Books & Articles

Black and White Women's Travel Narratives: Antebellum Explorations
(Amazon page)
(Google Books page)

By Cheryl J. Fish
University Press of Florida, 2004

Cheryl J. Fish argues that the concept of mobility offers a significant paradigm for reading literature of the United States and the Americas in the antebellum period, particularly for women writers of the African diaspora. Charting journeys across nations and literary traditions, she examines works by three undervalued writers--Mary Seacole, an Afro-Jamaican; Nancy Prince, an African American from Boston; and Margaret Fuller, a white New Englander and Transcendentalist--in whose lives mobility, travel literature, and benevolent work all converge.



A Stranger in the Village: Two Centuries of African-American Travel
Writing
(Amazon page)
(Google Books page)

Edited by Cheryl J. Fish and Farah J. Griffin
Beacon Press, 1999 (paper and hardcover)

This anthology documents two centuries of writing by African-Americans who have traveled abroad in search of new opportunities, political insight, pleasure, and adventure. Includes work by James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Matthew Henson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Ntozake Shange, and more.



"The Toxic Body Politic:  Ethnicity, Gender, and Corrective Eco-Justice in Ruth Ozeki's My Year of Meats and Judith Helfand and Daniel Gold's Blue Vinyl"

(Critical essay): An article from MELUS (Vol. 34, No. 2) 2009: 43-62 Available on Project Muse database and JStor.

Winner of the 2009 Florence Howe Award from the Women's Caucus of the Modern Language Association for best feminist essay in English.



Essay by Cheryl J. Fish, on Teaching Environmental Justice through Literature and Film in Modern Language Association collection,

Teaching North American Environmental Literature
Options for Teaching 22  
http://www.mla.org/store/CID44/PID346

Editor(s): Laird Christensen, Mark C. Long, Fred Waage

Pages: ix & 502 pp.
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9780873528108

"More than a study of nature writing, this collection of essays examines the influences that have shaped the field, such as African American, American Indian, Canadian, and Chicano literature."
Book News

"Teachers in settings from advanced high schools to community colleges and full undergraduate programs in American literature and environmental studies will want to use this book. It will prove a landmark in environmental literary pedagogy."
Louise Westling, University of Oregon


From stories about Los Angeles freeways to slave narratives to science fiction, environmental literature encompasses more than nature writing. The study of environmental narrative has flourished since the MLA published Teaching Environmental Literature in 1985. Today, writers evince a self-consciousness about writing in the genre, teachers have incorporated field study into courses, technology has opened up classroom possibilities, and institutions have developed to support study of this vital body of writing. The challenge for instructors is to identify core texts while maintaining the field's dynamic, open qualities.

The essays in this volume focus on North American environmental writing, presenting teachers with background on environmental justice issues, ecocriticism, and ecofeminism. Contributors consider the various disciplines that have shaped the field, including African American, American Indian, Canadian, and Chicana/o literature. The interdisciplinary approaches recommended treat the theme of predators in literature, ecology and ethics, conservation, and film. A focus on place-based literature explores how students can physically engage with the environment as they study literature. The volume closes with an annotated resource guide organized by subject matter.

Contributors
Joni Adamson
Stacy Alaimo
Karla Armbruster
Pamela Banting
David Landis Barnhill
Alanna F. Bondar
J. Scott Bryson
SueEllen Campbell
Katherine R. Chandler
Christopher J. Cobb
Hal Crimmel
Cheryl J. Fish
Cheryll Glotfelty
John R. Harris
Ursula K. Heise
Bob Henderson
Annie Merrill Ingram
Stephen R. Johnson
Jerry Keir
Glen A. Love
Jorge Marcone
David Mazel
Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands
Patrick D. Murphy
Jeffrey Myers
Barbara Barney Nelson
Daniel J. Philippon
Bernard Quetchenbach
Anne Raine
Randall Roorda
William Slaymaker
Scott Slovic
Cheryl C. Smith
Mary Stark
John Tallmadge
Priscilla Solis Ybarra

Web  Personal Essays
September 25th, 2008

Looking For the Mitzvah in Bar Mitzvah

A Jewish Mother Thinks About the Value of Religious Education


My nine-year-old son, Josh, is not interested in learning Hebrew or in having a bar mitzvah. The bar mitzvah, a Jewish ritual when a boy turns 13, is the transition from childhood to “manhood” that involves reading from the Torah in Hebrew before the entire congregation.

“You didn’t have one, Mom,” he emphasizes. I explain that in the 1970s girls often didn’t have a bat mitzvah, the female version, especially if they were cultural, secular Jews who didn’t belong to any temple. Ironically, it is my parents, his grandparents, who are adamantly attached to the idea of a bar mitzvah for my boy.

“I hope I live to see Josh read from the Torah,” says my 85-year-old dad, repeating his litany. These are people who didn’t bring me up to be religious, people who always seemed to believe more in the Democratic Party than in scripture. It’s a little confusing to me, but I can’t help but be moved by their desire to see Josh enter adulthood in the Jewish community.

Everyone tells me Josh is not supposed to like going to Hebrew school. Similar to spinach and cod-liver oil, it’s just “good for him.” But is this the association I want him to have with his heritage? With faith? It would help if his friends were into it, but most of them are not Jewish or only marginally so.

For me, the idea of Hebrew school is less foreign. One of my oldest friends married a guy who was raised orthodox. Their kids spend weekends in Hebrew school instead of playing sports. Josh sees this as completely alien. I don’t like taking it to either extreme—too much or too little—but where is the middle ground? Is there one?

Josh wants to stay involved in sports and computers and other after-school programs, not spend hours each week learning Hebrew. Where we live in Manhattan, there are a variety of non-traditional approaches to Jewish education, but many are expensive. One of them requires twice-a-week-meetings after school for three hours at a time.

While I wonder if this is a bit much, another option allows him to wait until he’s on the verge of 12 and then take a crash course with tutors. This doesn’t appeal to me at all—it seems like cheating. It seems I am up against his will and my own ambivalence.

I am sure I would feel stronger if I had had a meaningful Jewish education, but I didn’t. I am one who has explored the smorgasbord of spirituality as an adult, ranging from Buddhism to yoga to interfaith to the Jewish “renewal” movement. When I attend a service in Hebrew, I am lost and kind of ashamed. It would be great to know how to read and understand this ancient language, and yet…

I guess part of my problem is figuring out what I want from organized Judaism. As an academic teaching literature, I draw on the powerful origin stories that come up as we study history, religions, environments, and cultures. My stance is intellectual and therefore somewhat distanced: I see these stories as stories, not eternal truths. I see as much harm in them as good.

I know there are some wonderful synagogues and other religious institutions involved in social action. I have to ask myself, why am I still unresolved?

At the same time, in a meaningful Jewish service, whether at a synagogue or in a chavurah (a group of people gathered to pray and/or study Torah without a rabbi), I can feel an oceanic connection to a higher power and to those around me. In the words and struggles of the biblical ancestors, the silences, music, and movements I can feel humbled. There are moments where it’s clear the ego needs to let go. It’s often hard to know how to reconcile these two types of experience.

Maybe that’s why I am hoping Hebrew school will provide Josh with something that the modern world is lacking. Children today are steeped in consumerism and a sense of entitlement. They grow up without a real feeling of community. Religion can be a source of strength if it’s not self-serving and arrogant.

I want my son to know the ethical and social-justice aspects of our faith. Together we have read about the Holocaust and socialism in our family’s heritage—both aspects are worth learning about. How do privileged American communities pass on the issue of social justice to their children?

In These are the Words: A Vocabulary of Jewish Spiritual Life, author Arthur Green writes:
“Spreading our basic moral message—that every person is the divine image…requires that Jews be concerned with the welfare, including feeding, housing, and health, of all. The Torah’s call that we ‘pursue justice, only justice,’ (Deuteronomy 16:20) demands that we work towards closing the terrible gaps, especially in education and opportunity that exist within our society…”

The author's son on a recent trip to France.

The author's son on a recent trip to France.

It is important to remember that the Hebrew word mitzvah, the second half of the term bar mitzvah, means “good deed.” I know there are some wonderful synagogues and other religious institutions involved in social action, such as feeding the homeless and trying to raise awareness of genocide in Darfur. I have to ask myself, why am I still unresolved?

As the summer meanders along, Josh is away at camp and I am working on my academic research and writing. My decision on religion sits there among many others. I am still unclear. I want my son to learn Hebrew and study his religion’s heritage. I want him to have a bar mitzvah and become a part of a meaningful community. Still, I don’t know if I want it badly enough. For now, I am seeking guidance to find an answer for us.

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