Spring 2019

Recently, I came across a Toril Moi piece in PMLA celebrating French feminist theorist Simone de Beauvoir and her essay “Que peut la littérature?” (“What Can Literature Do?”) Her answer? Literature can make us “see the world as another human being sees it while at the same time remaining oneself: that is the ‘miracle’ of literature.” It not only facilitates our ability to “live if only for a moment at the center of another universe,” it also sharpens our perspective about the one we currently inhabit.

Upon reflection, Beauvoir’s ideas capture the “miracle” that I tried to bring to my teaching life this year. I spent the spring semester using literature by Shakespeare, Sui Sin Far, Junot Diaz, and Edwidge Danticat to teach writing to students who may or may not become English majors. Obviously, I wanted my students to learn to write well. But, far more importantly, I wanted them to live in the ideas that these writers engender and to immerse themselves in the nuance literature provides about a theme that they usually receive as alarming information in the 24-hour news cycle: immigration to America. I hope that the literature I chose equipped my students with some knowledge that allows them to contextualize a topic that forms such an important part of their current lived experiences. And I also hope that the experience has made them value literature enough to return to it as a primary source for nuanced perspectives about other social and political topics that inform their lives. To achieve that would, undoubtedly, be a “miracle” of literature. And yet it’s a “miracle” that I see enacted annually by wonderful students and professors in classes, seminars, readings, and teaching-resource exchanges on Bread Loaf campuses.  

Lyndon Dominique
Associate Director, BLSE

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