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January 24, 2022

Required Reading with B Cornog and McNair Johnson

From 360° Asheville School Views Magazine, Winter 2022

This year, the Humanities department welcomed seven new faculty members and named instructors B Cornog and McNair Johnson as co-chairs. Expect a few changes—“I think most of us agree that our students are being prepared as writers and thinkers, but we must continue exploring how we can continue to present authors, poets, and artists whose perspectives may not have had as much space in years past,” Cornog says. And trust that the fundamentals of communication and making connections across disciplines will continue. “The emphasis on writing and the overlap of history and literature are trademarks that distinguish this department and are things you hear us talk a lot about,” Johnson says. “Reading instruction, though, is something that has risen in importance in recent years, and our department has this front and center.” Study up with these books—and two podcasts—that the new chairs enjoy, both in the classroom and at home.

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
“A perennial favorite. I appreciate it so much more now than I did when I was in high school, and the students always impress me with their predictions and interpretations.”—B. Cornog

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesmyn Ward. We are honored to host her on campus this February for Civil Rights Day. She will be our guest speaker and spend time in a few classes. American Studies students have read her Sing, Unburied, Sing as a summer reading book the last three years, and our Ancient Studies students will read her Salvage the Bones for the first time this spring.”—McNair Johnson

The Border Trilogy, by Cormac McCarthy
“When I teach American literature, I enjoy sharing anything by Cormac McCarthy, especially the Border Trilogy, and looking at how punctuation can be a choice, and what it is to communicate intimate details of landscape and human knowledge.”—B.C.

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
“It is always a joy to watch students begin reading the play with trepidation but bravery about the language.”—B.C.

The Odyssey
“This text is central to Ancient Studies and demonstrates how motifs from antiquity still resonate with contemporary audiences. We read Emily Wilson’s translation, and students are really pulled into this journey with Odysseus. It is fun to watch them use this text as a lens for timeless themes found in their own lives.”—M.J.

“As far as podcasts go, I am a big fan of Marlon and James Read Dead People, and In Our Time: Culture with Melvyn Bragg. Both are about literature and ideas, so I am always getting inspiration for classes.”—B.C.

“I love reading Ross Gay’s work with Third Formers because he is a great storyteller and demonstrates that interesting writing can be about simple, everyday experiences – like walking down the street and finding a fig tree. Poetry is a great way to help students practice with analysis with something relatively short.”—M.J.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
“My son, who is four and a half, had a good stretch this summer when he was interested in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, so it has been fun re-experiencing those as a parent.”—B.C.

Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
“I have reread it a number of times, which is also quite nice because I first read it for a high school English class.”—B.C.

“One of my favorite poets is Billy Collins. I like introducing him to students who are unfamiliar or resistant to poetry because he can usually win them over! We are excited to have Collins—a former National Poet Laureate—on campus later this spring to kick off National Poetry Month.”—M.J.

Other beloved writers and works: Marilynne Robinson; Rita Dove; Naomi Shahib Nye; Tracy Smith; Ron Rash; Deacon King Kong, by James McBride; The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett; The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami; Underland, by Robert MacFarlane.