Nick Ripatrazone’s “Thoughts for English Teachers”

I usually use this section of the Web site for guest posts by teachers, but I’m doing a little cheat here. Nick Ripatrazone recently wrote an essay called "55 Thoughts for English Teachers," for The Millions, an online magazine offering coverage on books, arts, and culture since 2003. (The New York Times called it an “indispensable literary site.”) Ripatrazone has written six books of fiction and poetry. Despite his delicious Italian name, he teaches English, and has for 10 years. In the essay he shares his inspiring reflections on the profession. He doesn’t own the rights to the essay, but wrote to me that he’d “be honored” if I mentioned and linked to it. “I've heard from folks that it has helped them reflect on practice and purpose,” he wrote, adding that that is “more than I could have hoped to accomplish.” Here are a few of my favorite pieces of wisdom from the article: 1:

You need to love words. You don’t need to love a certain type of book or a particular writer, but you need to love letters and phrases and the possibilities of language. You will spend most of your days dealing with words, and students can sense if words do not bring you joy.


You will often have young women in class who love to write, and who outnumber the men, and yet these young women will stop writing. Teach them to keep writing. Show them their words matter. Introduce them to Mary ShelleyMarilynne RobinsonJayne Anne PhillipsToni MorrisonTayari JonesCharlotte and Emily BrontëAlice Elliott DarkVirginia Woolf, Stacey D’ErasmoRoxane GayJamie QuatroMegan Mayhew BergmanMary Karr, Susan SontagNatalie DiazEmily DickinsonKate ChopinDenise LevertovAdrienne RichAnne SextonWilla CatherJoan DidionDonna Tartt, and, please, Flannery O’Connor.


You may be the only person who will ever read their sonnets, or their prose poems, or their dystopian novellas. Don’t take that privilege lightly.

I was especially thrilled to read #25, because I’ve spent many hours ruminating on how the literature of my high school years—which included heavy doses of Shakespeare, Whitman, Yeats, Hemingway, Hesse, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, et al.—influenced me as a writer. I learned to identify with male heroes, but were the boys ever expected to identify with female ones? When I was in college in the late 1970s, we women had to fight to get Virginia Woolf, Flannery O’Connor, and Eudora Welty on the curriculum. (The only women who were on the English syllabi at Princeton at that time were Austen, Mary Anne Evans—as George Eliot—and maybe a Bronte sister.) Male classmates couldn’t understand why we clamored about it—and didn’t pick up volumes of Woolf out of free will, either. Our male professors resisted, and then, a few years later, finally relented. They also, around the same time finally granted women English professors tenure. OK, that was Princeton. Slow to change. But still. I digress. Read Ripatrazone’s other 52 thoughts at The Millions.

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