From Margin to Center: The Politics of Readers and Syllabi

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349512_Lidinsky image_11-14-18.jpgWhile many of us are hurtling toward the end of the semester, we are also pressed to decide next semester’s book orders and ancillary readings. So, I want to celebrate how many of you are blogging about assignments that place marginalized voices at the center of the classroom. (The photo to the right is from a recent New York Times article with rich images you might consider for classes around the upcoming holiday.) For example, Susan Naomi Bernstein recently described a redesigned assignment drawing on the film Black Panther. I also appreciate the insights about the politics of citation and authority in Dara Liling’s “Source Credibility as a Matter of Social Justice.” Many more of you, of course, are sharing inspirational texts for the rest of us to consider in our classrooms as we work hard to ensure our classrooms are inclusive, challenging, and aware of the politics of the academy and our historical moment.


My title for this post comes from bell hooks’ 1984 text, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, which has influenced my teaching for decades. hooks has been on my mind since I had the great good fortune to gather with thousands of feminist scholars and instructors at the 2018 National Women’s Studies Association conference in Atlanta just after the midterm elections. Conversation fizzed and popped about the implications of expanded representation – political and academic — by women and people of color.

The plenary sessions, too, amplified the potential tectonic shifts happening in scholarship and our classrooms. For example, the conference launched with a richly textured discussion between celebrated poet Elizabeth Alexander and sociologist Alondra Nelson, author of The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (2016)That conversation — interdisciplinary, intersectional, political, and delightfully personal (Alexander and Nelson are longtime friends) — was a reminder of how crucial it is that we invite students into these conversations, so they understand that knowledge production is a human effort, shaped by power in myriad ways, but also a shaper of power. Another evening featured Alice Walker, who spoke with quiet intensity to a packed ballroom about the transformational experience of learning from Howard Zinn during his time as a professor at Spelman College. Yet another plenary brought together activists who reflected on lessons we could learn from social movements of 1968, and I could hardly scribble notes fast enough to capture the sparking conversation between Angela Davis, Bernadine Dohrn, Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Ericka Huggins of the Black Panther Party, and Madonna Thunder Hawk. Thunder Hawk’s leadership in the Red Power movement is featured in the new documentary Warrior Women, which I plan to teach next semester.


My co-author, Stuart Greene, has blogged recently on the empathy we try to inspire through our work in From Inquiry to Academic WritingWe have worked hard, with each edition, to include voices that speak to the pressing issues of our time, from perspectives that often bring insights from the margin to the center, as hooks might say. It is work that never ends – for which I am thankful. Like you, we are always listening hard for new voices to invite our students into new conversations.


What are you most excited to teach? What can you recommend?


Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.