Literacy Narrative

Literacy Narrative:

Theory — Faculty choose at least one “theory” text from the list below.

Deborah Brandt: “Sponsors of Literacy”

Vershawn Ashanti Young: “Nah, We Straight”JAC, vol. 29, no. 1/2, 2009, pp. 49–76. JSTOR,

On Using “Nah, We Straight” in the classroom: This rich (if dense) reading can fuel wonderful classroom conversations about code switching, bilingualism, and how someone’s discourse community membership can influence choices with language. The text is pretty dense, if reading with students, a 2-3 page excerpt could be plenty. However, it’s a valuable framing device for understanding multiple literacies and what a literacy narrative might touch on in terms of understanding the story of someone’s language and literacy acquisition over time.

Keywords: code switching, literacy, multiple literacies, language, Standard American English, bilingual, discourse community

Examples — Faculty choose at least one model text from the list below or similar outside readings of their choice.

Robert Agunga  “How Can I Help Make a Difference”

James Baldwin: “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then tell me What Is.”

James Baldwin: “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then tell me What Is.” — Leigh

In this seminal text by Baldwin, he explores the connections between power and language. Specifically he considers how the language used by black Americans shows us how language use develops in relationship to one’s experience in society. The text is an excellent one to read with students to discuss the different ways that language shapes us and how different uses of language develop through power structures.  Baldwin asks us to think about what we understand language to mean, about our own experiences with language, and about how studying a language can reveal something about community, society, or an individual.

Keywords: power, language, identity, society, racism, language and identity, inequality, literacy

Deborah Brandt: “Sponsors of Literacy” (Academic Piece)

Suresh Canagarajah The Fortunate Traveler.

Reflections on Multiliterate Lives : Reflections on Multiliterate Lives, edited by Dr. Diane Belcher, and Dr. Ulla Connor, Channel View Publications, 2001. 

On Using “The Fortunate Traveler” in the classroom: This essay is both an academic rumination on the power of literacy narratives and a lovely example of a literacy narrative in its own right. It can be formative for students and instructors alike in learning what kind of thing a literacy narrative is, and how it could be taught in the classroom. 

Keywords: literacy, translingualism, postcolonial, English, multiple literacies, academic discourse communities

Sandra Cisneros: “Only Daughter”

Sandra Cisneros’s personal essay is a good text to read with students to discuss writing experiences and to use as an example of a literacy narrative.  The essay explores the author’s background as a Mexican American and only daughter in a family of six sons. She discusses especially how her father’s treatment of her as the only female child impacted her and shaped her identity as a writer.  The text is a wonderful one to use to engage with topics of how language and culture impact identity as well as how one might rhetorically approach a personal essay. The essay can also be discussed to think about how families can influence our choices or goals; in this case, Cisneros explores her family background as central to her life as a writer.

Keywords: literacy narrative, immigration, feminism, identity, language, culture, assumptions, gender, gender identity, family, family influences, writing and identity.

Barbara Mellix: From Outside In

George Orwell: “Why I Write”

In Orwell’s famous essay, “Why I Write,” he explores what motivates him as a writer.  After sharing biographical information as well as discussing some of the factors that can motivate others to write, Orwell explains that he must write to tell truths about society and to fight for justice in an unjust world.  The text is a good one to consider in a discussion of the impact of writing on our world and how writing can represent protest. Also, in the classroom, we can think about what motivates or inspires each one of us to write and what we might be able to achieve through writing.  Further, the text can be used to think about and define rhetorical strategies and (of course) is a great example of a literacy narrative.

Keywords: writing, protest, identity, personal narrative, writing and politics, political voices, autobiographical texts, literacy narrative.

Lucas Pasqualin: “Don’t Panic: A Hitchhiker’s Guide” (Student Piece)

Kiki Petrosino: “Literacy Narrative”

Richard Rodriguez: The Achievement of Desire

Nick Scala: “The Evolution of Educational Writing” (Student Piece)

Amy Tan: Mother Tongue

On Using “Mother Tongue” in the Classroom: A tremendously accessible, straightforward, and impactful example of a literacy narrative for student consumption. Students universally tend to connect to the reading, and it can prompt stories of translating for immigrant parents and having to really become aware of “what type of English” students use. A winner and a classic literacy narrative for a reason!

Keywords: English, immigration, multiple literacies, code switching, bilingual, writer, identity

Malcolm X: Learning to Read

On Using “Learning to Read” in the Classroom: Malcolm’s passion for knowledge is palpable in this autobiographical excerpt. Students will be particularly motivated by the fact that, not only was Malcolm an autodidact, he had the courage and determination to teach himself while in prison. (His description of how he had to put away his flashlight while the guards did rounds at night is particularly affecting.) Students glean that the act of reading, in and of itself, can take the place of guided (“taught”) instruction if they truly apply themselves and read broadly. The implicit argument that a college education may not be all it is cracked up to be is fodder for good discussion. Books as objects worth owning (Malcolm asserts he can never be without one) is also a marvelous paradigm for students living in our digital age. 

Keywords: autodidacticism, vocabulary, self empowerment, vocalization, dictionary skills, racial inequality, correspondence, penmanship