Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reflecting on Non-Fiction YAL Text: Inspired by Chris Crowe @crowechris #LSUYAL2014

I am not a historian. I fashion myself as an English teacher who turned researcher when questions in my own pedagogy began to perplex me and when I needed to read more to get answers that I was not finding in my everyday teaching practice. The demographics of my classroom were changing and Louisville, very much like what Mary Pipher wrote In the Middle of Everywhere, was enrolling youth cultures that were not traditionally represented by the scholarship I knew. The Western framework for reading and writing, I found, neglected to account for the lack of education many relocated youth brought with them to my urban classroom.

This brings me to Chris Crowe's presentation yesterday at the Young Adult Literature Conference at LSU. Dr. Crowe, a writer and scholar who also leads a National Writing Project site, articulate his interest in using history to put the puzzle together for the truths we tell ourselves. Whether it is biographic, historical fiction, or non-fiction, the writer must 'make a case' for the narrative they're putting forth, especially with the stories they compose that have been underwritten an unexplored.

His talk resonated with me, so much so that I had to revisit my dissertation last night. Kelly Chandler-Olcott said, "Crandall, I think you need to write a chapter detailing the history of the the young men you worked."  Dr. Alfred Tatum advised me during a Literacy Research Association, "Don't go a-historical." He recommended that in order to write and understand the experiences of relocated Black African refugee youth, I needed to explore colonial and imperial influences that caused the civil conflicts in their countries. In other words, I had to become historical.
I read through the interviews of each participant and, in the case of two participants, interviews with a member of their family, to offer detailed information about each young man. I also read field notes from visiting the homes of participants and from meetings with parents and siblings. Finally, I revisited articles a few participants sent me about life in their home countries, read books on the wars that caused their relocation, and viewed films they recommended. From these data sources, I began coding in categories of national conflict, a need for relocation, educational experiences, and hope for new life because they emerged as common amongst all participants. Cautious about creating one meta-narrative about Black African-born male youth, I emphasized the individuality of each participant through representing their experiences in their own words. As the biographical profiles were written, they were shared with each participant for their feedback. The young men helped me to edit these profiles by making parts of their history more clear and through guiding me to articulate particular points. Even within subcategories of Somalian, Sudan, and Liberian experiences, their stories and reports varied. They offered feedback on how I represented them in the profiles and guided how I wrote what they reported. (from Crandall, 2012)
I arrived at this week-long opportunity at LSU with a mission to write about the 8 young men who graciously offered their literate lives with me, especially as they relocated to the United States from several camps throughout Africa. I came to spend time looking at refugee stories in young adult literature. I didn't realize the power of Chandler-Olcott's and Tatum's advice, until I heard Chris Crowe speak of his writing processes when etching the books he writes. A historian is a writer who navigates through the pieces they can find in order to quilt together a story that can resonate with his or her readers.

I couldn't help but reflect on Crowe's wisdom as I transitioned to the next lesson for my workshop. History matters, and I have a responsibility to the young men I worked with. What they knew as childhood, war, transition, and resilience is at the confluence of world histories. With this comes a tremendous duty to promote their stories as honestly as I can.

If not, their tales are at risk for never being heard within research and K-12 communities. They are at risk for being lost.

I feel recharged.

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