Up Late with Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Up Late with Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

I enjoy reading female comedian biographies. For example: Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl ; Tina Fey’s Bossypants; Amy Poehler’s Yes Please; and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?  But Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo was my favorite of ALL of those books.  Probably because I have the most in common with her–we’re close in age, and we’re both introverts. I know, you’re probably thinking how is Amy Schumer an introvert (something I often hear). and her response is this: “Sitting and writing and talking to no one is how I wish I could spend the better part of every day.” Now that is something I can relate to for so many reasons.

What surprised me (and it shouldn’t have) was how much her life has colored her comedy.  After reading this, watching Trainwreck made more sense, as it was semi-autobiographical. Her honesty about how difficult it was to negotiate her father’s illness and other personal issues was authentic and really fascinating.

Also, this book is just so empowering for women of all ages.  Take, for example, this excerpt: “I know my worth. I embrace my power. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will… I am amazing for you, not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you.” While this is not a book I would hand to many students, there are a few seniors who would embrace this book a29405093nd I think it would speak to them. But it is also enjoyable as a read just for people who want to read about the experience of a single woman in our culture.

Posted by Kate, PCTELA Blog Editor

Up Late with Amy Schumer’s The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Friday Five: Free Writing Contests for Students

Having an authentic audience for writing can inspire students to invest more time into their work.  Rewards don’t hurt, either, and some of these contests have monetary prizes attached. These are for the fall 2016.

  1. Letters About Literature: This contest prompts students to write a letter to an author: “stating how reading his or her work changed you. Be personal but also persuasive! Support your ideas with specific details, including details from the work itself. This is not a fan letter but rather a reflection on how an author influenced you.” Grades 4-12 can enter. First deadlines (for 9-12) are December 1.
  2. Scholastic Art & Writing Awards: This prestigious contest “The Scholastic Awards look for work that demonstrates originality, technical skill, and emergence of a personal voice or vision.” The deadlines vary by region, but the contest is open NOW.
  3. Bennington Young Writers Award: “Students in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades during the academic year are invited to submit one entry (poetry, fiction, or non-fiction) by the November 1 deadline.”
  4. JFK Profiles in Courage Essay Contest: “The Profile in Courage Essay Contest challenges students to write an original and creative essay that demonstrates an understanding of political courage as described by John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage. January 4, 2017.
  5. Creative Minds Nonfiction Writing Contest. “Essays may be any work of creative nonfiction including, but not limited to, memoirs, personal essays, travel writing, and lyric essays. We will not accept book reports, critical works, or research papers.” 5:00 pm ET on Thursday, November 3, 2016.

There are plenty more contests for your students, these are just contests I have vetted and my students have submitted to and had success with writing and submitting.

Posted by Kate, PCTELA Blogger.

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Friday Five: Free Writing Contests for Students

Book Review: Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

So I still have that literary crush on Teju Cole, but it may have turned into full-blown fangirl status with his latest book, filled with brilliant essays, titled Known and Strange Things. I would argue Teju Cole’s work represents the voice of a generation–but more than that, the voice of our time, regardless of age.  His essays include personal narratives and travel writing and analysis of art and current issues and in each one I found myself scribbling notes furiously. Sometimes it was a turn of a phrase, somethings an insightful observation, and sometimes (most times) I found myself creating a list of authors, artists, and texts I needed to read/view/research immediately.

Teju Cole is like your super-smart well-read friend who always refers to books and ideas in a non-pretentious way and makes you wish you were as smart as they were. But you can’t be jealous of their brilliance, because without them, you wouldn’t know about all the interesting things they share with you.  Cole does not hold back on his criticism of those he finds lacking, but his work is fresh–unlike those he chastises here: “There are many standard formulations in our language, which stand in place of thought, but we proclaim them each time–due to laziness, prejudice, or hypocrisy–as though they were fresh insight.”

His credo is hard not to agree with: “What do I believe in? Imagination, gardens, science, poetry, love, and a variety of nonviolent consolations. I suspect that in aggregate all this isn’t enough, but it’s where I am for now.”

And his observations are compelling, and yet make sense–they are ideas we have not yet discovered we even had, until he utters them and makes us aware of our thoughts. For example, his comment that “All technology arises out of specific social circumstances” leads to his question “What is the fate of art in the age of metastasized mechanical reproduction?” And I want to know, what is the fate of art in this age?  You might find one answer by following Cole on twitter, which, I would argue is just as artistic as any of his full texts.  As he himself notes, “curation and juxtaposition are basic artistic gestures,” so the way he curates his social media is thus, by extension, a work of art. Sadly, he’s been on hiatus from twitter after his brilliant World Cup tweets in 2014.3e4c2106-58ef-11e6-89cf-11d50d057da5-300x464

You might find his thoughts about voting particularly important in this election year: “we participate in things not because they are ideal but because they are not,” or perhaps you might be transported by his idea that placing ourselves where our artistic forebears went before us can connect us in deep ways: “When I’m moved by something, I want to literally put myself in its place, the better to understand what was transformed.”

Finally, reading his writing was like immersing myself into deep water, trying to hold my breath longer in order to see the underwater delights: I had to keep surfacing, take a breath, take a break, take some notes, and then inhale deeply and dive back into the essays–which make this pausing a little easier than if this were a novel. Cole even writes about composing with a similar metaphor:”Writing as diving: an exhilaration, a compression, a depression.”

Reading this book, I found myself wanting to copy different essays to share with colleagues, students, and friends. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy to read immediately–you won’t regret it, and you’ll probably end up adding a bunch of books to your to-read list based on his recommendations.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Teju Cole’s Known and Strange Things

Book Review: Up Late with The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

We’ve talked about Neil Gaiman before–in regard to his short stories and we mentioned he was married to Amanda Palmer when we reviewed her book, The Art of Asking.  But today what we review is a collection of non-fiction essays from the Great Gaiman, and this is unusual.  While he’s written a massive amount of non-fiction, this is the first collection of it in one place. The book is organized by topic (these are not the full section titles): Some Things I Believe; Some People I Have Known; Introductions; Films; On Comics; Music; Real Things.

What this book reads like is a conversation with your really smart friend who’s constantly recommending books and films and music and you wonder how in the world he knows all this stuff and you realize these are all the things he loves, the things he’s spent his lifetime with, and if you want something of quality, you should listen to his recommendations. While many of the authors and books he mentions I knew, there were plenty I didn’t and reading this helped me generate a reading list for multiple genres.

There are lovely passages readers and writers will underline, write down, turn back to for reassurance.  On why he left Journalism: “I wanted to be able to tell the truth without ever needing to worry about the facts.” On why books are important: “Books are the way that the dead communicate with us.” On life: “Life does not obey genre rules.”

I found myself writing down much of what he wrote–not because it was so profound, but because it was so perfectly articulated.

  • “Our tales are always the fruit of our times.”
  • “I don’t write with answers in mind. I write to find out what I think about something.”
  • “The magic trick upon which all good fiction depends…there is room for things to mean more than they literally mean.”
  • “Most interesting art gets made by people who don’t know the rules, and have no idea that certain things simply aren’t done: so they do them. Transgress. Break things. Have too much fun.”
  • “Make mistakes. Make great mistakes, make wonderful mistakes, make glorious mistakes. Better to make a hundred mistakes than to stare at a blank piece of paper too scared to do anything wrong, too scared to do anything.”

If you’re looking for some useful short essays on writing, there are some gems in here you could use with your students. If you want a celebration of reading and writing to read for yourself, this volume is perfect. Also, if you come to our 2016 Conference in State College, PA on October 15 & 16, you will have a chance to win a copy of the book!

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary, PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

Friday Five: Reasons to Check Out TV Tropes Wiki

I like to pay attention to what my students consume online.  This past year, one student in particular advocated for the website TV tropes, which describes itself as “The All-Devouring Pop-Culture Wiki.” He would quote from articles on the website when writing papers and I must admit, I was intrigued by the idea of the site, went to visit it, and fell into the rabbit hole that is TV Tropes.  There’s so much there.  Here are some of the many reasons you should check it out.

  1. The Literature page is broken down by both time period and genre. When you get there, let’s say you click on 1930s, and then Their Eyes Were Watching God. You end up with a summary, when it was made into a movie (something I didn’t know!), and a list of tropes. What I love about this, though, is the tropes with spoilers have to be clicked on to be revealed, so if you don’t know what “Shoot the Dog” might mean, you don’t have to click until you’ve read that far in the book.
  2. You could start on the Tropes page, which they define as “a storytelling device or convention, a shortcut for describing situations the storyteller can reasonably assume the audience will recognize.”  You could then click on TV Tropes and end up with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which some of my students were arguing kind of fit Ophelia in Hamlet.
  3. The Index page lists ALL THE THINGS of course.  I could spend a few hours just scrolling through that. (There’s an entry for Pun Based Title.)
  4. There’s a discussion page, which I haven’t entirely explored, but I’m certain there are some gems in there.
  5. They are super up to date! Series like Stranger Things, which just came out this July, already has an impressed entry with all the tropes (and of course, spoilers are hidden).

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary

Friday Five: Reasons to Check Out TV Tropes Wiki

Book Review: Up Late with #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso

Book Review: Up Late with #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso

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I read this after talking to some of the teachers at school who want to teach it for Diversified Occupations (essentially the class every human should take because it talks about essential job skills–and the teachers are awesome). The teachers wanted to see what I thought as an English teacher and get some advice on using a full book in class rather than just a textbook or articles. I have to say, this book will be perfect. It is engaging and humorous, but it also talks about important elements of success for any job. Plus, it is a quick read with short chapters and an appealing font size.

Throughout the book, she tells her story  of how she founded Nasty Gal from the days of eBay where she worked out of one room to today where she’s got a huge warehouse in downtown LA. She offers advice to people who might be thinking about starting a business and also profiles others who she categorizes as Girl Bosses: women who have done what they loved and become super successful at it. These little two to three page profiles offer a jumping off point for further research as well as a way to hear other stories and garner other advice from successful people.

What I especially loved about this book was the strong voice Amoruso maintains throughout. She is unabashedly herself, and consistently positive.  She tells us “anything you do can be creative” and “you shouldn’t idolize anyone” just be yourself. I also appreciated how she referenced others. I mean, how can I not love a book that quotes David Foster Wallace in order to give us some advice: “To be, in a word, unborable…It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.” She also points out Susan Cain’s Quiet as an influence, explaining how she herself is an introvert and was happy to no longer have to do some of the many extrovert-type things involved in running a business.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with #GirlBoss by Sophia Amoruso

Book Review: Up Late with The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Up Late with The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

I’d been meaning to read Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking for a while, since seeing her TED talk by the same name. I’d heard of her because of the Dresden Dolls, but I didn’t realize she’d made her living as a statue for a while in Boston until after watching the TED talk.  This year I discovered Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability thanks to an intern who used it for The Kite Runner, and I found Amanda Palmer’s book essentially the living equivalent of what it means to be vulnerable.

Palmer talks about what it means to be an artist and she states it eloquently. It is about: “Collecting the dots. Then connecting them. And then sharing the connections with those around you. This is how a creative human works. Collecting, connecting, sharing.” Much of the book explores human connectivity and how we can connect with them once we accept ourselves and then ask for what we need.  I loved her point about relationships: “When you’re too afraid of someone’s judgement, you can’t connect with them. You’re too preoccupied with the task of impressing them.”

Her book is a fascinating exploration of an artist’s relationship with her audience as well as her relationship with family, friends, and significant others (she’s married to Neil Gaiman and talks about how that relationship blossomed). What I particularly enjoyed about this book was the raw honestly and the vulnerability in just the act of writing it. She has asked the readers to listen, and so we do. There’s such a richness to this book. I found myself thinking about it as I recently traveled to Washington DC and found myself asking complete strangers for help–and ALL of them were happy to do so. It really does create community, as Palmer notes.

As usual, enjoy some more favorite passages below:

  • “Honest communication engenders mutual respect, and that mutual respect makes askers out of beggars.”
  • “Through the art of asking, we created a community.”
  • “Effective crowdfunding is not about relying on the kindness of strangers, it’s about relying on the kindness of your crowd.”
  • “You can fix almost anything by authentically communicating.”
  • “I think human beings are fundamentally generous, but our instinct to be generous gets broken down.”
  • “Explaining how I use Twitter to those who’ve never used it is difficult. It’s a blurry Mobius strip of love, help, information, and social-art-life exchange.”

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Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer