The Art of Engagement: Living With Literature

This is Katie Newport’s first post as web editor for Changing Lives, Changing Minds.

In the year 2000, I entered my freshman year at Framingham State College; I was eager to learn, hopeful for the future, and had indiscriminately chosen a major -Communication Arts.  It wasn’t long before I decided to change my path; I had fallen in love – with Art History. For the next four years, I devoured books on feminist art history, marveled over the seemingly insignificant smudges and dollops of oil paint that make up a Van Gogh, and got lost in the presence of anything from the Dutch realists.

During this time, in lieu of electives, I took anything and everything that related to English literature or writing. Children’s Literature, World Literature, Myth and Folklore, Women Writers, The Classics, etc. Each of these satisfied my insatiable need for the written word, and – even more compelling – they were fun. Four years later, I had taken so many of these elective classes that, upon graduating, I was awarded a degree in Art History and English; my reading and writing habits had become functional, and permanent, fixtures.

Over time, it became increasingly obvious that writing was, in fact, my calling. And though I still lose my breath at the sight of a Dutch memento mori, I know that Art History is the hobby, not Literature.

As my graduate career in the Professional Writing program draws to a close this semester, and as I accept this position as Web Editor for Changing Lives, Changing Minds, I cannot help but reflect on the role that literature has played in my life up until this point. I cannot help but wonder where I would be without my shelves, stocked with dog-eared favorites and stiffly bound not-yet-read books? Who would I have become if not for the likes of Judy Blume at age thirteen, Jane Austen at sixteen, F. Scott Fitzgerald at seventeen, and Steinbeck at nineteen? Their voices and their words changed mine.

Similarly so, the Changing Lives Through Literature program transforms reading from a passive, solitary practice to an active, participatory endeavor – one that engages and expands upon an individual’s experience or existence, creating opportunities for growth and change. The reflection of one’s self in the pages of classic literature is a striking thing; it is a moment that is both humbling and grandiose, and ultimately hard to forget. It is a moment that can strike you much like looking closely, and intensely, at a painting.

In my undergraduate Art History classes, we’d begin to discuss a piece by looking at it in full view, displayed up on the projector screen. Then, the slide would change, and we would visually dissect detailed photographs. As a class, we would discuss each nuance, color choice, brush selection, and medium variation.

After a while, it became harder to see the piece as a whole, and instead we saw it as a marriage of thousands of distinct, deliberate choices, all of which were made by one person, in one moment, for one end. This exercise in intimacy compels a relationship between the piece and the audience, much like close reading and literary analysis.

I am very excited about the upcoming months here at Changing Lives, Changing Minds, and look forward to being a contributor and facilitator of discussion, and more so, an audience to our essayists.


8 thoughts on “The Art of Engagement: Living With Literature

  1. Greetings, Katie, and congratulations on becoming Changing Live, Changing Minds web editor. Take it from a one-time divinity student whose life changed, it is not where you’ve been but where literature leads you “that has made all the difference.”

  2. Katie, so glad to have the blog in your hands. I like the way you mapped a little bit of how reading has been a part of your life- Judy Blume at 13, and so on. That resonated with me a lot- when I think about reading, I still vividly recall some of the books I read (or those that were read to me) as a kid. The blog is lucky to have you!

  3. Katie, it looks like the blog is in good hands! I enjoyed reading your moving description of your connection with literature, and especially appreciate they way you describe how CLTL “transforms reading from a passive, solitary practice to an active, participatory endeavor.” That’s been one of the attractions of the program for me over the years–how it allows me to take my love for reading out into the world to connect with other people. It’s very much the same reason I became a literature professor. The CLTL classes have much more in common with my Brandeis classes than I initially thought they would; in fact I sometimes read the same stories with both groups and share the responses of one class with the other–another way reading can connect people over time and space. Erdrich’s “Shamengwa” is a text that yields particularly rich results when I carry it from one part of town to the other and back.

  4. I feel the same way about reading. This has been part of my life since I can remember and I love doing it. I remember when I was younger that I used to stay in my house by myself and enjoyed a book while most of my friends were outside playing games. When I read I put myself into the imaginary world that I read. I feel that i am living every moment that the characters are living.Some people make fun of me because I like to read as they think that i am trying to be someone that i am not but even then I feel that reading is an essential part of my life.

  5. I completely agree with the statement that one becomes connected with literature when the reading itself transforms from one that is “a passive, solitary practice to [one] that is an active, participatory endeavor-one that engages and expands upon an individual’s experience or existence, creating opportunities for growth and change.” When growing up, I often found that readings that I would be assigned in school were ones that were boring, pieces of literature that we never analyzed beyond the surface. Consequently, I never felt connected with the readings because I was not personally being engaged. Since I was not assimilating my own life experiences with any work of literature, I was not growing as a reader. However, once I got to my senior year of high school, I had a teacher who encouraged each student to analyze each work of literature with a fine brush. She promoted the idea of close reading and finding the human commonalities between the characters in the readings and our own lives. As a result, I was able to learn and grow from each work we read. I found many of the readings to be inspirational, and ones that I could apply to my own life choices. There is no doubt in my mind that one’s opinion of literature really changes for the better when that person is able to fully engage with a text. Applying one’s own life to a work of literature in a way that expands upon his her own experiences is key for creating growth and change.

  6. Katie,

    What a compelling way to describe your experiences with literature. It is quite evident that your love for reading and has been reflected in her decision to become both an art history and English major. What wonderful accomplishments to be awarded both a degree in art history and English as well as the “Changing Lives, Changing Minds” web editor. My favorite part of your description is when you describe writing as your calling. I believe that it is very important for all individuals to find their callings in order to make the very most out of their careers with the passion and interest that is required to do so. It is very evident that you love what you do and the way you describe art and literature together is truly capturing. I also believe that literature has played an extremely important role in my life and I believe is has shaped who I am today. Congratulations and good luck.

  7. I have thouroughly enjoyed and liked such apealing story about the importance of literature. feed on knowledge for wisdom and sustainable life skills and development

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