One of the things I enjoy doing is creating pedagogical materials for educators, students, and the general public. When I worked at the Ernest J. Gaines Center, I collaborated on the center’s LibGuide (library guide). In my position as the director of the Lillian E. Smith Center, I taken on a similar project constructing a LibGuide for Smith and some of her works. Today, I want to share my thought process in creating each LibGuide and some of the sources I chose to include for the LES LibGuide.
When I started working on the LibGuide for the Gaines Center back in 2014, I began with an overview of Gaines and the collection and one work, “The Sky is Gray.” This entry led me to the decision to provide four to five main items on each page: an introduction, questions to consider, possible activities, a quote from Gaines related to the work, and materials related to the text. As such, each entry contains these items. For example, the page for Of Love and Dust begins with an introduction which talks about some of the inspirations that Gaines spoke about for the novel. As well, he talked about the bond leases system which is the impetus for the narrative action in the novel. This lead me to include information about the PBS documentary Slavery by Another Name.
The questions focus on different aspects of the texts. With Of Love and Dust, I wanted to ask about stylistic elements, such as beginning the novel with the road and Gaines choice to use James Kelley as the narrator, and also thematic aspects such as such as Bishop’s comments that Marcus pushed his foot in “The house his great-grandparents built. The house slavery built.”
With the possible activities, I want students to use the text as a jumping off point to explore various themes and ideas in a broader context. The various covers for Of Love and Dust have always intrigued me, as do other paperback covers from the era (late 1960s-1970s). As such, I propose that students look at some of these covers, which appear below, and think about how the cover relates, or doesn’t relate, to the novel itself. Once they have done this, I ask them to look at other forms of media such as music album covers. I conclude the page with a quote from Gaines about the novel and with items from the collection that relate to the novel.
When I started working with a student on the LES Center LibGuide, I wanted to maintain the same format as I did for the Gaines Center LibGuide. However, while the Gaines center guide focused on all of his work, to that point, I could not do the same for Smith because if people have read her work they have only read one or two books, usually Strange Fruit or Killers of the Dream. Due to this, we decided to provide five short pieces from Smith that would give a broad overview and introduce the audience to her life and work.
Picking which pieces from Smith to highlight proved hard because she wrote prolifically. Essentially, what we chose to do was pull some of the pieces we read for the LES Studies Course and have them as the focus for the LibGuide. So, we ended up selecting the following: Laurel Leaf mid-summer 1946 newsletter to parents, “Author of Strange Fruit Shares Her Mail,” “Letter to Mr. Hartley,” “Ten Years from Today,” and the prologue and first two chapters of The Journey. While not encapsulating every aspect of Smith’s life and work, we thought that these pieces provided great opportunities for the audience to engage with her work from her time as camp director at Laure Falls to her existential look at life in The Journey.
Again, the format of each entry remained the same as it had with the Gaines Center LibGuide; however, we did not incorporate quotes from Smith about each work. We did, though, add videos of her reading to various posts.
In 1959, Wesley S. Hartley wrote to Smith asking, on behalf of his students, about what type of education a student needs if one wants to become a creative writer. Smith’s reply, which didn’t appear publicly till after her death, details Smith’s philosophy on education and learning, and it provides a great piece for educators and students to discuss.
For some of the sources, biographical or compositional information is scant, so we had to piece together certain things from various sources. In regard to this piece, I did not know who Mr. Hartley was. I only knew he was a creative writing teacher in California in the late 1950s. A quick Google search revealed that Mr. Hartley was, in fact, Wesley S. Hartley. Hartley taught creative writing in California, Nevada, and New Hampshire, and online I found numerous authors who responded to his query. This information provided material for the introduction because Hartley wrote to writes such Amiri Baraka, Katherine Anne Porter, and Dr. Seuss. Along with this information, we presented a brief summary of Smith’s response.
Next, we provide three possible activities that students can complete based off of the text. Again, these activities go beyond the text itself and apply it to broader contexts. Since Hartley queried multiple writers about education, we ask students to write similar queries to their favorites artists. We also ask them to consider their own response to Hartley if he asked them what type of education a creative writer needs to be successful. Finally, we ask them to engage in some the same research practices that we had to when we constructed the introduction, so we ask students to search for authors that Hartley wrote to, research the author, then present what they found to their class.
With the questions, we focus, again, on the text: style, audience, themes. One of the recurring themes in Smith’s work is the ways that bridges join people together, and the title of Smith’s response when it appeared in Redbook in 1969 was “Bridges to Other People.” Because of this, we ask two questions about the metaphor of bridges: one about the Redbook title and one about how we can build bridges to others.
Throughout the piece, Smith focuses on various aspects of learning. One of the key aspects is that learning is not really a one way street from the top down to the bottom. Rather, it is an interconnected network that goes in every direction. For this, we want students to think about themselves as educators, as conveyers of knowledge to their teachers and others. Along with this, we consider one of the key aspects of education that Smith addresses, motivation. She notes that one must be motivated to learn, so we students to think about motivation and how they navigate the private and public worlds of education bother within themselves and the classroom setting.
For the other items, I found some replies from authors to Hartley and added them to the side column That way, students can see other authors’ responses and think about them in relation to Smith’s letter. As well, I added a clip of Smith reading part of “Trembling Earth.” In this clip, she talks about her upbringing and about her friend Marjorie. Specifically, she discusses how they worked collaboratively to create stories, her as the weaver and Marjorie as the listener. This, of course, relates to Hartley’s question and Smith’s reply.
Make sure to check out the LES Center LibGuide and let me know if you use it.