#DAPL, #BLM, and the #WPER

Recently, I was chatting with a student after class. We’ve been having a robust conversation for the last two weeks on the environmental implications of Mary Shelley’s most famous novel, Frankenstein.

“What I don’t get,” the student said, “is this drive for achievement and production at the cost of environment and the well-being of humans. Mary Shelley knew about the dangers of it when she wrote Frankenstein. Why haven’t we learned in two hundred years?”

This student is indigenous, a senior looking ahead to a graduate degree in Environmental Science, and the conversation inevitably turned to the massive organization taking place in North Dakota, what has essentially become the first global summit of indigenous peoples committed to protecting not just Native rights, but human rights. My student and I talked about how, time after time, indigenous people have put their bodies on the line to preserve whole communities and ecosystems, not just Native (or even human) ones, while white folks seem to go on about their business, unfazed.

“You know about the White Person Eye Roll, right?” he asked. “Every time a Native person starts talking about political issues, all the white people in the room roll their eyes. We see it all the time. You white people don’t think we see it, but we do.”

While I’m not sure if I’ve witnessed a literal White Person Eye Roll (let’s hashtag it, shall we? #WPER?) en masse, I’ve seen plenty of it on an individual level. I’ve certainly felt the energy in the room change when a person of color speaks to a group of mostly white people. I’ve felt the awkward shift of weight, the aversion of eyes and, most tragically of all, a silence with so much mass, so much gravity, it becomes a black hole of apathy.

My student is certainly on to something: I’ve witnessed not only a vast silence from white friends and family regarding the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), but a general ignorance about it.

White folks as a whole are not paying attention.

But the White Person Eye Roll – literal or figurative, conscious or unconscious – is not limited to indigenous voices. There’s a similar aversion of white eyes surrounding the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

I experience a surreal juxtaposition of lived experiences when scrolling through my social media feeds following a significant #BLM or #DAPL news story. The people of color in my newsfeed – significant in number – use this space to voice their pain, their rage. They talk about life and death and a fear that has seeped into every corner of their lives. Some actively call on the white community to speak up, to explain their silence, to just look at their anguish. And sandwiched in between these posts, these calls for action, these digital wounds, is a stubborn silence from white friends and family. No, not silence. Silence might be more respectful. No, what I see is an entirely different mode of reality, one that is the antithesis of the way people of color experience their lives.

Perhaps these white folks don’t have diverse voices in their newsfeed. Perhaps they don’t see the pleas I do. Perhaps they aren’t aware of the forces of violence and oppression in our nation and our local communities, or read the news. Perhaps they don’t feel qualified or knowledgeable enough to speak and so turn away. Worse, I’m sure some of them simply don’t care.

But here’s the thing: ignorance may be bliss but, in the Information Age, it’s also unforgiveable.

One of the most pernicious lies we tell ourselves is that we can remain silent – for whatever reason – and not be changed by that choice. Because – never forget – silence in moral matters is a choice, and it will weigh on our hearts and minds. It will alter us, harden us, make it easier each time to look away. Patterns of silence make it more difficult each time we are confronted with a moral crisis to step up and do the hard (but right) thing, to engage in difficult but transformative conversations.

Don’t fool yourself: silence is deadly. It’s deadly in the people-are-literally-dying sense and deadly in the way it erodes and kills moral courage.

Silence is killing us all.

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Recent Publications

I’ve had a couple of publications in the last month:

The first is a memoir piece I wrote for my friend Shannon Kopp’s new online magazine, Soul Paws. The essay is about adoption, grief, and the unexpected ways dogs can heal us. You can read “What Remains” here. I encourage you to poke around Shannon’s site, especially if you love dogs. You might even consider purchasing her book, Pound for Pound.

The second publication contains the results of a project on which I and four other colleagues at my university collaborated about transparent teaching and problem-based learning. You can find it here in the American Association of Colleges and University‘s latest journal issue.

Also, if you’re new to the blog, you may have missed a post I wrote last year in the wake of the Ferguson protests. The devastating events of this week have resurrected this essay, and it’s seeing some significant traffic online. You can read “Race Matters” here.

Happy reading!

In Praise of Flip-Flopping

A few weeks ago, a friend on Facebook asked, “Have any of you ever changed your mind about politics based on a meme, shared article, or social media post?”

I thought it was an interesting question. “Not based on a meme,” I typed, “but I have changed my mind after reading a particularly thoughtful post or an article that made me think about an issue in a different way.”

I was the only person to respond with any form of the affirmative. In a sea of “no,” “nope,” and “not me!” responses, one person said, “No I wouldn’t [sic].”

That’s a curious turn of phrase: I wouldn’t.

This person isn’t just speaking to historical events (no, I’ve never changed my mind based on a political post) but is invoking the future. Since I’m assuming this person is not clairvoyant, what’s really going on is that he’s making a statement about his moral standards.

“Have you ever drowned a kitten?” someone might ask.

“No! I would never!”

Or, “Did you cheat on the final exam?”

“I wouldn’t cheat!”

“Have you changed your mind?”

“Never!” comes the battle-cry, fist raised.

When did it become a point of pride to never change one’s mind?

I hear variations on this theme both online and in person: “I hate it when people post about political issues. I already know who I’m voting for, so I don’t need to see all that stuff.”

What if you don’t have all the information? What if you haven’t looked at an issue from a certain perspective? What if you’re misguided? What if you’re…wrong? What if I’m wrong?

It’s entirely likely I’m more worried than the average person about my knowledge base, about having all the information, about considering and reconsidering and reconsidering again because, well, I’m an anxiety-riddled perfectionist who has commitment issues with taking sides. At some point, I know I have to stop reading, stop listening, and make a choice – the best possible choice I can make in that moment with the knowledge I have. But this idea that revising your opinion shows either a weak mind or weak ethics (or both) is symptomatic of a diseased culture.

Symptom 1: Clinging to extremes.

Not only are we highly polarized in the U.S., but we cling desperately to those simplified black-or-white, this-or-that, us-or-them stances. We know our side, our side is the absolute truth, and any other perspective is absolutely wrong. Many people struggle to imagine – or admit to – more ambivalent possibilities, the contradictions, the gray areas present in any issue. People on both sides of the spectrum are equally guilty. I am often guilty.

A mark of intellectual maturity is being able to embrace contradiction. Sometimes, those minute degrees of contradiction can tip the scales in a new direction.

Symptom 2: Intellectual laziness.

“I already know who I’m voting for” is the equivalent of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ears and shouting LA LA LA LA LAAAAAAA. I would never change my mind. I’ll prove it.

What you’re saying is that you don’t want to be bothered with encountering new ideas and having to rethink your stance. Processing information is hard. Coming to thoughtful, reasoned conclusions in a flawed world is even harder. Harder still is hashing out those ideas with other people who may not agree with you.

Symptom 3: Information isolation.

“Well, I do my own research,” some might say.

This is one of the reasons I’m such an advocate for formal, diverse, higher education: humans can only research to the limits of our imagination. It’s hard to come up with a Google search phrase for a concept we’ve never encountered or imagined. Good instructors – experts in their fields who have spent more time reading, listening, talking, thinking, and writing about their subject of interest than most people ever will – can guide students to engage with material beyond their sphere of knowledge, with ideas they may never have discovered on their own. If your research consists of your old stand-bys, you’re missing a lot of information and a lot of perspectives.

More and more people rely on social media for their news. This means they get their information from a curated set of media outlets, friends, and family. We tend to block voices with whom we disagree, and we add voices that reinforce our worldviews. We all do it to one degree or another, but this means that we are becoming more isolated from perspectives different from our own and the people with whom we socialize.

In my own Facebook newsfeed, for example, out of a community of 500+ people and over 1,000 media outlets I follow, I don’t have a single outspoken Trump supporter. There are a few friends I suspect are Trump supporters, but they’re not admitting it publicly (which is telling in itself). In any case, that’s a huge statistical deviation. And there’s a reason for it: consciously or unconsciously, I’ve built myself a sturdy anti-Trump bunker.

Symptom 4: We don’t read enough.

I don’t know how many times a week I ask my husband if he’s read about something I saw online. I’ll give him a one-liner to catch him up, he’ll ask me a question, and I find myself saying, “I don’t know. I only read the headline.”

And I blush.

If we’re only reading headlines, bumper stickers, and memes, if we’re only listening to the one-minute sound-bite (I refuse to watch almost any video on social media that runs past two minutes) how can we possibly understand the nuances of an issue? How can we engage intelligently? How can we carry on a conversation about it?

Read. Read books. Read articles. Read poems and stories and personal essays. Read widely. Be discriminating about your sources. Pause to process and rethink your stance after you read. But mostly, just read.

Symptom 5: We talk at each other.

My son will argue any point, any time of the day, with any level of information (or misinformation) simply for the sport of arguing. It’s just who he is. Someday, because he can look at any side, follow any line of inquiry, he’ll make a great lawyer or scientist or inventor. He’ll be a great philosopher or writer.

But too often, we see conversation as a competitive sport. Debate has its intellectual place. Done right, it can lead to rich, complex understanding for all parties. Done wrong (which it usually is), our conversations are nothing more than a tennis match with no hope of resolution, no point.

“Don’t talk at me,” I tell my son. “Talk with me.” I want to hear what he’s saying, and I want him to hear what I’m saying, and then move together toward something higher, something more significant than an irreconcilable tennis match both of us are determined to win.

Listen. Really listen. Ask questions to be sure you understand. Reflect back what you think the other person is saying. Weigh it and respond thoughtfully. Keep an eye on your emotions. I don’t mean ignore your emotions, or remain emotionless. Just be careful in the ways you use those feelings.

Symptom 6: Mistrust of education.

This past week I read Over the Plain Houses by Julia Franks. It’s a novel set in Appalachia in the 1930s, a time of massive change for a historically isolated group of people. I chose it because my family comes from Appalachia, from poverty, from an ultra-conservative worldview. The Appalachian voice and the novel’s themes tugged at the roots of my identity.

In the novel, a husband becomes convinced his wife is a witch because she grows to see herself as her own agent – she sneaks out at night to walk alone, she develops friendships outside her marriage, she attends classes offered by the new government agent in town, she wants their son to be educated. She also dares to claim her body as her own, rather than an object her husband, by virtue of ownership, can take and use at will. The husband’s fear of change – his paranoia – grows into a demon of his own making.

The plot resonated with my own story. My background is just eccentric enough that I often feel like I stepped from the 1930s into the twenty-first century.

The more I considered the book, though, the more I found myself shocked at how relevant it is to broader American cultural wars. We’re still arguing about who a woman’s body belongs to. We’re still arguing about what it means to be married. We’re still arguing about the place – and worth – of education.

In the last fifteen years, I’ve seen an increased trend toward not just suspicion of the educated, but outright contempt: “I don’t need a piece of paper. I have common sense. College will just brainwash you.” These could be lines straight from the husband’s mouth in Franks’ novel.

What if we revered our elders more instead of less? The ones who have gathered more life experience, more wisdom? What if we sat at their feet and absorbed their histories and their knowledge? What if retirement homes were more like temples, holding the sacred within their walls? What if instead of retirement homes, our elderly – our wise – were placed with reverence at the center of our homes?

What if we respected the knowledgeable and the pursuit of knowledge? When did the path of learning become something ridiculous, something only peculiar people chase, daydreamers who don’t understand or can’t survive the “real world” (and what is this “real world,” anyway)? When did academics become Ross from Friends, bumbling idiots who are barely tolerated by the people around them?

Symptom 7: Fear of failing or being wrong.

We are losing our capacity for creative play. We live in a culture that values the quantifiable, the efficient, that certain journey from A to B. We want what’s right, and we want it now, preferably in capsule form. A flavored capsule that goes down smoothly would be even better, thank you very much.

My students have a positive horror of being wrong. This is usually why they struggle to speak up in class, why I have to nudge and prod and convince them to take risks in their projects, to start with a question they don’t know the answer to and simply follow the path the question will take. There’s something wrong with our culture when we produce students who have a creeping terror of actual growth.

Being wrong is where the good stuff happens. It’s where humility shows us truths we’d never see otherwise. Failure is exciting. It’s dynamic. I respect a good failure.

 

People who know me even superficially can tell right away I’m a bleeding heart hippie leftist. Those who have only known me in the past five or ten years, though, would be surprised to know I voted for George W. Bush the first time around. Even worse, I voted for him for no better reason than that was how my husband voted (he’s done a lot of changing, too). And if I’d been old enough, I would have voted for his father.

I’m a big believer in the power of changing minds. When people accuse political candidates of “flip-flopping,” I understand the mistrust of the pandering politician. But I also believe that people do change. They gather information, they listen to other points of view, and yes, I hope they change their minds. If you haven’t changed your mind about something significant, that tells me more about your fear than about your courage or your standards.

Poet and educator Taylor Mali said in his poem, “Like Lilly Like Wilson,” “changing your mind is one of the best ways / of finding out whether or not you still have one.”

I wish you a life filled with fruitful flip-flopping.

Why Environmental Literature Matters

While researching for the upper-division Environmental Literature course I teach every other fall, I came across this quote from Dr. John Tallmadge:

“Environmental literature…engages the humanities in pressing concerns of the day. We often blame environmental problems on industry, capitalism, bad science, or rampant consumption, and we think that technical fixes or clever new laws will solve them. But these address only the proximate causes. Environmental problems ultimately stem from our values, beliefs, and ideas about the proper relations between human beings and nature. We will never solve them without understanding those beliefs, subjecting them to critique, and transforming them with capable imagination. Such work has always belonged to the ‪humanities, and this means that humanists now have a vital role to play as public intellectuals in a culture that is groping halfheartedly toward a sustainable future.”

I’ve long been a champion of the humanities for this very reason: while science and politics have an indisputable place in remaking the world into a safe, thriving place for all sentient beings, it’s the humanities’ unique emphasis on methodological self-reflection that hold the power to bring awareness to hypocrisy or internal contradiction and transform a person’s values and beliefs, which drive behavior. The humanities are where the revolution of spirit happens. Without this revolution, our conversations and actions surrounding the most pressing issues of our time will remain stagnant.

It’s no secret that my favorite courses to teach are literature courses, and that’s because it places me on the front lines of this revolution. As students encounter new ideas, new kinds of intelligences, new ways of moving through and knowing this world, new voices that have been historically relegated to the margins, I can witness the transformation of values on a personal level. That’s exciting and immensely rewarding.

All literature has this power, but I believe that, of all the branches of literary criticism, exposure to ecocriticism is the one that wields the greatest power to transform. Thankfully, the study of simple (and, for my tastes, leaning toward the sentimental and passive) environmentalism has been overtaken by the principals of environmental justice, the idea that ecological issues intersect with human social and political issues surrounding race, class, gender and even sexuality.

This theoretical transition from environmentalism to environmental justice follows a logical progression of moral development we can see on the individual level: once a young person develops empathy for the plight of mammalian cousins like polar bears, for example, she will begin to worry about the ecosystem the polar bears exist within and start to work to conserve habitat or to slow climate change. Under the care of a good educator, as this student learns about climate change in her effort to save the polar bears she will begin to tease out the complex implications of climate change that impact not just those starving, exhausted bears, but all living beings on the planet. She opens her mind and heart to vulnerable groups of people who are most devastated by rising seas, unpredictable weather, famine, drought, soil erosion, and deforestation. This student – and I’ve watched this happen – will begin to feel the weight of her responsibility not just to the polar bears and their immediate habitat, but her empathy will range in ever wider circles. From there, it’s a short leap to extending empathy to living beings everywhere and to work for transformation in all political and social systems in an intersectional way.

Environmental justice is social justice, and vice versa.

One of the powerful things about teaching environmental literature is that, more than other literary discourse, the study of environment, even a study grounded in the written word, is best taught in a direct, hands-on way. I’ve come to learn that environmental literature courses that don’t take students out into our woods and plains, our lakes and streams, our grasslands and oceans, into the very heart and lungs of the earth, are missing a powerful and transformative teaching tool. All of our literature courses could draw on this lesson, certainly: as students read Kafka, for example, with an eye toward Marxism, what would it be like to take those students into agricultural fields to speak with migrant farm workers, or into a massive Amazon warehouse where workers’ bodies are searched before and after their shifts and walk dozens of miles a day to retrieve items to be shipped across the world? But there’s something immediately personal and visceral about our connection with nature, even in those students who begin an environmental literature course oblivious to that connection. There’s something about the study of nature that humbles us, that reminds us of our dependence on our common Mother. Nature nudges us in the direction of equality, because as a species we are equally vulnerable, our future equally tenuous. Nature teaches us that we are tied not just to each other but to all other systems.

If our university’s mission is to provide transformative education, a complex study of ecology that includes the voices and written or spoken experiences of many kinds of humans should be a part of that education. I’m pleased that my university opens this course not just to English majors or those interested in the abstract, critical and theoretical underpinnings of written codes and signs, but requires the course for all Environmental Science/Studies majors. Maybe the next step could be offering that course more often than every other fall.

On a Diverse Literary Education

I was talking to a colleague this week about his recent experience with the GRE Literature in English test. This standardized exam, in case you don’t know, is used to evaluate potential students applying for graduate studies in English. About 3,000 people a year pay $150 to take this test, with their educational and professional future sometimes resting on these scores.

Even though I hold a terminal degree in Creative Writing, I periodically consider pursuing a PhD in a different humanities-related discipline, so I try to learn what I can from others who are going through the application process. The scope of the GRE Literature exam is daunting. The applicant is tested on conventions, genres, allusions, grammar and rhetoric, literary techniques, recognition of authors and literary works from the 1600s to the present day, literary and cultural history, and, of course, critical and theoretical approaches.

One of the problems with the Literature exam – and this is not a new problem for anyone in an English department as a scholar or an educator – is that the exam is so significantly weighted toward white European and American men. As I listened to my colleague list the kinds of writers and thinkers the exam did and did not include, I started to worry about my own success with the test.

Here’s the thing. I consider myself fairly well-read. But my definition of “well-read” is vastly different from the GRE’s definition of “well-read.” While my education included many of the canonic stand-bys – Shakespeare, Montaigne, Dickens, Joyce, Hemingway, Steinbeck – I feel especially lucky to have been exposed as an undergraduate to writers who don’t fit the Sacred White Patriarchal Canon: Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Denise Chávez, Maxine Hong Kingston, Zadie Smith, Chinua Achebe, Richard Wright, Audre Lorde, and more. I’m so grateful for Dr. Hellegers, who introduced me to Linda Hogan; Dr. Hunt who taught from Leslie Marmon Silko; Dr. Johnson who gave me Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz; Dr. Narayanan who bequeathed Pico Iyer and Orhan Pamuk; and Dr. Lewis who taught me to appreciate graffiti and rap music as literature.

In the literature classes I teach, I take course titles like “World Literature,” for example, seriously. We read literature from all over the world, from all kinds of humans. In the first week of class, we talk about what “literature” means and what “The Canon” is and I spend all semester resisting that canon. Don’t get me wrong: we still read Shakespeare and Montaigne and Kafka and Chekhov. But we read so much more than what the GRE test considers “literature.”

Am I doing my students a disservice by resisting the canon? Perhaps my students who go on to study English in grad school may have to read a little more on their own to prepare for exams. But readers do that anyway, don’t we? And we’ve all heard of those Dead White Guys. Without the kind of diverse education I was privileged to get, I may never have heard of half my favorite writers, writers who struggle to be heard, to be taken seriously. I may not have become the kind of educator who prioritizes reading that offers both windows and mirrors to my students, no matter who they are. I may not be the person I am today, and that possibility makes me sad.

My students set on graduate school can pick up any anthology and read The Canon that supports white male privilege. I hope I can offer them a glimpse into other ways of making noise in the world. I hope that glimpse encourages them to make a little noise in their own way. I hope I can prepare them to go out and resist assumptions about literature.

And who knows? Maybe one of them will challenge the GRE to come up with a better measure of literary academic success.

The Indefinable Magic of the Classroom

One of the things I love most about my university job is connecting with students. I see a lot of vulnerability in my office behind a closed door (what professor doesn’t?), and I invariably feel honored to be allowed a glimpse of the real human behind the “student” mask. But it smacks me full in the heart when my students open up and allow themselves to be vulnerable and authentic in the classroom, in front of their peers.

Today in a literature class, we discussed women’s rights and gender roles, facilitated by a reading of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.” Because the class is overwhelmingly female (21/23), these abstract issues are very real for us, very heavy, and in some cases very painful. It was remarkable to see women strong enough to speak up about their private struggles and insecurities, and then watch other students eager to jump to each other’s support with encouragement and validation.

I don’t have much data on this, but I’m convinced that transformative learning can’t take place without a tender heart. I’m impressed when my students are so willing to do the difficult “heart” work of learning, and even better, to do it as a community.

There’s something miraculous about what happens in a classroom, some unidentifiable magic good teachers are constantly trying to harness. It’s a slippery thing, but when it’s present, you know it. Your students know it. It’s a sacred thing.

100 Important Books

Because I’m a passionate reader as well as a professor of English, I’m often asked for book recommendations. I’d venture to say there’s no more difficult question for a bibliophile than, “What’s your favorite book?” This is like asking, “What’s your favorite bone? Which cell in your body is the very best cell?”

Here’s the thing: for readers, books don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of an ongoing conversation about what it means to be human. We can’t understand Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin without understanding that he’s responding to Native Son by Richard Wright. And we better understand both Native Son and Notes of a Native Son through the lens of Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, written an ocean away. And we can trace Fanon’s ideas back to Karl Marx’s theory of alienation from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

You get the idea. I can do this all day. For readers, it’s hard to untangle this web of ideas.

Recently, I received a more interesting request: to provide a list of books one might read to become more “well read.”

That phrase – “well read” – is problematic because it implies a sense of elitism, and heaven knows we have enough snobby people flouting their Literature, their Classics, their Sacred Immovable Canon, when the books they enshrine are in reality a very narrow slice of humanity – overwhelmingly white, Christian, heterosexual, European or American men.

Still, the question intrigued me, and I dashed off a list of sixty books to him. (Yes, sixty. Sorrynotsorry.) I didn’t spend much time on it because, well, we’re all short on time. But since then, I’ve found myself mulling the list over and over. Did I include enough diversity? Did I worry too much about wide representation and ignore important works by white men?

I decided to revisit this idea: What are the books that, taken together as a conversation, offer a broad understanding of Western and, specifically, American culture? (My list would be too unwieldy if I widened the scope.) What if I could limit that list to 100 books – books that intersect race, gender, religion, class, sexuality, nationality, economics, politics, and – because I’m a geek – toss in a few foundational genre books? What would that list look like?

Here I offer you that list. As any reader knows, a list of books is merely a snapshot in time. My list would have looked very different ten years ago, and will look very different, I’m sure, ten years from now, as I continue to follow the trail of ideas through books. Having said that, as I glance through this list I’m painfully aware of my own biases and gaps in my literary knowledge. I’ve recently realized how woefully under-read I am in Latin American literature (although Sor Juana and Jorge Borges made it to my list), as well as LGBTQIA+ literature (though there are several authors on this list who are representative of the LGBTQIA+ community, and a few texts that explicitly address the LGBTQIA+ experience).

Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily my favorite books (some are). These are foundational books for achieving a deeper understanding of American culture.

You’ll notice the books are organized in alphabetical order, simply because the task of prioritizing or creating a linear reading list was too daunting.

What would you add to or remove from this list?

  1. 1984, George Orwell
  2. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, Flannery O’Connor
  3. A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
  4. A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold
  5. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, Yiyun Li
  6. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
  7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  8. The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine
  9. “Ain’t I a Woman?” Sojourner Truth
  10. All About Love: New Visions, bell hooks
  11. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  12. The Analects, Confucius
  13. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  14. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
  15. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X (El-hajj Malik El-Shabazz)
  16. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  17. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  18. Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney
  19. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  20. The Bhagavad-Gītā
  21. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz
  23. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  24. Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko
  25. The Christian Bible (New Testament)
  26. The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde, Audre Lorde
  27. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx
  28. Crazy Brave, Joy Harjo
  29. Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey
  30. The Dhammapada
  31. The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin
  32. Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes
  33. Dune, Frank Herbert
  34. The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ralph Waldo Emerson
  35. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  36. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
  37. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges
  38. Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
  39. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
  40. The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov
  41. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  42. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
  43. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, Mohja Kahf
  44. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  45. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
  46. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  47. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  48. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  49. The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)
  50. Howl, Allen Ginsberg
  51. Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
  52. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  53. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
  54. Letters, Christopher Columbus
  55. The Liar’s Club, Mary Karr
  56. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
  57. Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien
  58. Madam Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  59. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
  60. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  61. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  62. My Antonia, Willa Cather
  63. My Life: Impressions of an Indian Childhood, Zitkala Ša
  64. The Narrative of The Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass
  65. Native Son, Richard Wright
  66. Night, Elie Wiesel
  67. Notes of a Native Son, James Baldwin
  68. The Odyssey, Homer
  69. Oedipus, Sophocles
  70. On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
  71. Paradise Lost, John Milton
  72. The Perks Of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
  73. Poems of Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson
  74. Poems of Phillis Wheatley, Phillis Wheatley
  75. The Poet’s Answer (La Respuesta), Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  76. Politics and Poetics, Aristotle
  77. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  78. The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli
  79. The Qur’an
  80. The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
  81. The Republic, Plato
  82. The Round House, Louise Erdrich
  83. Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  84. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
  85. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
  86. Solar Storms, Linda Hogan
  87. The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. DuBois
  88. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  89. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  90. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  91. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe (read alongside James Baldwin’s essay, “Everybody’s Protest Novel” to understand the underlying racism of the text)
  92. The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft
  93. The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
  94. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
  95. White Noise, Don DeLillo
  96. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  97. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  98. Women in the Nineteenth Century, Margaret Fuller
  99. The Works of William Shakespeare
    • Comedy: The Tempest
    • History: Henry V
    • Tragedy: King Lear
  100. The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins