Resources for Readers & Educators
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Please submit discussion questions for book clubs or reading circles, lesson plans, teaching assignments or writing prompts via the Contact page. We will post submitted reading and teaching suggestions here.
To support educational outreach, we are developing Reader and Educator guides to encourage readers and students to share their own cultural and family histories.
The themes of oppression, disenfranchisement and injustice presented in A Wounded Deer Leaps Highest are tragically present in our current society. We hope the book will encourage reflection and discussion of how our histories of civil rights are acutely relevant to the profound challenges to humanity and morality we all face today.
Reading Group Discussion Questions
- What does the title mean to you
- Do you like the title? (The original title was The Book of Asa)
- What title would you give the book?
- Is the book relevant to social justice issues we face today?
- Which characters did you like and why?
- Which characters did you dislike and why?
- How did you personally relate to characters in the book?
- What was most meaningful to you?
- What was most confusing or unclear to you?
- What was missing from the story?
- What should have been deleted from the book?
- What scenes early in the book foreshadow later tragic events?
- Do you see any parallel between what happened to Julius and the scene with two boys and the squirrel?
- What would you have done if you had inherited a large tract of land but were required to live on the land or forfeit your inheritance, and which would require a move to a distant location of injustice and jeopardy for your family?
- Why do you think Calulla required Titus to live on land that had been in the Horace family for generations in order to inherit the property, and do you think Calulla was reasonable in making this condition in her will?
- What does the story suggest about historical Black ownership of land? During the Jim Crow era, how were Blacks deprived of their rightful ownership of land through predatory and discriminatory land ownership laws, and unjust and invidious banking and mortgage practices?
- One reader posted this comment: "This leads to another issue I have with the story--that it seemed implausible that it would have happened in the first place. A black man who had escaped the South and become a highly educated and successful professor, and married a Jewish woman and then had a child would not move back to the South, even for free land, knowing that by doing so the lives of his entire family would be at risk." Do you agree or disagree with the reader's position? Do you think characters need to make "good decisions"? What novels have you read about characters who make "bad decisions," and why did you like or dislike those stories?
- Marilynne Robinson has written about her first novel: "it [Housekeeping] is a very allusive book, because the narrator deploys every resource she has to try to make the world comprehensible. What she knows, she uses, as she does her eyes and her hands." (from When I Was a Child I Read Books). Do you think A Wounded Deer Leaps Highest is an "allusive book" and, if yes, what biblical, mythical, literary, historical or social allusions did you recognize in the book? How does Asa "try to make the world comprehensible"?
Blank Verse Form
- Did you like the blank verse narrative form of this novel?
- Did the rhythmic poetic form facilitate or enhance your reading of the narrative, or did you find the form to be difficult and distracting to the flow of the story?
- Are there sections of the novel you would have preferred to read in the form of standard prose narrative?
- One reader posted this comment: "It's printed with right justification, unconventional dialogue style, and much of it is supposed to be written in prose, rather than the standard narrative." Do you agree or disagree with the reader's position?
- What meaning, if any, does "white space" or "blank space" on the pages of a novel (such as wide margins, each chapter on a new page) have for you?
Consider this critical commentary on use of form in poetry:
When I see a Holocaust poem which is rhymed and/or metered, I am reminded of an anecdote about the Polish fiction writer and poet, Tadeusz Borowski. When he was first arrested by the Nazis, he was detained in a holding cell in nearly perfect isolation and without pen or paper to write. In order to pass the time, Borowski composed poems in his head, counting off the meter by pacing back and forth in his small cell. Isn't this the classic image of the poet using his art to combat adversity? I am hesitant to turn it into an academic exercise, but there is something critically inviting about that detail of his composing metered—that is, regulated and controlled —verse to combat his external lack of control and the chaos his world had become.
There is an immediate conclusion one might come to. The poet creates some semblance of order in a world which no longer does. That is likely a part of the impetus (conscious or unconscious) to write formalist verse in the face of chaos, whether it is the chaos of genocidal violence or that other, more common, human chaos.
... In closing, I want to return to my earlier point about the effort to battle chaos with artistic form. This makes immediate sense in the case of someone who experienced the Holocaust (or some other trauma), but in what ways is the rhetorical-aesthetic stance of someone who did not experience the Holocaust different in respect to form? Is it the subject matter that demands we try to re-order the universe, or is it the experience that demands it? Do both require it, but in different ways and with different ethical concerns? We could doubtless offer several answers to these questions, but no matter how we answer them, I maintain that they are among the questions that must be considered in regard to formal poetry and the representation of trauma.
Commentary by Okla Elliott: Measured Chaos
Commentary by Helen Vendler
"A wounded deer leaps highest" by Emily Dickinson
Essay by Edgar Allan Poe
In getting my books, I have been always solicitous of an ample margin; this not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of pencilling suggested thoughts, agreements and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general ... In the marginalia, too, we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly--boldly--originally--with abandonnement--without conceit ...
Essay by Madeleine Fuchs Holzer
Poetic Sensibility: What It Is and Why We Need It in 21st Century Education
Workshops for Creative Thinkers
Writing Workshops in beautiful places near and far, designed to take readers, writers and educators on creative journeys
Essay by Elif Shafak
Why the novel matters in the age of anger
The novel matters because it connects us with the experiences of people we have never met, times we have never seen, places we have never visited. The novel matters not only because of the stories it brings alive, but also the silences it dares to explore. As novelists we keep our ears pricked all the time, attentive to the rhythm of the language, the usage of words, the stories and legends swirling in the air – but we must also listen carefully to the silences. Here we find the things that cannot be openly talked about in a society; the political, cultural, sexual taboos.
Essay by Tanaya Winder
I begin by acknowledging where I come from. I do this to ground myself but also to respect my ancestors; I believe we carry them, their light, and their love wherever we go.
... Poetry helps us wade through ancestral traumas carried in our blood memory. Poetry reminds us to breathe, that we are magic, and that we are love(d).
Essay by Camille Rankine
The Known Unknown: Persona, Empathy, and the Limits of Imagination
When it comes to the act of speaking from another's voice or perspective, there is, of course, a poetic tradition to which we can look: the persona poem. But rather than consider the use of persona purely on the level of craft, seeing it as simply another tool in a writer's toolbox, I think it's crucial to consider the ethical implications that lie within the choice to infiltrate another's voice. If you're a poet writing in persona, what is your relationship to the voice you've chosen? How near or far are you from its experience? If you get it wrong, whom will you have to answer to, and how much do they mean to you? Do you have more power than the speaker of the poem, or do they have power over you? Do they have the opportunity to speak for themselves—and what does it mean for you, specifically, to speak for them?
Writing Prompt by Kate Wisel
Recalling memories and taking notes
Recalling memories and taking notes is a practice I prioritize over any writing activity. I don't know what might interest me until I see it reflected in the physical world. This includes objects, nature, overheard dialogue, and sounds that I encounter in my everyday life. I keep a stack of note cards with context on the front and the visceral memory of what moved me on the back.... these note cards reveal patterns I would have missed had I not been careful enough to collect them, allow them their accumulative effect, and speak in that connective language I crave.... what stays, these small shards of cut up life, are beyond resonant and ready to react.
Essay by Brian Barker
The ars poetica is a poem that takes the art of poetry as its subject matter
[Norman Dubie's] poems, like this one, often spin concise narratives that move with cinematic exactness. He has an uncanny knack for precise details and figurative language that surprise in the moment and linger long after the poem is over.... Dubie's poems can also be reticent, refusing to explain narrative details or imagery.... the poem [Ars Poetica] remains dream-like and mysterious to me, raising questions that I've never been able to fully answer.... "Ars Poetica" reminds us that poetry is as much about what is not said as what is said. Silence, like language, is an essential part of the poem.
Essay by Cynthia Dewi Oka
Litany as means to connect, insistently, to and in the face of loss
As a form, it hinges on the tension between repetition and transformation, between closure and inclusiveness. It mirrors the way one might go about breaking a wall or learning to love.... Deftly balancing the specific and the immense; [Aracelis] Girmay patiently catalogues the repetitive, granular gestures that make up ordinary human life ... the speaker uses litany to clarify and cement her personal connection to the experiences of Iraqis under US occupation ...