High School Literature
Posted January 16, 2007on:
Janelle Martin at Eclectic Closet was asked to list the literature books she studied in high school. Unlike her my memories of what I read in class are much clearer than what I read out of them but not by much. In her comments I felt more sure of my school book memories but as I look back I really only remember one of the books I read in grade 7. I thought Animal Farm was grade 8 but now I’m not so sure…
No, now I believe it belongs in grade 7. My association with each book, at least for grades 7 and 8, is the classroom I was in. For grade 7 (first form) the class was much darker and I was to the far right of Ms. C, our English Literature teacher. Like all of the teachers that ever worked at our school who used to live in England, she sat on the desk rather than on the chair, which we thought quite unorthodox. At the time I did not much care for her, preferring the older, stricter and, to my mind, more suitable and admirable Mrs. M who taught us English Language. (For some reason our class was split in two for Language, half of us with Ms. C while the rest were sent to Mrs. M.)
English language classes were held in the library which was on the second floor of the building a few feet from our class. The lighting was much brighter in there, the atmosphere lighter and airier and it was in the library. I enjoyed the creative writing exercises, one of which was to write about experiencing a hurricane (at least, that’s what I wrote about). I don’t remember the grade I received.
Mrs. M liked me, I could tell. I’m not shy to admit that I was often a favourite of my English lit teachers because my love for the subject was obvious; and they were often favourites of mine. With the hubris of youth I was quite open about which teachers I really liked, and which ones I thought were rubbish. (Unfortunately my grades often reflected this: if I thought a teacher did a crappy job I treated the subject accordingly. I was such a git.)
At regular public school:
The Pearl – Jon Steinbeck
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Sunsong One – poetry anthology compiled for secondary school instruction for Caribbean students
To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
Summer Lightning and other stories – Olive Senior
A play I cannot remember the title of but which was written by a Caribben author (I think). The characters were angels and it was set in heaven. I don’t remember the plot but it had racial equality themes (some weird convo about white people actually being various shades of cream black people being chocolatey brown). We loved it and, along with the teacher, decided to learn the play and enter into the parish-level performing arts competition. I was cast as a character, and practised, but never actually made it to the performance.
In grade 8 we were assigned the same Lang. and Lit. teacher — Ms. C. I gnashed my teeth, pouted and grumbled, determined never to warm to this teacher who could not match the brilliance of Mrs. M. By the end of the first term I loved her to bits. Ms. C was an exciting, invigorating teacher whose voice boomed across the classroom. The first assignment I did for her was disastrous as I did not know how to properly write dialogue among other things. I nearly cried. I did improve: later in the year a descriptive essay I did on the vice-principal (who scared the crap out of me) got 19/20. (Ms. C never gave full marks. Yes, ridiculously, I remember insignificant crap like that. I could tell you most of the grades I got in undergrad :grimace:.)
Ms. C was active in the local theatre scene and also wrote her own stuff, I think. I saw her some years later at the airport in Kingston but never said hello as she seemed busy and, anyway, I didn’t think she’d remember me, having only taught me for two years.
Old Story Time – Trevor Rhone
I read a play on Joan of Arc and, according to google, the most likely author is George Bernard Shaw. (I can’t remember.)
Jumbie Bird – Ismith Khan
I transferred to an all-girls boarding school in the bush for grade 9. My mother was laid off from her job after the company was bought and, I’m guessing, things were a bit up in the air as to where she would go next. None of this was shared with me at the time. Some of my friends at church asked what horrible deed I had done to deserve such a fate. One helpful soul warned me about lesbians, what they did in the dark night, and what I should do to defend myself should I be accosted. I was 12 at time and suitably horrified.
Along with these I also read some of what my new classmates had been assigned in grade 7 & 8. These books were kept because in grade 11 (fifth form) questions would be given on them in the CXC exams (‘O’ levels).
Annie John – Jamaica Kinkaid (An infamous novel because of the hinted moments of lesbian play. Girls stalwartly declared it was a “nasty” book because of this, one for which they certainly did not care for.)
Harriet’s Daugther – M. NourbeSe Philip (I had no idea she was Canadian until now!)
A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry
Grade 10 & 11
King Richard III – Shakespeare
A Brighter Sun – Samuel Selvon
Selected works from A World of Poetry for CXC
Some short stories from A World of Prose for CXC
King Richard III is still firmly entrenched as one of the best works of literature I have ever read. I’ve stressed enough how I found Selvon’s first novel soporific. Read it to fussy babies they’ll drop right off, guaranteed.
Mrs. W was my English Lit teacher from grade 9 onwards, and for Language in 10 & 11. In grade 9 I found her a terrific bore and though nothing could kill my love for the written word I felt sure that this would be the first year my Language grade would be higher than my Lit. (I was right, I think.) Coincidentally our grade 9 Language teacher, Mrs. shoot I’ve forgotten her last name, was also from England, here in Jamaica to teach for a year. I’m sorry I’ve forgotten her name as she actually made learning grammar and punctuation rules exciting, giving us craft projects, bouncing from the desk to pace in front of the class and basically making us fall in love with her. She took us down to the school farm to relax in the fields on her last day and some of us cried.
Her husband was our grade 9 Physics teacher and a popular target for mockery although I can’t remember why now. He provided lots of gossipy excitement that year as it was suspected by the school population that he was carrying on a serious flirtation (at the very least) with the third British teacher Ms. Jelly Bottom (Geography), our nickname for her. (Her bottom was huge and jiggled a lot.)
Grade 12 & 13 (6th form)
As You Like it – Shakespeare
Hamlet – Shakespeare
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Songs of Innocence and Experience – William Blake
Selected Poetry – Derek Walcott
A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennesse Williams
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Kwei Armah
Waiting For Godot – Samuel Beckett
I had to go to Kingston for 6th form. My boarding school did not have one and the only one in my hometown of Montego Bay was for boys. The A-level Syllabus was divided into three parts: pre-20th century, 19th century (yeah never got that either) and 20th century. Each was taught by three different teachers. I liked the one for the first, worshipped the one for the second, had absolute disdain for the third. She showed little dedication to her work. At the time there was (and still is) conflict between the teacher’s union and the government about their pay. As students we dealt with the consequences of this, strikes and so on, from grade 10 or so onwards but she was the only teacher it affected to such a degree that she rarely came to classes. If she did it was often at hastily decided times rather than the ones scheduled (and then she’d show up late). The only book she ever really taught was the Williams. I don’t even remember touching the Armah with her; it was Mrs. B, the one I worshipped, who came to my group’s rescue (English students were split into two groups) and covered the book with us in extra classes. The third’s teaching of Walcott was was a joke and the Beckett was even worse.
To this day I haven’t touched anything of Beckett’s because the woman’s hastily put together plans, printed handouts on “absurd” theatre (or whatever it was) and hastened critiques filled me with little else but confusion. I felt Beckett must be hopelessly obscure and too intellectual for me to grasp. (I left the class thinking he was French for several years. God’s sake.)
What made it even worse was that she neglected one Group A (the one I was in) for Group B because the latter had students from her alma mater and they were more understanding about her shenanigans. Like I gave a bloody hell about her kid and her problems. I got a fucking B on my ‘A’ levels and I’m fairly sure it was because of my Walcott essay. (Thanks a lot you hack!)
What books did you study in high school? Did any of them match the ones on my list? Maybe this could become a meme of sorts.