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Teachability, Pedagogy, and Why You Can Easily Find My Book At Used Bookstores

By Craig Santos Perez

so some say that poetry is dead because it stays within the academic classroom, overlooking how important the classroom is to creating lifelong poetry readers / writers, as well as how important course adoption is to keeping books alive and relevant and in print.

when i design a syllabus, i try to choose books that i think will engage and challenge my students. while at the native american literature symposium this past weekend, i began to think about this process more because i kept hearing an interesting word at many of the panels. this word was….

“teachable.” so my question to all the educators out there: what makes a book “teachable”? does this idea of “teachability” change whether you are teaching high schoolers, undergraduates, or graduate students? how do you choose texts for your courses?

my first book was published in 2008, and since then it has been taught in about 20 courses that i know of in universities throughout the pacific and the u.s. i’ve had the pleasure of visiting some of these classes in person, blogging with them, skyping, and engaging with students via email & facebook. (the pic above is a Native American Studies course at UC Berkeley that read my first book last fall; as you can see, only the two over-acheivers in the front row managed to stay awake during my class visit).

what’s been surprising to me is how many different contexts there are for poetry. so my first book has been taught in courses called “Literatures of Oceania,” “Asian American Studies,” “Native American Studies,” “Poetry and Politics,” “Writing in Place, Writing as Place,” and “Ecology and Poetry,” to name a few.

two really interesting courses teaching my first book this year are called “Decolonizing Narratives: Indigenous Literature and Culture in the Age of Sovereignty” (Kansas University) and “Discontiguous States of America” (St. Thomas University). Here are the descriptions of the courses:

1) Course Description: This course takes as its premise the decolonizing potential of indigenous literary and cultural productions. It seeks to both answer and explore such questions as: How can literary and cultural texts such as novels, poetry, music, and film from world indigenous communities function as decolonizing tools? Can decolonizing methodologies be applied to such texts?  How do such texts contribute to and strengthen indigenous political, intellectual, cultural, visual and rhetorical sovereignty?  These are some of the questions we will attempt to answer throughout the semester as we read indigenous literature and view films and documentaries from North America, the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand.

2) Course Description: This course examines ideas and examples of American literature in light of territories outside the forty-eight contiguous states. We will begin by considering more typical accounts of American literary history that rely on the relationships between geography, region, and cultural contact in creating a sense of American identity and literary production. Moving from historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis of American character through westward continental expansion, we will consider writing by authors such as Willa Cather and Zitkala Sa that sketch out visions of an expanding America from the perspective of settlers as well as displaced indigenous peoples. We will then turn to explorations of American imperialism that leads to the incorporation of Alaska, Hawai’i, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico through the literary imaginations of writers like Jack London, Haunani-Kay Trask, Craig Santos Perez, Jose Garcia Villa, and the Nuyorican Cafe poets.

In addition to reading literature about and from these spaces that lie outside the contiguous United States, we will study legal and cultural claims to the peculiar status of these lands and peoples to the American landscape and body politic. While these places are often effaced and the inhabitants forgotten in the national imaginary, their incorporation into the country has led the US Supreme Court to define some of these areas in a series of early twentieth-century rulings called the “Insular Cases” that turn on the question of whether citizenship and the protections of the Constitution necessarily follow the reach of American military might. We will read these legal discussions along with literary renderings of the complicated status of such people and places. This course fulfills the Diversity Literature distribution requirement for English majors.

this current semester is a bit strange as seven courses that i know of are teaching my first book and three courses are teaching my recently released second book. for my second book, those three courses are “Native American Studies: Reading and Composition” (UC Berkeley) “Pacific islander Studies” (San Francisco City College), and “Poets in Conversation” (UC Berkeley Extension)

i had the pleasure of visiting the creative writing course last week at UC berkeley extension (special thanks to laura walker). here’s the class reading my book:

the weekend before this past weekend, i was at UC Santa Cruz, where a course called “Visual Cultures of Africa, Oceania, and Native America” read my first book. i gave a lecture to the class titled “A Brilliant Lecture on the Themes of Mapping and Navigation in the Wondrous Poetry of Craig Santos Perez, whom is I.” Here is a picture of the class (note it was a friday 8 am course so i wasnt mad that all the students were sleeping:

that night, i also conducted a writing workshop with some of the graduate and an undergrad–but i forgot to take a picture. the next day (yes they worked my butt off at santa cruz)–i gave a poetry reading at a conference being held that weekend called “Spatial Imaginaries and Critical Geographies” sponsored by the Asia Pacific Americas Research Cluster. here is a pic of the rowdy academic crowd:

i must admit too that i was a bit starstruck because rob wilson, karen tei yamashita, and hsuan hsu were in the audience! eek. here was the flier for the events (with special thanks to stacy kamehiro & dina el dessouky):


p.s. if you live in NYC, come to this exciting event:

Poets & Writers presents
a reading by
2010 California Writers Exchange Award Winners
Sean Bernard
Craig Santos Perez

Sunday, March 14, 3:00 p.m.*
*(Daylight Savings Time Reminder: Don’t forget to turn your clocks one hour ahead!)

Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe

2319 Frederick Douglass Blvd. (Between 124th and 125th Streets)

New York, NY
Admission is free.
A complimentary wine and cheese reception will follow the reading.

Every third year, Poets & Writers selects a poet and a fiction writer from California to receive the California Writers Exchange Award, which is funded by a generous grant from the James Irvine Foundation. Authors of the winning manuscripts, selected from among hundreds of submissions, are flown to New York City for a week of meetings with literary agents, editors, publishers, and fellow writers, plus a reading at a New York venue. This year’s winners were chosen from a pool of 692 fiction entries and 712 poetry entries. The judges were Karen Tei Yamashita for fiction and Juan Felipe Herrera for poetry.

Please join us to welcome the 2010 California Writers Exchange winners to the Big Apple, and to hear them read from their work.

Thanks to Hue-Man Bookstore & Café for hosting this event!

Nearest subway stops are the A,B,C,D to 125th and St. Nicholas or the 2,3 to 125th and Lenox.

To learn more about the California Writers Excahnge, read an essay by one of the previous winners in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Comments (5)

  • On March 10, 2010 at 10:52 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    As I understand it, anyway, the liberal arts curriculum of a university education is (or used to be) based on a few principles :

    – universality of knowledge
    – objectivity of rational inquiry
    – independent scholarship
    – creative freedom of imaginative literature

    And this set of principles has been threatened in recent decades by the following forces :

    1. the displacement of philosophy by scientific positivism (determinism) &/or ideological relativism
    2. the displacement of imaginative literature by “theory” (as the hegemonic mode of discourse)
    3. the displacement of intellectual independence by political interest (as the hegemonic mode of rationality)
    4. the displacement of literary scholarship and education by “creative writing”

    As I see it, this is the intellectual context within which “teachable” poetry & literature reside. & the question is not, how many people are discussing my books in class? But rather, how does poetry (& how do I, as a poet) respond to/react to/reflect this context?

  • On March 11, 2010 at 11:00 am Wendy Babiak wrote:

    (Love the posed pictures of the somnolent students! And especially the grinning over-achievers. As always, Craig, I appreciate your self-deprecating humor. Can’t speak to teachability, since I don’t teach.)

  • On March 11, 2010 at 12:01 pm Colin Ward wrote:


    “Love the posed pictures of the somnolent students!”

    LOL! Given that this was a poetry class, why assume that the pictures were posed? Does the ratio–10 nappers to 2 keeners–not seem about right to you? 🙂


  • On March 11, 2010 at 4:14 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

    You may have a point (it’s been almost two decades since I was a poetry student, so I’m not sure how slack they are these days), but I’m afraid neither the bodies of the sleepers nor the grins on the keeners seem quite realistic…good thing they’re not going for careers as actors.

  • On March 11, 2010 at 4:15 pm Wendy Babiak wrote:

    And BTW, Craig, congrats on the P&W award!

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 by Craig Santos Perez.