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2018 Common Ground Seminars

The 2018 Common Ground Teachers Institute will be held on June 7 and 11-15. Teachers who submit a reservation by May 25 will be offered a place in one of this summer's Common Ground seminars. After that time, participants will be added on a first-come, first-served basis until each seminar is filled. Please contact Mallory Chesser with any questions.

Apply for the 2018 seminars here.

"Am I Speaking in Tongues?": Finding and Owning Voice in Multiethnic Women's Plays

Dr. Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

This seminar will examine plays in which women who are ignored or undervalued speak up, first in whispers and then gradually in deafening voices signifying ownership. In several plays by White, Black, Asian American, Latina, and American Indian women, the female characters wonder if they’re speaking in tongues to their lovers, friends, and families who seem unfamiliar with the universal language of survival and self-love. For the purpose of this seminar, “speaking in tongues” is broadly defined and suggests that women are sometimes perceived as speaking with an “insane mouth” because the (oppositional) people around them view their struggle to develop a voice as incomprehensive, incoherent, and utterly obscure utterances.

Oftentimes the message of the female speaker sounds like a foreign language falling on deaf ears. The seminar will look closely at the journey women are forced to take in order to be heard and supported. This search for self is often fraught with fractures, literal and figurative. We will discuss the challenges that women experience as they seek an equal and welcoming place at home, at work, at church, and in the community. The seminar will highlight the sexist practices that invade the very fiber of women’s lives regardless of their socio-economic status or ethnic or racial background. The struggle to carve out a satisfactory and sustainable identity in restrictive societies while learning to speak up is the thread that runs through the selected texts. Throughout the seminar, we will explore the texts for ways in which women find and own their voices in their efforts to speak truth to power.

Selected Plays 

  • Diane Glancy, American Gypsy
  • Beth Henley, Crimes of the Heart
  • Lynn Nottage, Ruined
  • Lydia Diamond, Stick Fly
  • Maria Irene Fornes, Mud
  • Josefina Lopez, Real Women Have Curves
  • Amy Hill, Tokyo Bound

Text and Textile: Lyric & Documentary Interleavings in the Long Poem

Dr. Robin Davidson

Imagine that you are one who makes print books, and at times mends their damaged bindings. Imagine that you hold in your hands the first edition of a book printed in the late 15th century, and that you have been tasked with the repair of its spine, the care of its frayed pages, its fading images beneath the sheerest skin of translucent tissue. An interleaf, both demarcating and bridging a boundary between text and image, between the reader’s inner life and the external world out of which the pages emerge.

Now look outward to the 21st century and the world of text that swirls around us in its many forms—print books, e-books and documents, email and text messages, Facebook memes, tweets, Instagram images, online news sites, and more. How do we steward our own writing in a digitally-saturated, postmodern era? We will explore this question by looking at the serial poem with its early use of hybrid form—and the tools of more contemporary documentary poetics with its assemblage or collage of reportage, found language, photography, and more. Come prepared to have fun, to revel in text and image, and to explore new landscapes in your writing!

Reading List

  • Kazim Ali, Bright Felon, Wesleyan UP (2009)
  • Anne Carson. Nox, New Directions (2010)
  • Fanny Howe, The Wedding Dress: Meditations on Word and Life, U California Press (2003)
  • Susan Howe, The Midnight, New Directions (2003)
  • Tyehimba Jess, Olio, Wave Books (2017)
  • Carrie Meadows, Speak, My Tongue, Calypso Editions (2017)

Floods, Fires, Fury: Disasters and Displacement

Dr. William Monroe

“Fire and Ice”

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice. 

                                 – Robert Frost

In a decade of wars, fires, and floods, many of us—or our students, teachers, colleagues, and friends—find ourselves far from home, or find that our homes no longer exist. Whether driven into exile by political forces, fleeing from houses ravaged by natural disasters, or relocating in search of new opportunities, when disasters strike, we may find ourselves estranged from our identities, in a state of inner turmoil, or at war with each other.

In this seminar, we will explore stories, essays, and poems from different times and places that deal with the experience of disasters and the displacements that they cause.

Reading List

  • NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire
  • Natasha Trethewey, Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast
  • Genesis 6:9-9:17
Other Selected Works (to be provided)
  • Willa Cather, “Tom Outland’s Story,” excerpted from The Professor’s House
  • Peter Handke, “The Flood”
  • Wislawa Szymborska, “The End and the Beginning”

  • Derek Walcott, “A City’s Death by Fire”
  • Adam Zagajewski, Try to Praise the Mutilated World”
  • Selections from the Iliad and the Aenied, "The Ruined City"