. That was recommended to me by some former students who are now out of college. I also just put “Tell Me How it Ends — An Essay in 40 Questions” by Mexican author Valerie Luiselli on my list. I try to keep current on issues that may affect my students, and this book concerns the youth refugee crisis from a few years ago. To counter those, I’m always on the lookout for some good fiction to intersperse with heavier topics. I’m not sure what that’ll be just yet.
Patrick O’Connor, Southwest High School, Minneapolis
This summer, top on my reading list is “The Warmth of Other Suns,” by Isabel Wilkerson. A longtime educator, among others, recommended the book while I embark on my new teaching career. If time permits, I hope to reread “Queen Sugar” by Natalie Baszile, which I’m hoping to create a future unit on related to the complexities of relationships, race and power.
Jocelyn McQuirter, Hamline University, St. Paul
I’ve only scratched the surface of “Olio” by Tyehimba Jess, and it’s already as vast, addictive and brilliant as the most ambitious novel of ideas. “Olio” features a chorus of voices and viewpoints, historical figures who grapple with race, ragtime and minstrel shows. But “Olio” is unmistakably a masterwork of poetry. Its fragmentation is musical — its play with sound and language is part of its story; so is its seemingly light touch and sense of serious play with historical documents and forms.
Chris Santiago, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul