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The Portrayal of Young Black Women in YA Literature

Young adult literature has seen a needed explosion of Black protagonists lately, and particularly Black females. Many of these new protagonists are also involved in Black Lives Matter or similar, sometimes fictionalized, organizations. They may be involved with other fictionalized organizations like Innocence X (The Innocence Project), seeking justice for incarcerated loved ones. Some Black female protagonists also rap, blog, or otherwise create to have their voices heard, and face both support and backlash.

Examine the voice and portrayal of the young Black woman in today’s YA literature. Who is she? Is her representation fair and nuanced, or do a lot of her incarnations look the same (and why is that)? If you choose to discuss historical Black females, how are current fictional protagonists different from those written in past decades? What do Black female characters have in common, and how do they differ from each other as well as other races? Who are some of your favorites, and/or whose stories do you think today’s young adults should read first if they’re trying to gain an understanding of Black, female personhood?

  • I highly recommend reviewing Chapter 2: "African American Young Adult Literature and Black Adolescent Identity Developing a Sense of Self and Society through Narrative" in Janet Alsup's Young Adult Literature and Adolescent Identity Across Cultures and Classrooms: Contexts for the Literary Lives of Teens (2010). I think anyone who chooses to write on this topic will find excellent insights in that textbook. – Felipe Rodriguez 7 months ago
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Jane Austen's Emma as a Representation of an Independent Woman

Jane Austen was a pioneer of her time for writing and literature, and often wrote about women from different backgrounds dealing with issues regarding marriage, family, and wealth. Her novel Emma focuses on Emma Woodhouse, who was unlike other characters that Austen had written about because she was wealthy and has no aspiration or need to marry due to her status as a wealthy woman.

I am curious about to the extent of which Emma can be considered an independent woman in Austen’s novel. Looking back on women’s lives in the Regency Era, it is supported that Emma had a unique and uncommon status compared to most women in her time.

It is important to understand that Emma Woodhouse is a complex character who is unique among Jane Austen’s heroines. While she is beautiful, intelligent, and rich, she is too inexperienced to use her power and influence well which leads to several serious issues.

Can Emma stand as an example for women who face a changing England at the beginning of the nineteenth century? I think it’s important to draw attention to the importance of women’s status in society before the dawn of the new century.

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    Fear and Risk in Children's Literature

    The constant messaging nowadays to "stay safe" seems at odds with most of the books written for children in elementary school. Fairy tales, adventure stories, and even classic and seemingly gentle books like "The Secret Garden," encourage children to face their fears, take risks and stand up for what they believe in, even if it endangers themselves.

    How are today’s children to interpret characters like the Pevensies in Narnia, Lina and Doon from the City of Ember, or Parvana from "The Breadwinner," in the context of risk-averse messaging? Do these kinds of stories still reflect our values, and what kind of benefits do children get from them?

    • I love this topic and can think of other books to discuss, too. Really, you could make the argument that if a children's lit protagonist is an orphan or in a non-traditional family situation, or situation of any kind (and most are), they're already taking risks. They may already not be safe, through no fault of their own. And I love that about good children's lit. I sense you're afraid we may lose that, and I share your concern. If no one claims this, I'm taking it! :) – Stephanie M. 7 months ago
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    • I wonder if a brief history of children’s lit might help contextualize this shift from adventure narratives to our cultural desire to protect children - from my knowledge a lot of children’s books first started out as instructive tales, like Aesop’s Fables or A Pilgrim’s Progress, and then developed into the children lit we recognize more broadly now. I also wonder if there could be an examination of the cultural shifts between some of these classic children’s lit works, like Narnia, and now. For example, would Narnia have been as successful if it had been released in 2020? Or is there something about post-WWII England that made those stories extra enticing? And how does this cultural context play into the understanding of fear/adventure? This is a great topic :) thanks for your ideas! – cassidyleone 7 months ago
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    • Could perhaps start with reading some of his lesser know work , plays i.e 'The Gardeners Son' – Yama144 7 years ago
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    • He’s certainly an interesting author. But this topic seems quite broad. Is there something specific about his work the author could focus on, like the type of characters or settings being used? – Stephanie M. 8 months ago
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    literature
    Write this topic

    Novels with complex structures

    Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves is probably the most famous oddly structured book. For the most part there’s two separate narratives; the narrator’s own story is told in footnotes, the main body of the text being the discovered critical analysis by Zampano of a non-existent documentary film about an ever-changing house. Zampano’s also blind, btw.

    It’s a little bit gimmicky, but at times the Zampano essay is stunning, with some of the most memorable sinister moments in modern literature.

    Beside House of Leaves, I was surprised by the twist of the plot and development in these books:

    Abraham Verghese: Cutting for Stone.

    Orhan Pamuk: Museeum of Innocence. (This is a love novel, and you may not like this genre.)

    Benito Perez Galdos: Fortunata and Jacinta.

    Theodor Kallifatides: In her Gaze. (First written in Swedish, but it is translated into some other languages. I do not know if English belongs to them.)

    Selma Lagerlöf: The Story of Gösta Berling. Repeatedly some one will predict an event that is easily seen to be impossible, unless supranatural phenomena are included. And then the event does occur, but because of perfectly natural causes.

    Arnold Zweig: The Fight Over Sergeant Gruschka. (In WWI Gruschka is a deserter from the Russian army and had been living in a German P.O.W. camp. He had escaped. What he is most eager to avoid is to be send back to this camp. A woman eventually advises him how to avoid that – but he will actually suffer worse outcomes.)

    • Really interesting topic! I would add The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Different narrative voices intertwine and the font plays a really important role too. The Dick and Jane story at the beginning of the novel is written 3 times - one normally, one without punctuation and one without any spaces between letters. Worth reflecting on what that is supposed to mean. And the book is structured by seasons, comparing the Dick and Jane vision of spring, all nice and pretty, and the afro-american's reality of spring in the 1960s - rape and violence. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez' A hundred Years of Solitude. – Rachel Elfassy Bitoun 7 years ago
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    • What about Faulkner? I'm thinking The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. – Kristian Wilson 7 years ago
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    • I'm thinking Scandinavian crime/mystery-thrillers and their impact on modern fiction (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). – Thomas Munday 7 years ago
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    • The structure and themes of Cloud Atlas could be another book to consider for this topic. I find the puzzling feature of the structure of linked stories or novel-in-stories to be intriguing and feel it could be inserted into this topic. Some other linked story novels include: Circus in Winter by Cathy Day. Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. – BethanyS 7 years ago
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    • Interesting. But would you mind explaining what are the questions this topic is going to answer/any potential central argument? For example, what the authors are trying to do with the unusual structures? What messages do they convey? I would also suggest to look a bit into the history of the novel. – Ka Man Chung 9 months ago
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    Plato's Cave and the Construction of Reality in Post-Modern Texts

    Analyse post-modern texts according to Plato’s cave and suggest how reality is constructed, commenting on its relevance and need in our modern era. Compare to classic texts where reality wasn’t as much of an issue. Why is it so important for us to have a constructed reality presented to us? Why can’t we go out and explore our own reality?

    Suggestions of texts:
    Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland
    The Matrix
    James Dashner – the Maze Runner
    Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games

    Or any texts that have a constructed reality within.

    • I can see this going in so many different directions. Having just recently read Susanna Clarke's novel "Piranesi" I can also see how this theme would be really popular now, reflecting the various isolations of our pandemic circumstances. A writer may want to lean into some classic Jean Baudrillard/simulacrum, or Jean-Paul Sartre to compare differing ideas about how isolation distorts reality. – Grimoiria 8 months ago
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    • The Plato's Cave thought experiment is also used in discussions of ethics and morality: is it right or wrong to bring people from their constructed reality into the outside world we think of as real? Characters in The Matrix sometimes struggle with the morality and consequences of waking people up. This question can also extend to us as purveyors of media: how right or wrong is it to analyze or even criticize the constructed realities of these stories? – noahspud 5 months ago
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    What Makes a Scientist

    Dr. Henry Jekyll, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Doc Emmet Brown, Dr. Walter Bishop from Fringe, and characters like them throughout literature and film are categorized as "mad scientists." Sometimes it’s because their science is taboo or outside what society believes is even possible; sometimes they’re suspected of madness or some other kind of mental illness; sometimes it’s both. Why are these characters appealing to audiences, even if they’re not well-liked by the fictional societies they live in.

    An analysis could include comparing them to real-life scientists like Galileo and Copernicus who were considered "kooks" but turned out to be right. Also, consider how driven these characters are to prove their theories, even pushing moral and societal boundaries – if they weren’t actually mad before, they can more easily be perceived that way by the end of their story.

    • Hmmm, intriguing. You might begin exploring this topic with what it meant or means to be "mad," both in past eras and now. For instance, Jekyll, Frankenstein, and even Brown were considered "mad" for their eras but would that be true now? If so, is that because of their methods? Should scientists be expected to work within certain boundaries so they and their work will be acceptable to society, or is that too much like "playing God?" I think you have a lot to explore here and look forward to reading a full article. – Stephanie M. 9 months ago
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    • Through some mishap, the title of this topic left out the word "Mad." That bugs me, but I imagine y'all understand what I meant. – noahspud 2 months ago
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    • Real-life examples could also include scientists we would consider downright evil, like those working in concentration camps during WWII. This would contribute to the moral/ethical boundaries of science. – EditingWithEmily 2 days ago
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    The Legacy and Influence of Juan Rulfo

    This article explores the life and writings of a reclusive giant in twentieth century literature, Juan Rulfo. While authoring only one novel, _Pedro Páramo_, and one short story collection , _El llano en llamas_, Rulfo achieved extreme fame and admiration from other writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and established himself as a pivotal influence on Gabriel García Márquez. This text will address and analyze the basic plot and themes of Rulfo’s work, and educate readers on a lesser known great Mexican author.

    Aspects of Rulflo’s Pedro Paramo to consider,
    The:

    1.)environment where the story takes place. A brief overview of Mexican geography, culture, literary history, Catholicism/purgatory, and the Day of the Dead.

    2.)disjointed and fragmentary nature of time which adds to the dreamlike quality of the novel.

    3.) lack of chapters and signifiers of who is speaking, forcing the reader to fill in the missing information on their own.

    While reading the novel, you will probably see how all of these themes intersect and amplify each other.

    Regarding the influence of Rulfo on García Márquez, it would be good to look into what García Márquez himself said about Rulfo and his writings. There are also parallels that can be drawn between Rulfo’s town of Comala and Marquez’ town Mercado.
    These are just recommendations and are by no means definitive guidelines. It would be best for you to use your own discretion and aesthetic discrimination while exploring and contemplating these great texts.

    • Hi, J.D. thank you for the feedback. I think MLA style guide says to use _ in digital environments where italics are unavailable. I attached a link as an example of this advice: https://style.mla.org/underscore-instead-of-italics/ – kurtz 10 months ago
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