Multicultural Literature, what does it mean, and what can you learn?


Courtesy of Ellen Carrier

Ellen Carrier

Avram Walters and Jacob Williams’ Multicultural Literature class is a combination of both art and literature. While teachers normally send recommendations for rising juniors and seniors to enter the class, I took it as a freshman, as it was open elective this year. One part is taught by Walters, and the other is taught by Williams. Walters is an art teacher, so his section consists of making art projects that reflect the given “theme” of the semester. Williams is an English teacher, so he teaches the literature part of the class. His class looks at excerpts from texts that exemplify the theme of the semester.

The first theme that we worked on was identity. The students who were in Walters’s class worked on pieces of art focused around faces. “We explored identity through a number of ways. We studied individual identity as well as group identity… We did a lot of different self portraits in which we had to show aspects of who we are in those portraits whether it be through texts and words and quotes, and things of that nature,” Walters explained. We also created portraits in which the faces of students in his class were combined into one face.

In Williams’s portion of the class, we looked at texts that centered on different types of identity. “Class usually consists of a lot of group work and discussion. For this class I like for the academic work and thinking to take place in the room. I know it’s an elective so I don’t want students burdened out of class, but I still want students to feel the rigor and work with complex texts and themes,” Williams explained. For example, we focused on works that demonstrated a religious or cultural identity as well as sexuality, musical identity,  political identity, and so on. We also watched multiple TED talks about identity. One in particular, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “A Single Story”, focused on how she grew up in Eastern Nigeria and had once read a story about the lives of white people in America. By only knowing this one story, she had a very generalized view of people in America. Our final project focused on musical identity. We each picked 10 songs that we thought mirrored our identity, and combined them into our “Identity Playlist.”

In my interview with both teachers, I asked them to describe their class in one word. Walters characterized his as “organic.” He explained that his class “takes a life of its own a lot.” From being in the class, I know that the students really control Walters’s class, and its lessons. “I can walk in one day wanting to do a specific lesson, and the students have taken it in a different direction that I could have never even imagined… which makes it even better,” Walters explained. In this way, the students can be more involved with the class because they are the ones creating the class structure, but also the ones completing the work.

Williams described his class as “different.” He explained that the class was mainly created to help students get ready for AP classes, especially those of English and history. The class does just that, but in a more fun, productive manner.