Course Overview:

Storytelling … becomes a positive and powerful way to bring everyone to the table, validating what everybody has to bring, and using that as a way of studying this complex society we all share but in which we live differently depending on where we are positioned in it. Even though we may see it differently, because we’re sitting in different positions around that table, we all have something to add to this developing story about who we are as a nation, where we are going in terms of addressing our racial history, and other aspects of justice. “The Story of the Storytelling Project: An Arts-Based Race and Social Justice Curriculum,” Lee Anne Bell.

Welcome to English 472! I am thrilled to teach this class and to provide you with a substantial public scholarship experience through storytelling. Public scholarship (variously referred to as “publicly engaged academic work,” “community engaged research,” and “community–based research”) “encompasses different forms of making knowledge ‘about, for, and with’ diverse publics and communities. Through a coherent, purposeful sequence of activities, it contributes to the public good and yields artifacts of public and intellectual value.”2 Increasingly, students are participating in public scholarship in and beyond their classes.

Your public scholarship storytelling project — leading story circles and collaboratively (with community participants) writing “Neighborhood narratives”–is part of a larger project to tell new stories about the residents of Reading, PA. The reading, writing, and thinking leading up to the storytelling projects center on stories’ social change potential. Our class text, Telling Stories to Change the World: Global Voices on the Power of Narrative to Build Community and Make Social Justice Claims, will be supplemented with readings on notions of community and neighborhood, community-building, and facilitating story circles. The writing, revising, editing, and review processes for the stories will be highly collaborative.

Neighborhood Narratives is also an important facet of a community-wide effort to rehabilitate the one mile segment of the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) from Baer Park to the West Buttonwood Street Bridge in Reading, Pennsylvania (“BP–WBS SRT segment”) into a usable trail and park. From my perspective and the perspectives of most students already involved in this project, the rehabilitation of the BP-WBS SRT segment is an environmental justice necessity with implications for social and economic quality of life improvements.

Past experience with this section of the trail as well as a great deal of research on urban green spaces in impoverished communities makes it crystal clear that community participation and buy-in from the residents in the neighborhoods nearest to the trail is vital to long-term success. The communities in a larger sense and the individuals who live there may develop a vested interest in the trail if they are involved in the process and made aware of its possibilities. Your work leading story circles and writing community stories are central to community-building. They will be printed in a small book to be distributed both in print and online.

Course Objectives

  • Rigorous Critical Reading and Critical Thinking
  • Writing in Several Forms, including online
  • Understanding of the Complexities of Storytelling in Community-Building and Social Justice
  • Collaboration

    • Leadership Skills
    • Leading Story Circles and Writing Stories with Communities near the “BP–WBS SRT segment”
    • Contribution to the Public Good and Social Justice