The Local as the Global: Reflections on Teaching World Literature by Emad Mirmotahari



The following essay argues for the importance of shifting world literature courses away from “survey” and toward the interrogation of categories of knowledge that typically organize the world. This is best accomplished by foregrounding minoritized literatures and beginning from “home.”

In recent years I have been searching for strategies to demystify the unruly idea of “world literature” for a general undergraduate student population in a North American university. Although this search relates to specific concerns with college pedagogy, the insights it yields can be useful beyond my particular context. Upon taking up a teaching position in 2010, I was informed by my new colleagues that while I would teach advanced undergraduate courses on world/postcolonial literatures for English majors and graduate courses, I would also teach large numbers of non-English majors seeking to fill the university’s “diversity” requirement. Only recently did I realize that these circumstances and curricular conditions are, in fact, the natural habitat of world literature, where it has the most reach and can do the most work.

Initially, as a newly minted PhD, I was zealously committed to the imperatives of world literature on its own terms and for its own sake. Admittedly, I have not foreclosed on my early goals of producing readers of literary texts who are curious about the different and the distant and, with a little luck, inspiring them to go on to become polyglots and literary scholars. I now see my job, for the most part, as a very different one: less cloistered and more student-oriented in the broadest sense. As a teacher of world literature, I am accountable to all students, and not to English majors exclusively.

The peril of the “great books” approach is that it turns world literature into the instrument of some perfunctory “multiculturalism” that requires little mental labor from students, reducing them to impassive cultural tourists.

Realizing that my world literature course may possibly be the only one of its kind that many students will take, my challenge as a new professor was configuring a one-semester course that maximizes the intellectual rewards of world literature. It is still quite common to encounter the “great books” model, the idea that world literature is an aggregate of what Margaret Cohen calls the “great unread.” The peril of this approach is that it turns world literature into the instrument of some perfunctory “multiculturalism” that requires little mental labor from students, reducing them to impassive cultural tourists. Instead of this approach, world literature courses at the introductory and general level must unsettle students by making them “unthink” their worldviews, or at the very least be conscious of them. World literature must show them the synergies between the local, national, regional, and global….see the rest of this essay go to...

Response to Evil — charles french words reading and writing

A Review of the soon to be published, MALEDICUS!

I cannot wait until this literary horror story is in print. As one of several Beta readers for this manuscript, I was amazed to find that this story was not at all what I thought it would be. It is abundant in tantalizing details, unforgettable characters, and rich in delicate undertones that sparkle with literary nuances that will not only touch your heart and mind, but take your breath away. A page turner, to say the least, and you won’t be able to put the novel down until that very last page. A completely riveting story with suspense, mystery, horror, bravery, and a beautiful love story. The author, Charles F. French is a magician or must be, because his story is spellbinding!  I highly recommend Maledicus!

K. D. Dowdall

***Originally posted on charles french words reading and writing: Copyright @ 2016 by Charles F. French Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This issue is one of the central themes of my horror novel Maledicus: Investigative Paranormal Society Book I and is also…

via Response to Evil — charles french words reading and writing



Royal FP(From a Writer’s Work Shop)

Most agents will ask you to send them a submission pack containing three items:

  • A covering letter (see advice here and sample here)
  • A synopsis
  • The first three chapters / 10,000 words of                                                                         your novel

Most agents will look at the covering letter first, then turn to the manuscript. If they like the first three chapters, they’ll be thinking, “This book looks really interesting. I’m definitely tempted . . . but is the author going to hold my interest over the full 300 / 400 pages? Is it worth me making that investment of time to read the whole thing?”

That’s where the synopsis comes in. The synopsis is there to answer the question, “What is the story of this book? Is there a clear story arc and will there be a satisfying ending?”

Obviously the actual experience of reading a synopsis is quite underwhelming. Synopses are boring, technical documents which (we hope) would not be true of your novel. But that doesn’t matter. Agents know synopses are dull, so all your synopsis really has to do is:

  • tell the agent in very clear terms what your story is
  • make it clear what your hook / premise / elevator pitch is (more info here)
  • give some kind of feeling for why the story matters & how the jeopardy increases
  • sketch out an ending that feels satisfying

But – and this should be reassuring – agents do know that synopses are hard to write and they care less about the synopsis than any other part of your submission package.That means you probably don’t need to worry excessively about your synopsis – just follow the guidelines below and you’ll do just fine.

How to write a perfect synopsis

A perfect synopsis has the following ingredients:

  • Length: 500-800 words
  • Main purpose: Summarise your plot
  • Secondary purpose: Make it clear what Unique Selling Point your book has
  • Language: Be businesslike: clear, to the point, neutral.
  • Presentation: Be well-presented: no typos or spelling mistakes. Normal font size, normal margins. Line spacing no narrower than 1.5
  • Character names. It helps if you put the names of main characters in bold or CAPS when you first introduce them. That way, if an agent has forgotten who Carlotta is, it’s easy for them to skim back and jog their memory. (Remember that agents are reading a lot of these things, so they have about a million character names in their heads at any one time.)
  • Extra points. It’s certainly not essential, but if you have a really compelling way to ‘sell’ your story in 2-3 lines maximum, then you could insert that little snippet up at the top of your synopsis as a way of reminding agents why they’re interested in this MS in the first place. For example, a certain Ms Rowling might have opened her synopsis with, “Harry Potter, an orphan, thinks he is an ordinary boy when an owl brings him a letter inviting him to attend wizard school.” That’s not strictly speaking synopsis material, but it does instantly emphasise the book’s appeal.
  • And remember: Tell the story: your job is not to sell the book, write dust jacket blurb, or anything else. Just say what happens in the story. That’s all you need to do.

And luckily there are things you don’t need to do:

  • Go into great detail about setting. If you were writing a synopsis for a Jane Austen novel for example, you might simply say “This novel is set in a small village in Regency England.”
  • Go into vast detail about character – a few quick strokes are all that you need. For example you might say: “Bridget Jones – a ditzy, mildly boozy twenty-something – …”
  • Be scrupulous about plot detail. It’s fine to skip over subplots or ignore some of the finer detail of how X accomplishes Y. The truth is, you won’t have time to include those things in a 700 word summary anyway. Agents know that the synopsis is at best an approximation of the story so you don’t need to have a troubled consicence.
  • You also don’t have to give away your very final plot twist – though you should make it clear that there is one. For example, you could write, “When Olivia finally catches up with Jack at the abandoned lighthouse, he tells her the real secret of his disappearance – and their final bloody reckoning ensues.” Mostly though, a synopsis is the ultimate plot spoiler, and your job is just to spill the beans whether you like it or not.

Anne Lamott’s Wool-Gathering!


Anne Lamott’s classic book: Bird by Bird—Some Instructions on Writing and Life, although not specifically about fantasy fiction writing, does address, among many other wondrous things, the art of Wool-Gathering.  It would be wise, I thought, to learn from another master writer, like Anne Lamott, the techniques of precisely how to beginWool-Gathering—forthwith.Anne Lamott

Since Stephan King taught me to trust my inner instincts, to lean heavily on my intuition, and to trust my inner sense of things, I realized now was my opportunity to learn the art ofWool-Gathering.  The term Wool-Gathering captured my imagination and I knew it was for me.  I began immediately.

I moved my desk in front of my double window in my room and arranged my laptop just so to allow me to gaze out of my window. Outside my window is a span of green grass that has yet to turn brown with the coming fall season and beyond the grassy plain is a stand of evergreen Arbors that remind me of church steeples.  Near my window are two Rose bushes, mostly bare of leaves and roses, but still very much alive. At least the Gray Tufted Titmouse, the Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, and the Brown-Headed Nuthatch think so.  They flit from bare branch to branch obviously finding things to eat that I can’t see.

They aren’t the only ones though. On the grass that is just beginning to be covered with fallen leaves are gray squirrels digging little holes looking for hidden acorns and a little beyond them are a few more gray squirrels diggings holes to hide their winter acorn provisions.  I wonder if this is wise, though. As surely, the hunting gray squirrels must just be fettering out the provisions just hidden by the enterprising gray squirrels. Chipmunks too, dash around madly, as if crazed, looking for, perhaps, something they have lost?

Beyond the stand of Arbors, there is a house with two children and their friends playing outside in their backyard.  I watch them. I wonder what they are playing and saying to each other as they run back and forth hiding and seeking.  I then find myself daydreaming about this intriguing life and how the characters in my book would act and react to scenes such as I see before me as I gaze out from my window into a world that does not know I am Wool-Gathering.


The Blogger Appreciation Award!

Blogger Appreciation Award






Thank you kindly,Charles French, for nominating me for the

Blogger Appreciation Award!

 The Rules:

*Thank the person who nominated you, and give a link to his/her blog.

*List the rules.

*Display the image of the award on your post.

*Tell the readers something about you personally.

*Nominate as many bloggers for this award as you wish, and notify them to let them know you have nominated them.

About Me:

*I am a writer of fantasy fiction and poetry.  I have written two published fantasy fiction novels, Delphi Altair – Strange Beginnings and Garrett’s Bones with a third novel, The Witch of His Dreams, to be published in November 2016. I am an identical twin.

My Nominees:

ABOUT WRITING – Techniques for Masterful Writing

fmmy21ohmklukw3-medium.jpgAbout Writing: A Summary of K.M. Weiland’s, “Techniques for Masterful Writing”

By K.D. Dowdall

I am re-blogging this post from 2014. My summary of K.M. Weiland’s excellent article presented in Writer’s Digest, Work Book: Exercises and Tips for Honing Specific Aspects of Your Writing presents the key points of her exceptional article. It is especially for writers penning their first novel, but also for seasoned writers to again remember a classic, Jane Eyre, a novel that was ahead of its time, by Charlotte Brontë.  Often, reading classics, as most of us do, gives us fresh insight to dramatic storytelling par excellence, and can improve our own writing skills. K.M. Weiland gives us 10 distinct techniques for dramatic masterful writing.  For me, I chose to read Jane Eyre.

  1. Hook: Start in the middle of some type of interaction within environment, statement, or internal angst to provoke reader curiosity.
  1. Characteristic Moment: Reveal/show a personality trait of the Protagonist.
  1. Setting Description of Scene: Start broadly, and then zoom in.
  1. Symbolism: Small details set story’s tone and foreshadows its course.
  1. The World Protagonist Inhabits: demonstrate character’s interior and exterior world.
  1. Back Story: Intersperse with dialogue, don’t dump back story in long paragraphs in chapter 1.
  1. The Premise of Story: Present the Dramatic Question early on, involving the moral foundation, the impetus that drives the story forward.
  1. Physical Actions: The physical movements of characters interspersed throughout dialogue increases depth of character traits.
  1. Protagonist’s Belief: Once Dramatic Question is identified, writer presents obstacles for protagonist until she/he can relinquish belief/misconception and meet deepest needs.

10.Extraordinary Factor: What makes the Protagonist important? How at odds is protagonist in his/her world with others that creates friction, tension, and thus the central conflict of story premise.

***see Writer’s Digest, October 2014 edition, for full article.


R.I.P. Elie Wiesel — charles french words reading and writing Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate, and author of Night, his memoir of being a prisoner in the Holocaust, died this weekend. Mr. Wiesel, besides being an extraordinary writer, whose work brought the experience of the evil of the Holocaust to the forefront of many readers, was also one of the most powerful moral voices […]

via R.I.P. Elie Wiesel — charles french words reading and writing

C. K. William, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Poet Extraordinaire!


The cover to Selected Later Poems by C. K. Williams

New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 2015. 249 pages.

As written by Benjamin Myers, Oklahoma Baptist University, 

When C. K. Williams died last year, he left behind more than half a century’s worth of superb work as well as a sterling reputation attested to by a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, and a National Book Critics Circle Award. Williams has always been a versatile poet—like his hero, Whitman, he contained multitudes—but he was best known early in his career as a political poet in the Vietnam era. His later work still contains much political and cultural commentary—The Singing, with selections included in this volume, is his most political of the late works—but as hisSelected Later Poems shows, Williams is a poet of meditation, more in the tradition of the inwardly focused Donne and Herbert than of public poets like Dryden or Pope. Especially in his later works, Williams transcends the merely “confessional” to become one of America’s greatest poets of the meditative, personal lyric.

Williams’s famous long lines, a poetics he shifted to in the 1970s, augment this meditative quality in his best work. While Williams derived this sweeping line from Whitman’s expansive verse, the effect is very different from that of his predecessor. In Whitman’s poetry, as in that of his close descendants like Allen Ginsberg, the long line creates an effect of breathless prophecy, a poetics for men with beards. Withholding breath until the end of the line, Whitman becomes a Jeremiah proclaiming truth to all, literally breathless with vision. Williams’s long lines, however, are more casual: not so much breathlessness as breathing room. The difference is part diction and imagery but also part syllable count. Whitman pushed past the standard pentameter line but not so far as to lose the gravitational pull of the standard ten syllables. The effect was like a rubber band stretched taut. Williams, however, goes a bit further in line length, so that the pull of gravity shifts from the pentameter all the way to prose, stretching the rubber band until its elasticity gives out.

This looseness results not in slackness but in openness, a line that can accommodate a long and shifting string of thoughts and things. In his essay “Letter to a Workshop,” included in his prose collection In Time, Williams defends the poet’s right to abstraction, and often in these later poems he indulges in long strings of winding thought, as in “Soul in Steel”: “Not frail not fainthearted flighty and I certainly don’t mean merely to mean unmale with those now / happily unacceptable connotations of frivolous faithless flirty emphatically no innuendo like that / I mean rather shouldn’t I be able to conceive a yes unmale soul for this bundle of matter and pain. . . .” The lack of punctuation mirrors the looseness of thought—a stream-of-consciousness technique—but each line is given integrity by heavy alliteration and frequent syllabic accent.

Yet despite his defense of abstraction, Williams is also a poet of particulars, opening up his long lines to include a multitude of the things of this world. “House,” for instance, begins, “The way you’d renovate a ruined house, keeping the ‘shell,’ as we called it, brick, frame, or stone, / and razing the rest: the inside walls – partitions, we say – then stairs, pipes, wiring, commodes.” The list asserts the reality, even as they are removed, of all the trappings of the domestic world in which so many of Williams’s poems take place. Often a line in Williams’s late poems will offer a catalog that seems in tune not so much with the Homeric, epic catalog of Whitman as with the old Sears Roebuck catalog, offering a bit of everything but nothing oversensationalized.

Critics often describe Williams’s lack of sensationalism as “detachment,” and that is a good description as long as one does not take it to mean coldness or indifference. Rather, the dispassionate tone is a way of building emotional urgency in the poem without slipping into sentimentality. As Tony Hoagland said of Jack Gilbert, “It’s the angle between the verbal style and the subject matter that energizes the drama and forms the tone here: a sort of passionate stoicism” (Real Sofistikashun, 2006). Williams’s “passionate stoicism” is a great vehicle for a wide range of meditations: from the crude humor of “Gas,” which is about exactly what it sounds like, to the domestic sublime of the late poems for his wife, Catherine. Death and sex are both frequent topics in Williams’s work, and both are handled not with romanticism or hysteria but with compassion and gravity, a gravity sometimes willed up poetically out of the absurdity of life.

This is a humane poetry and the reason one feels that, even with such a prolific body of work and such a long and accomplished career, we lost C. K. Williams too soon. This volume is a consolation.


Writing Life Back Into The World

chauly-6In the wake of her father’s death, a Malaysian author discovers the writer within and ends up writing herself into her country’s narrative.

My father’s untimely and tragic death when I was four made me a writer. It was that simple, really. There was a need for words, and words were what I turned to.

In the course of growing up in Malaysia’s third-largest city, Ipoh, a town that had a rich, checkered past of being the “town that tin built,” I immersed myself in books—books left by my father and mother. My father was Punjabi-Sikh, English-educated at St. Xavier’s Institution in George Town, Penang, then as a Colombo Scholar at Kirby College in Liverpool, England. My mother, Cantonese-Buddhist, Chinese-educated, then sent to Melbourne University in Australia. They had varied interests—poetry, literature, art, geology (my father was pursuing his master’s in geology at the time of his death), huge tomes on World Wars I and II, dog-eared, faded stacks of National Geographic from the 1960s, multiple volumes on Malaysian flora and fauna—birds, butterflies—invertebrates, vertebrates, carpentry, maps and rocks—books I still have in my library.

I suppose I read to fill that gaping hole inside me, that nameless void that kept me up at night and rendered me angry, confused, bewildered as to who and what I was.

I suppose I read to fill that gaping hole inside me, that nameless void that kept me up at night and rendered me angry, confused, bewildered as to who and what I was. “So what are you? Why do you have such a weird name?” Growing up with mixed identities—half this and half that—in Malaysia was common then, but it was not named. I did not know who I was, and my father’s death had created a chasm that needed to be crossed. I felt that I had been “cast out,” abandoned by the world, and I was utterly alone.

My mother’s insistence on buying me at least two new books a week was one of the few joys I had, apart from being able to sit in the curved rattan chair on the second floor of our semidetached house with a plate of biscuits, a glass of cold water, and a thick book. The afternoon sun would dip and it would be night, but still I sat and devoured everything, reading books cover to cover, then some again. In the Ipoh public library where my mother would leave me on weekends, I huddled in soft, dark spaces and read quietly for hours.

The author and her mother, Jane, on a rickshaw, Kota Bharu, 1970
The author and her mother, Jane, on a rickshaw, Kota Bharu, 1970

I also wrote a little, using essay assignments to play out my imagination; characters were marooned in deserts and stormy seas, in outer space. My teachers were supportive. I attempted poetry, but the images were the same—death, tombstones, epitaphs, an obsession with Edith Sitwell. It was necessary, but the poems were terrible.

My decision to take English literature in the fourth and fifth form was an important prelude for what was to come. My mother found me a tutor, Brother Vincent Corkery, one of the last Lasallian Brothers left in Ipoh’s St. Michael’s Institution. Brother Vincent was from County Cork, in Ireland, spoke with a soft Irish curl, had crinkly blue eyes, and loved literature. How I looked forward to those classes! They were held in the brothers’ quarters of that beautiful school—up the narrow, worn concrete staircases, past the neo-Gothic eaves into the dark and cool rooms, which smelled of holy water and starched cassocks, away from the rowdy shrieks of boys. I would ring the doorbell—three short rings for Brother Vincent—and he would appear, fresh after a nap, and we would sit for two hours, reading and talking about literature. We read Bernard Malamud, Doris Lessing, Hemingway, Frost, Yeats, Keats, George Bernard Shaw, and Shakespeare. He made me memorize passages from Shakespeare—Old John of Gaunt, time-honoured Lancaster . . . —made me pronounce words with gestures and feeling, and made my hair stand on end when he read out a passage so beautiful, so evocative, so pained. I learned beauty; that words had power and a meaning that lasted, that stayed on my tongue and my skin.

I did well enough in the O-level state exams and, as expected, got A’s in the English language and lit courses. As a result, I was offered a government scholarship to study English and TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) in Canada. This marked the beginning of many things, but more importantly, the first step toward my life as a writer.   

Engagement photo of Surinder Singh and Loh Siew Yoke (aka Jane Chauly), 1967. Before marriage, Surinder changed his name to Bernard Surinder Chauly.