Thirty years ago, when I was working at the Quaker school the first time, two or three senior girls approached the chair of the English department with a proposal. They had looked at the course offerings for their final semester at the school, and there was nothing among the myriad of elective offerings that appealed to them. They asked Kristine if she would design a kind of independent study for them, a reading course of some sort. She knew a good idea when she heard one.

It evolved that the chairs of the English, history and theatre departments, along with the school’s librarian would collaborate to present such a course. The class would meet just once a week, and would be heavy on reading and writing coupled with serious discussion. Each faculty member presented a book that must be read and dissected. Each student was required to journal about the readings throughout the course. And a paper would be written. 

I no longer remember how many students were in the class, certainly not more than ten, if that. At the time, I was the secretary in the upper (high) school, working on portfolio writing for an undergraduate degree at Thomas Edison State College. What these people were doing was ambitious, college-level work; I joined the class and prepared a portfolio for a course called Sophomore Literature.

The English teacher had us read The Mill on the Floss; this had been her dissertation material. The librarian’s pick was Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the theatre man, of course, had us read a play: Mother Courage and her Children. The book that touched me the most was the history teacher’s choice: Beloved.

I remember all those details, and I can still picture the earnest faces of the students in the class thirty years later, some of us moved to tears as we talked about Sethe's hardships.

I journaled faithfully, trusting my coworkers with my thoughts, my reactions to the  texts. For my major paper, I wrote on “Quilt Symbolism in the Book, Beloved.” I labored over my project, took seriously the feedback that was offered; I received college credit for the course. It was an intense time for me, this return after twenty years, to the world of academia. I’m not sure, but I suspect that somewhere in the attic are the journal and the paper.

Thirty years ago. This extraordinary academic experiment remains a vivid memory. And apparently not just for me. Yesterday and today, with the news of Toni Morrison’s passing, both the former English chair and former history chair reached out to me. They knew — and remembered — what that course, that book, had meant to me all those years ago. 


suz said…
The beauty of art of any kind is that is leaves this kind of impression on us. That you still remember how this book impacted your life is a salute to the book, the teachers and the students with whom you shared your journey. We are so fortunate to have authors like Toni Morrison.
Robby said…
That must have been such an interesting course. And now, you've made me think I should dig up that book and read it. Thanks for sharing this.
Janet O. said…
Sounds like a very life-altering experience. I appreciate you sharing this part of your life with us. And though I have no reading time at the present, I am intrigued by this book.
Barbara Anne said…
What a wonderful post about the brilliant idea for the course that clearly had unexpected and touching memories after the passage of these many years.

I've never read that book but will request it from the library.

Such a wonderful memory, Nancy, for you as a reader and writer. And a reminder of the power of books: how they become part of us and nurture us long after we have read them. And the best part is, that we can read them again. This week, I am rereading Beloved. I imagine thousands of people are doing this all over the world. I like to think of Morrison's words singing her to her rest.