RT3 Ethics and politics of writing lives- by Ana Belén Martínez García

Compelling roundtable discussion on the important question of the ethics of life writing. Sonja Boon talked of teaching life-writing texts that haven’t deserved enough attention so far, for instance by linguists. Her students were resistant to reading them at first, since the letters seemingly perpetuated stereotypes around people from Newfoundland and Labrador. Importantly, she asked, how can we teach texts that impose those assumptions and troubling stereotypes that we seek to unsettle? Talking about Indigenous life writing, Élise Couture-Grondin presented a pedagogical approach built around the personal essay as one of multiple tools to foster self-knowledge and learn to appreciate others too. She stressed the importance of not being detached from the text we read and teach, even when faced with the writers’ trauma, asking a powerful ethical question: what are our responsibilities toward our students? Reflecting on ethics and consent, Anna Derrig pointedly reminded the audience that words can and do hurt, and that, particularly when the writer is not a public persona, confidentiality is paramount and should therefore never be transgressed. Nicole Stamant discussed the problematics surrounding the teaching of queer life-writing texts. Kimani Mitchell and Hosanna Caraballo-Coronado described how they felt they had no training on how to ethically teach Black texts. They both felt inadequately prepared to critically analyze the history of colonialism and how it had impacted subsequent generations and their texts. They expressed a certain disappointment in the Eurocentric mainstream literature system. They finished their presentation with a call for action, asking for better teacher preparation programs that prepare students (i.e. future teachers) better. This came up later in a lively discussion in the Q&A, with many participants advocating for a more active role on our parts, as teachers, educators, researchers, as well as the figure of the archivist-activist or the librarian-activist. As Caraballo-Coronado later added, “we get into this situation where teachers feel uncomfortable approaching texts with complex subject matter and they shy away from teaching them.” It is our responsibility to change things so future generations will have better instructors (Couture-Grondin). Lots to think about. And act upon.

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