Orhan Pamuk, author of Snow and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature, speaks at the Great World Texts student conference Monday at Union South. (Photos by Sarah Morton, College of Letters & Science)
“Here is what you can learn from a novel, ” Turkish writer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk told more than 500 Wisconsin high school students gathered for the Great World Texts student conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Union South on Monday. “You learn to understand the complexity of the world’s problems. The novelist does not make policies or offer solutions. The novelist explores the lives of those who suffer.”
The room erupted in applause for Pamuk, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, whose most recent novel, Snow, was the focus of this year’s Great World Texts program, an outreach initiative of UW-Madison’s Center for the Humanities.
Cheering was not the reaction English teacher Denise Beasley got when she first assigned Snow to her seniors at Osseo-Fairchild High School earlier this year.
“They hated it at first, ” she admits, of the novel rich in political and historical themes. “We are a small school in a very rural district. My students rarely read anything from other cultures. I have to build connections and empathy. And it is not easy.”
Every year, Beasley plunges her advanced seniors into a different work of world literature through the Great World Texts program. Drawing on critical resources provided by the program — from teaching guides to workshops with UW-Madison faculty — she strives to make the works exciting and memorable through close reading and discussion. Students also create projects — poems, paintings, dioramas, travel guides — that bring the text to life.
A five-year veteran of Great World Texts, Beasley is committed to it for several reasons: she doesn’t want her students, all from small towns and farms in Wisconsin’s rural Trempeauleau and Jackson Counties, to be “shell-shocked” when they get to college. She wants to shore up their confidence in their own intelligence and abilities (a problem in small rural schools like hers, she says). And she wants to meet the requirements for the Common Core State Standards Initiative — a mandate adopted by Wisconsin and 45 other states.
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