Mon May 16, 2011
Inquiring Minds - Defining Ourselves through Literature
By Bonnie Stevens
Flagstaff, AZ – Who we think we are is revealed through literature. Northern Arizona University's Gioia Woods is studying defining moments in American culture.
If you consider literature to be the lifeblood of a cultural body, Dr. Gioia Woods has her finger on the pulse. This NAU Humanities Professor says the health of a culture, what it's anxious about and what it's concerned with is all documented in black and white.
"America wasn't discovered. It was invented," she explains, and "one of the tools of invention was its literature."
In her research from NAU's Department of Comparative Cultural Studies, Woods is examining how Colonial America imagined itself. She's also broadening perceptions about the American West.
"The West is more than just a border place. It's like a zone of contact. There's all these different voices contacting each other."
1950s "Beat" literature delivered a powerful punch of resistance. Post World War II writers were flexing their freedom-of-speech muscles in San Francisco, and the paperback was putting poetry in our pockets.
"Lawrence Ferlinghetti's idea when he founded City Lights Bookstore was to have it be a meeting place," Woods says, "a global meeting place for the literature of resistance that would sort of speak against dominant cold-war values that he saw were deadening the culture. He began publishing a series called the Poet Pocket Series."
And Woods says that idea of putting literature in people's pockets proved revolutionary.
Whether we're talking back or speaking up, Woods says who we are is underscored in what we write.