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"World Literature is Personal:" A Writing Professor's Perspective

Posted on August 02, 2018

Dr. Rita S. Nezami, a professor of writing and rhetoric at the State University of New York, recently made the case for world literature in the pages of the Dhaka Tribune, arguing that "it’s our moral obligation to encourage [students] to engage with people whose lives are turned upside down by global transformation."

Below, she writes about her first awareness of the urgency of bringing global perspectives to students:

It was the beginning of the 2012 spring semester. A frigid January day, a short time after Mohamed Bouazizi took his life in Tunisia…

I walked into my Stony Brook University writing classroom that dark January morning and asked my students what they thought about the young Tunisian man’s self-immolation. They looked at me with blank eyes. They had no idea what I was talking about.

(She was, of course, talking about the Arab Spring. For literature from that fateful era, see the "Revolutions" theme in our Egypt unit.)

Later in the essay, Nezami writes about the impact of the Global Literacies course she eventually created:

I offer students a personal journey across continents, cultures, landscapes, and other ways of being and valuing. They realize, perhaps for the first time, that the American way is not the only way. They realize that there is beauty and wisdom in other cultures, which they finally begin to understand, appreciate, respect, and learn from. Only such an education can foster greater understanding, harmony, and tolerance in the modern world.

As part of the course, Nezami's students write about experiences of their own that resonated with the texts:

At the end of the day, I want my students to see that world literature is personal; it’s about the wounds visited on all of us, about the marginal and powerless finding a voice that needs to be heard loud.

You can find the entire article here: "Bringing the world into the classroom through world literature."

Do you agree with Dr. Nezami's viewpoint? If so, when did you first realize the importance of teaching world literature? Let us know via the Contact page.