Prestigious literature series publishes book edited by faculty member

Laura Wright, associate professor and head of Western Carolina University’s Department of English, served as the lead editor and contributing author of “Approaches to Teaching Coetzee’s ‘Disgrace’ and Other Works,” which the Modern Language Association of America released this month.

Laura Wright

Laura Wright

The book, part of MLA’s Approaches to Teaching World Literature series, offers teaching tools ranging from multimedia materials to online resources as well as essays for instructors.

The work of J.M. Coetzee, a South African writer who won global recognition and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2003, explores race, aging, gender, animal rights, power, violence, colonial history and accountability, the “silent or silenced other,” sympathy and forgiveness.

In critical acclaim for “Approaches to Teaching Coetzee’s ‘Disgrace’ and Other Works,” Gareth Cornwell, a professor at Rhodes University, described the range of critical and pedagogical approaches conveyed as astonishing and the ingenuity and effort teachers of Coetzee put into their course preparation as inspiring.

Wright initially proposed the book to the MLA in 2006 as studies of Coetzee’s work became increasingly common in a variety of undergraduate literature classes. The book could help teachers better understand what they need to know contextually to teach Coetzee, a writer in whose work personal, political and historical “truth” is always illusive and relative, said Wright in the book’s introduction.

In a later book chapter she authored titled “Teaching Coetzee’s American Contexts; or, How I Teach America—and Africa—in Cullowhee, North Carolina,” Wright discusses how she helps students who have little knowledge of Africa or Coetzee investigate the relationship between South Africa and America.

She discusses the progression of texts her students read and the various discourses they generate. In addition, her classes discuss popular and contemporary descriptions of “various imagined ‘Africas’” from Western media, such as Disney’s “The Lion King,” Edward Zwick’s “Blood Diamond” and Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus.” Students also delve into Coetzee’s various representations of America.

What she said she hopes students gain is an understanding through the progression that all representations are partial representations and are often shaped by specific political agendas.

“We hold the image of America that Coetzee gives us next to our own conceptions of this place, and in so doing, we are better able to recognize the myths about ourselves that we may have traditionally taken to be fact,” said Wright in the book. “And in that moment, I hope, we acquire a sense of humility requisite for considering the narratives presented to us, often written not by but for the rest of the world.”

Wright’s previous books include “Writing ‘Out of All the Camps’: J.M. Coetzee’s Narratives of Displacement,” which was published by Routledge in 2006.

Wright is the third WCU faculty member to edit one of the 130 books in the MLA’s Approaches to Teaching World Literature series, which is considered a premier pedagogical series in literary studies. Brian Gastle, professor of English, co-edited “Approaches to Teaching the Poetry of John Gower,” and Annette Debo, professor of English and director of the graduate program in English, co-edited “Approaches to Teaching H.D.’s Poetry and Prose.” A fourth WCU faculty member is currently working on a forthcoming volume for the series.