On November 21, 2013, 150 New York City public high school students gathered at NYU’s Kimmel Center to share their final projects in response to Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, a text they studied this semester with Gallatin student mentors.
The celebration was the culmination of the sixth annual Great World Texts project, a collaboration between the Gallatin Writing Program and New York City public high schools. Each year Gallatin faculty and undergraduate mentors collaborate with high school teachers and students in studying a canonical work or "contemporary classic.”
Through a special tutorial, undergraduate students become mentors in the high schools, assisting in the reading, discussing and writing about the text. Over the course of the semester, the mentors assist the high school students in developing writing projects inspired by the book. Past texts have represented a broad range of world literature, including a novel from Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Weep Not Child; one from India, Kamala Markandaya's Nectar from a Sieve; Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold; the anonymous 17th century Spanish picaresque Lazarillo de Tormes; and the anonymous 10th-century Scandinavian poem, Beowulf.
This fall, Great World Text 6 Faculty Adviser Jeanette Tran selected Maxine Hong Kingston’s landmark work, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. In addition to working with classes from Bronx Academy of Letters, Facing History High School, and Marta Valle High School, this year Great World Texts went global, expanding to NYU Buenos Aires. There, Anna Kazumi Stahl, a creative writer, comparative literature professor, and now Director of the site, served as the faculty advisor to NYU students acting as mentors at Lenguas Vivas High School, which offers education in a number of languages. Though not able to attend the November 21st celebration, Lenguas Vivas documented their engagement with the text in a video that was shared with their New York counterparts.
Gallatin Dean Susanne Wofford spoke of the tremendous influence on her intellectual and personal development that came with her exposure to other cultures during her childhood, when her family lived in Ethiopia for several years. This experience, she said, planted the seeds of inspiration for Great World Texts. Faculty Adviser Jeanette Tran discussed the experience of reading The Woman Warrior in upper-level college and graduate courses, and she commended the High School students for taking on this complex and challenging text.
Student presentations explored a variety of themes important in The Woman Warrior, at the center of which were questions of identity reframed in the context of the students’ lives. Additionally, students used elements of mythology in the telling of their own experiences after Kingston’s literary style.
The 2013 student mentors were Gabriela Del Valle, Austin Galoob, Chloe Gbai, Naomi Howell, Wyneisha Kinsey, and Kara Saunders. The Writing Program’s Graduate Assistant, Amallia Orman, coordinated the semester-long tutorial as well as the presentations and celebration.
Gallatin students who are interested in participating in Great World Texts as a mentor should discuss this possibility with their academic advisor in April, when preparing to enroll in fall classes. Most Great World Text mentors are juniors or seniors, but sophomores who have exceptional experience in community engagement, especially in reading and writing, may be eligible.