Sunday, April 03, 2011

"What I Learned at School"

Marie Myung-Ok Lee writes about her teachers who saw her aptitude for literature and nurtured it. Her broader point is political (which is specific to the US), but the way she connects it with the personal is wonderful. An excerpt:

Thirty years ago, in Hibbing, a town in northern Minnesota that is home to the world’s largest open-pit iron mine, I entered high school as a bookish introvert made all the more shy because I was the school’s only nonwhite student. I always felt in danger of being swept away by a sea of statuesque blond athletes. By 10th grade, I’d developed a Quasimodo-like posture and crabwise walk, hoping to escape being teased as a “brain” or a “chink,” and then finding being ignored almost equally painful. I spent a lot of time alone, reading and scribbling stories.

Ms. Leibfried taught American literature and composition grammar, which involved the usual — memorizing vocabulary and diagramming sentences — but also, thrillingly, reading novels.

Thrilling to me, that is. Many of my classmates expressed disdain for novels because they were “not real.” For once, I didn’t care what they thought. Ms. Leibfried seemed to notice my interest in both reading and writing, and she took the time to draw me out; she even offered reading suggestions, like one of her favorite novels, “The Bell Jar.”