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Authors On The Frontlines: Zetta Elliott, PhD

It’s my belief that 16-year old, Walter Curry Jr., would not have been the victim of a vicious hate crime (being dousedWalter Curry Jr., with gasoline and set on fire), if the 16-year assailant had been properly educated. Properly means, learning about the world – through a lens – so he could see a clear picture. Possible?
(hat tip-@kishizuka  & @editi )

Imagine a 21st century classroom with teachers and authors joining forces in an effort to rid racism – for good – through education! Well, a movement to do just that has begun, The War: Writers Against Racism, by Dr. George E. Stanley.
A Wish After Midnight (September 2008 by Lulu)
Here’s Zetta Elliot’s outline for teachers on how to teach literature across the curriculum using her novel, A Wish After Midnight (September 2008 by Lulu) and Ishmael Beah’s memoir, A Long Way Gone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 2007).

Author Zetta Elliott, PhD
“‘Liberty and Justice for All’: Writing the Fight for Freedom” by Zetta Elliott, PhD

Course Summary:

This course will explore the definition of—and quest for—freedom. For centuries, people in the US and around the world have struggled to balance the rights of the individual with the needs of the larger community; citizens rely upon their government to uphold those rights, but what do they “owe” their country in return? What happens when the social contract fails? In addition to reading a time-travel novel (A Wish After Midnight) and memoir (A Long Way Gone) about civil war, participants will consider visual images, diaries, letters, poems, and first-hand accounts penned by survivors of the Holocaust, urban gang violence, genocide, and acts of terrorism.   Together we will attempt to answer the following questions: does violence endanger or protect our right to be free?   What can speculative fiction and narrative possibility teach us about the past? Does memoir blur the line between fact and fiction? Can storytelling heal traumatized individuals and reconcile divided communities?

A Long Way Gone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 2007) 

Course Objectives:


•           To introduce participants to various forms of literature that complement “the five social studies standards: History of the United States and New York; World History; Geography; Economics; and Civics, Citizenship, and Government.”


•           To share writing activities and strategies for incorporating literature into Social Studies units


•           To expose participants to interdisciplinary resources guaranteed to excite and engage students


Course Outline:


Week #1:         Introduction: Teaching Literature Across the Curriculum

Week #2:         A Wish After Midnight

Week #3:         New York, Slavery, & the Civil War

Week #4:         Witnessing War: Teenage Perspectives (Local & Global)

Week #5:        A Long Way Gone

Week #6:         Truth & Reconciliation: Memoir, Memorials, and Moving Forward

Week #7:         Conclusions

Zetta Elliott earned her PhD in American Studies from NYU. Her poetry has been published in the Cave Canem anthology, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, Check the Rhyme: an Anthology of Female Poets and Emcees, and Coloring Book: an Eclectic Anthology of Fiction and Poetry by Multicultural Writers. Her novella, Plastique, was excerpted in T Dot Griots: an Anthology of Toronto’s Black Storytellers, and her essays have appeared in The Black Arts Quarterly, thirdspace, WarpLand and Rain and Thunder. She won the 2005 Honor Award in Lee & Low Books’ New Voices Contest, and her picture book, Bird, was published in October 2008. Her first play, Nothing but a Woman, was a finalist in the Chicago Dramatists’ Many Voices Project (2006). Her fourth full-length play, Connor’s Boy, was staged in January 2008 as part of two new play festivals: in Cleveland, OH as part of Karamu House’s R. Joyce Whitley Festival of New Plays ARENAFEST, and in New York City as part of Maieutic Theatre Works’ Newborn Festival. Her one-act play, girl/power, was staged as part of New Perspectives Theater’s festival of women’s work, GIRLPOWER, in August 2008. 


  1. George Edward Stanley says:

    Zetta Elliott is such a powerful writer. Amy, thanks for this blog.

  2. Amy Bowllan says:

    Yep. And rumor has it, she’s working on more lesson plans. :)

  3. Zetta Elliott says:

    Hey, Amy! Right now, I’m working on a novella, but lessons will come soon…

    I want to make sure you know about my friend LaTonya who runs Color Online, a literary website that promotes books by women of color. She also runs a library for homeless girls in Detroit, and she’s very interested in using literature to achieve social justice. I know I can’t leave links here, but these are her sites:

  4. George Edward Stanley says:

    I know all about deadlines, so I certainly understand Zetta’s current schedule, but I’ll be looking forward to her lesson plans, too. Lesson plans are what we need. I’ve already accepted a couple of requests to “teach” NIGHT FIRES to area middle-schoolers. I had made mental notes as to what I wanted to cover, but now I’m writing lesson plans in earnest. I’m sure our mutual friend Mary Ann Rodman either has or can certainly write lesson plans for her YANKEE GIRL, set in 1964 Mississippi and the winner of several state awards. We’ll need elementary, middle-school, and high school lesson plans. I’m hoping that our networking will start this ball rolling.

  5. Amy Bowllan says:

    What I have heard from teachers, when researching novels to implement in their courses is, “does it come with activities, quizzes, vocabulary words., etc?” What I like about new novels, like Night Fires, it’s not on Spark Notes. To Kill a Mockingbird and others, are, because they are “tried and true” for teachers.

    Somehow we have to make READING these novels more tempting for teachers. Makes sense?

    Zetta, send all authors to me. Shoot them my e-mail.

  6. George Edward Stanley says:

    It does make sense – and I’m in tune with that because in my Arabic, Persian, and Swahili classes (even though they’re for university students), I always work with activities, quizzes, vocabulary words, etc. to make the language “real.” And so many writers for young people that I know personally are or have been teachers – so we’re ahead of the game there. They’re familiar with what works and what doesn’t work.

  7. Mayra Lazara Dole says:

    I’m so glad you posted about Zetta Elliot. She’s an outstanding author/educator/intellectual whom every person and child in the United States (not just African Americans) should read.

    Thanks for this post, Amy. And please, visit these blogs: Color Online, Black-Eyed Susan, and The Happy Nappy Bookseller (AfAmerican bloggers spreading the word about people of color lit.

  8. Thanks to YOU, Mayra, for the introduction…and if we’re battling racism, we definitely need a diverse group of writers involved….Amy, I wonder if we could do a “round-up” on your blog, and have half a dozen writers talk about how racism has impacted them personally, and what they do professionally as writers to combat racism. Not to dump more work on you! Maybe I could do that on my blog once I meet this deadline…I’m sure Mayra would join in, Carleen Brice, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Sara Ryan, Jo Ann Hernandez, Mitali Perkins & Neesha Meminger…something to think about!

  9. Amy Bowllan says:

    Of course we can post it here. I could repost your comment, or it may be best if the authors you suggested, send me their responses and I will post individual blog posts. Either way, I am flexible. I am scouring the web now for lessons, like yours. I posted a few in the past, but it’s so important to give everyone a chance to share their works.

  10. Hey, Amy! Here’s a link to Colleen Mondar’s blog–she’s been hosting the What a Girl Wants series, and this is sort of what I had in mind–but we could limit it to 5 or 6 authors, maybe:

  11. Amy Bowllan says:

    Thanks, Zetta!

    I read the post and it appears as though there are two, very distinct plights happening. And for my own clarity: One, lack of diversity in teen literature (and the diversity that’s there in novels like yours and others are not being integrated), and two, kids/YA authors have books that could be used alongside lessons, but are not. Should these books be integrated into the classroom for one purpose – diversity?
    Is there a way to merge the two, for a common purpose?

  12. George Edward Stanley says:

    This is probably heresy, but one of the problems I’ve always had with the “teaching of literature” in this country is that most schools always seem to start with the older periods and work their way up to the newer periods. Seriously! Middle-School students do not understand or identify with the arcane language of books written in the 1800s and in the early 1900s, I don’t think. Why can’t we start with current (and more relevant) books such as Zetta’s and the other authors she’s menioned and the titles we’ve been discussing for WRITERS AGAINST RACISM and then work our way back? If we do this, then students will first be exposed to the world as it is today, the one they identify with, and probably develop not only an appreciation for literature but also a clearer understanding of the social problems that still exist in this country which they can help solve – and then maybe THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE and THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES and all the other “traditional” texts will be easier to understand – provided, of course, that school systems still consider them relevant.

  13. I think it’s important for teachers AND students to know that literature has multiple uses, and that means not only featuring novels in ELA classes, but incorporating poetry, plays, songs, and films across the curriculum…and those various texts should reveal different points of view, which often *doesn’t* happen when everything was written a hundred and fifty years ago (by white men)…I love some of “the classics” but agree that educators should meet students where they are NOW.

  14. George Edward Stanley says:

    How could I have missed adding those elements, too, Zetta? I teach Arabic poetry, Arabic songs, and we watch Arabic films – as well as read Arabic fiction. (Ditto in my other language courses!) Of course! All these parts make up the whole!

  15. dilandinga says:

    yCsofb I bookmarked this link. Thank you for good job!

  16. Perfect work!,