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Antioch University Chancellor Challenges the Conventional Freshman Reading List

(from the Aug. 31, 2015 edition of The New York Times)

Felice Nudelman is the chancellor of Antioch University.

At a time of ever increasing cultural diversity and political division, we need to redefine what the literary canon should represent so students can contribute more fully to the economic, cultural and social capital of this country.

It is one thing to study the ‘Great Books,’ quite another to let that list be narrowly defined by a small legacy subset of our culture.
Presenting the views of only a few great white male writers on strife, life and humanity will limit students’ understanding of a changing world and their framework for leadership. We need to broaden the discussion and demand a higher level of awareness and openness. It is one thing to study the “Great Books,” quite another to let that list be narrowly defined by a small legacy subset of our culture.

This greater inclusiveness should not just be demanded of the literary canon, but of other curricula in the sciences and arts. The text I was required to buy when I art history as an undergraduate did not include a single woman artist. The New York Times recently reported on the longevity of the Guerrilla Girls, a group who for three decades demanded a greater presence of female artists in museums. What was startling was an accompanying chart showing the lack of progress made in those decades.

The addition of one book to the canon is not a victory. Here are several books that faculty members at Antioch suggest as required reading:

“Borderlands LaFrontera,” by Gloria Anzaldua, a Chicana whose essays and poems challenge perceptions of identity.

“How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, 1975-2001” Joy Harjo, a Native American who tries to make sense of the past to create a better future.

“Their Eyes Were Watching God,” by Zora Neale Hurston, a masterpiece of the Harlem Renaissance that let African-American characters live in their own world.

“The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven,” by Sherman Alexi, a heartbreaking novel of life on a reservation.

“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.” Published in 1845, about seven years after Douglass escaped slavery, this disturbing work painfully described the brutality of slavery.

“Invisible Man,” by Ralph Ellison, addressed black identity and individuality with an intellectual and social perspective.

“The Golden Notebook, ” by Doris Lessing, an early feminist novel with a strong female lead.

“A Change of Skin,” by Carlos Fuente, a love story about cultural and religious barriers through the eyes of a Mexican who is married to a Jew

“Surfacing,” by Margaret Atwood, a story of a woman struggling to find balance and equality.

“Things Fall Apart,” by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, one of the first African novels to receive global acclaim.

“Night,” by Elie Weisel, a horrific account of a teenage Holocaust survivor.

“The Second Sex,” written by Simone De Beauvoir in 1949, is a penetrating look at women throughout history.


Originally published in The New York Times

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