My summer before I started teaching, I was sitting in a graduate class bemoaning the fact that the curriculum I was assigned to teach included only texts by White males. Not a single woman or person of color was on the list of required texts! I was remarking on it when a classmate said something like, “Well, what do you expect? It’s British literature.”
Right. It’s Britain. It’s not just a country of White people. London is a city full of people from all around the world where hundreds of languages are spoken. It’s a place where people of a plethora of races and genders are writing and publishing. Just as we have a responsibility to diversify our American literature courses, so too do we have the responsibility to add voices of color and women’s voices to our British Literature curriculum.
An amazing way to to do this is through adding contemporary fiction into your class. Whether it is through a book club format or a full class novel, contemporary fiction is a perfect way to talk about issues in our world today and what it means to be “British” (or any nationality) in an increasingly globalized world.
Here are my favorites :
I was lucky enough to get funding to do these five books as a book clubs experience for students so they were able to select a text that was interesting and a good fit for them. Not everyone is that lucky, so if you can only select one, I’d take some time to figure out what works best for your students. Run Riot is great for lower level readers who love action and social justice. White Teeth is great for honors students who want to sink their teeth into something challenging with lots to analyze. Overall, the students who selected The Lie Tree and Home Fire seemed the most engaged in their books of all my students, so I think those two are the best “go-tos” if you want to pick just one.
I also want to warn against two books that are often added to British Literature curriculums in an attempt to diversify the class texts. These two are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime and Little Bee. These books, while proposing to uplift people with autism and refugees, are not Own Voices texts, so they lack the nuance of lived experience to make them authentic. I find it valuable and imperative to teach Own Voices texts when and where I can.
I know that not every teacher has the opportunity, the support, or the funding to make these changes in their curriculum. While I made little steps in each to integrate new texts by women and people of color each year, it wasn’t until my 4th year that I got the curriculum to a place where I really feel it values and uplifts many identities. Please feel free to reach out if you have questions or suggestions for diversifying British literature curriculums!
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I'm Megan and I teach high school ELA. I'm all about literature, creativity, and aesthetics!