This article has been edited as of Feb. 27, 2020

A previously published version of this article stated that Giroux phoned his daughter to ask about Casablancas. This has been corrected to state that he asked his son.

This article is part one of a two part series. Read part two here.

The latter half of the 2010 decade brought with it the rise of various right-winged movements throughout the world. Henry Giroux, a McMaster professor in the department of English and cultural studies, felt a sense of urgency; that the public needed to be educated in order to advance our democracy and combat the right side of politics. We recently had the chance to catch up with Giroux after he published his newest book, The Terror of the Unforeseen, which includes a forward by Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes.

INTRODUCTION TO CASABLANCAS:

In 2016, Giroux received a phone call from an agent asking if he knew who Julian Casablancas was, to which he responded, “No, I don’t”. He then phoned his son to ask who the mysterious rock star was.

Casablancas brought a film crew to Giroux’s Hamilton home and interviewed the professor about his work. This was the start of the duo’s friendship. Giroux then asked Casablancas if he wanted to write a forward in The Terror of the Unforeseen to open up his narrative to a much-wider audience. 

After the forward was written, Casablancas interviewed Giroux in front of a live audience at a  McMaster Library event at The Westdale Theatre (1014 King St. W.) on Oct. 24, 2019. The event was entitled “The Looming Threat of Fascist Politics”.

EARLY YEARS:

Giroux was born in Providence, Rhode Island, living in a working-class neighbourhood. He obtained a basketball scholarship from the University of Southern Maine and graduated from the university to become a high school teacher. He received a scholarship to complete his schooling at Carnegie-Mellon University, graduating with a PhD in 1977.

After becoming a professor at Boston University, Giroux began researching what education looks like at universities; what does it mean to get a university education

In 1981, Giroux’s research inspired his second book, Theory and Resistance in Education: a Pedagogy for the Opposition. In Theory and Resistance, he defends that education has become a privatized endeavour that does not prioritizes the public’s best interests, including the interests of students. This privatization has become apparent through the promotion of maths and sciences, and the undermining of social and behavioural teachings. Giroux concludes that universities are no longer producing public intellectuals, people who think and reason critically, with the absence of humanities and social sciences.

When Giroux went up for tenure at Boston University, everyone but the president of the University wanted to give him the teaching position. 

“[The president] was the east coast equivalent of Ronald Reagan, and a really ruthless guy.. he was denying tenure to everybody on the left [side of the political spectrum],” said Giroux.

Giroux moved to Miami University where he started the first cultural studies centre in the United States. He was then offered an endowed chair at Pennsylvania State University. When the opportunity came to apply to McMaster University, Giroux leapt at the offer and was hired in 2004.

THE TERROR OF THE UNFORESEEN:

Casablancas joined Giroux’s project because he saw the value in Giroux’s ideology.

“The idea for the book came out of a certain sense of incredible urgency . . . motivated by the election of Donald Trump and the rise of right-winged movements throughout the world,” said Giroux.

The author coined the term “neoliberal fascism”: a cross between racist ideology and a ruling financial elite class that disregards lower classes. This term is the basis of Giroux’s book, which describes how neoliberal fascism affects universities and media, along with how it has contributed to the creation of alt-right culture.

“I tried to take seriously the notion that politics follows culture, meaning that, you can’t really talk about politics unless you talk about the way in which people are experiencing their everyday lives and the problems that confront them,” said Giroux.

He believes that fascism never goes away, that it will always manifest itself in some context. Giroux used the U.S. as an example. The wealth and power held by the governing financial elite has created a state that does not care about the inequalities faced by most of its citizens.

Giroux links the above issues to the war on youth that much of his work has focused on, with the belief that youth are a long-term investment that are being written out of democracy.

CAMPUS POLITICS:

Giroux sees elements of youth being written out of democracy on our own campus. He also recognized that neoliberal ideology could have been a contributing cause to the province’s financial cuts to universities.

“The [ideal] model for education is now patterned after a business culture and with that, it seems to me, comes with an enormous set of dangers and anxieties,” stated Giroux.

According to Giroux, universities used to operate as public good; however, this is no longer their priority. Instead, universities are constantly worried about their bottom line, due in part to neoliberalism. This is especially evident in the elimination of or lack of funding for programs and courses that bring in less money for universities. Giroux cites the example of liberal arts education, which he believes is vital for every student to obtain. He believes this field teaches students a general understanding of our interactions with the world and how to become a socially responsible citizen; however, Giroux believes that liberal arts are being neglected in favour of teaching science and math.

While he understands that universities run deficits, this need to meet the bottom line can open the door for them to become influenced to opt-in to privatization and corporate influence. Giroux believes the only type of influence major corporations should have on campus are in the forms of sponsorships to allow the university to carry out its business as students are neither clients nor products.

“We have an obligation as educators, not to prepare students for just the work, but to prepare them for the world and what it means.” 

When asked about the Ford government’s stance on OSAP cuts, Giroux believes that the government has a limited notion of investment, likely stemming from neoliberalist ideals.

“You don’t invest in students, for them to return profits . . . you invest in students and do everything you can to make sure that they can distinguish between meaningful work and meaningless work; that they can have some vision of the future that’s rooted in democratic values, that has some sense of compassion for what it means to live in a world in which we’re completely interdependent.

The Terror of the Unforeseen is the 71st book by Henry Giroux. 

“I write because I believe that writing matters, I believe that elevating ideas into the public realm may help change the way people view the world,” said Giroux.

Stay tuned for part two of this series featuring our interview with Julian Casablancas.

 

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Graphic by Razan Samara / Online Editor

How do you spend the holiday season?

Rachel Lieske: My friends refer to me as the Grinch. The older I get, the more I realize how important Christmas is to others, and how insignificant it is to me. My sister and I set up a Christmas tree every year, even though my family never exchanges presents. I would wake up early like my friends, but instead of rushing to open presents, I would watch TV. The first year of university was the first year my parents didn’t put up a tree, and the second year we only had four family members over for Christmas, this year is undecided.

Razan Samara: One of the perks of growing up as a Muslim in North America is having opportunities to partake in the seasonal festivities without necessarily feeling the pressure of the holidays or any affiliated expectations and obligations. I typically take advantage of the time off to reconnect with long-distance friends or spend quality time with family. Coincidently, my siblings’ birthdays are on Dec. 25 and 28, so there’s always a reason to gather the family and celebrate. For me, the holiday season is all about community. Last year, I spent a day with a couple friends cooking at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market. I have fond memories of chef Grant from Best on Bread teaching us how to make a delicious stack of bruschetta for a friend’s holiday party.

Steffi Arkilander: Usually, I spend the holidays with my family. Because I’m biracial, holiday gatherings are usually a mix of both sides of my family. I get to see family members I haven’t seen in a long time, and we learn about what everyone has been up to in the past year. New Year’s is special too because my Chinese side of my family values a fresh start [and] going into the new year with good intentions.

Jessica Gelbard: Most of my holiday season is spent spinning wooden toys, spending time with family and stuffing my face with jelly-filled deep fried doughnuts. In order to celebrate the miracle of a tiny drop of oil lasting eight nights, I get pretty lit. And by getting lit, I mean I light a candle for each night of [Hanukkah] amassing a fully lit menorah by the last night!

Trisha Gregorio: I don’t have any particular holiday season staples or routines. My family consists of my mother, my younger brother and myself, and we spend Christmas quietly without exchanging gifts or holding Christmas parties at home. I find that in the lack of any concrete traditions Christmas feels lacklustre relative to the whirlwind of the days preceding it. Instead, I enjoy the lead-up to the week of Christmas — the hustle and bustle at stores, the neverending Christmas carols, the holiday drinks — more than I do Christmas Day itself, so a lot of the holiday season is spent basking in that Christmas atmosphere.

 

What parts of your identity or culture influence your holiday traditions?

Rachel Lieske: Neither of my parents has strong familial ties with their immediate family, and neither do I. Inherently, I don’t have that strong nostalgia that lets the holiday tradition live on for kids my age, despite our impending adolescence.

Razan Samara: One of my religious holidays includes Ramadan — a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, reflection and prayer. Sometimes I miss a few days of fasting during Ramadan and I like to make them up during the winter holiday season. I typically have more time to focus on my spirituality and wellbeing, which is important when it comes to facing the winter blues. The days are also much shorter and fasting becomes easier. I especially enjoy it when I get to break my fast alongside friends celebrating their own holidays and traditions over dinners — there’s a collision of diversity that’s incredibly empowering. Since Islamic holidays are observed on a lunar calendar, then every 30 years or so Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr (festival of breaking fast) end up coinciding with other winter holidays. I can’t wait to shop for Eid gifts during Boxing Day in 2033.

Steffi Arkilander: I often get together with the two sides of my family — my white side and my Chinese side. We usually have two dinners for each side of my family, whether it’s for Christmas or New Year’s. One dinner is definitely considered more “traditional” to Western culture, where we all eat together, but my Chinese side often holds a hotpot or some form of Chinese food. We usually have a prayer in both English and Chinese. As gifts, red pockets with lucky money are often given from the elders of our family to the younger ones to celebrate Christmas or going into a new year. My family also usually cleans on New Year’s Day as it represents a “fresh start”.

Jessica Gelbard: Most of what influences my holiday traditions comes from my Jewish identity and European culture. For example, the holiday of Hanukkah itself, emanates from the story of the Maccabean revolt, in which the Jews defeated their Syrian-Greek oppressors in 160 BCE. So that comes from my Jewish identity. On the food side of things however, potato latkes, generally associated with Hanukkah, come from my European culture!

Trisha Gregorio: I grew up in the Philippines, where the Christmas season lasts from September to early January. While very little of the customs I had then remain with me [now], habits from childhood still inform my expectations for the holidays (that instinctive anticipation is probably why I like the pre-Christmas season so much). Christmas in the Philippines was also heavily religious, marked by week-long dawn vigils and multiple masses per day, and while my relationship with religion has only gotten more complicated the more I’ve come to terms with my identity, Christmas Mass is the one holiday tradition that my culture will always anchor me to.

 

How do ideas around a “traditional holiday experience” influence your traditions?

Rachel Lieske: Not being absorbed in the “traditional holiday experience” has given me a lot of anxiety about going home for the holidays. Motivated by FOMO [i.e. fear of missing out] and worry surrounding how I will spend such a long time in a town that doesn’t feel like home is daunting.

Razan Samara: My ideas around a “traditional holiday experience” come from watching the Home Alone franchise and feel-good Hallmark films. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized how representation of the holidays in the media are almost always monopolized by Christmas and White American culture, so it’s no surprise that my own traditions tend to fit into this “picture-perfect” representation of Christmas. I walked by the Santa Claus parade in Hamilton and Toronto last week, listened to Christmas carols while cooking dinner with a friend a couple nights ago, and I have plans to check out the Toronto Christmas Market for the first time. While I do enjoy my cup of eggnog, I’m hoping to learn more about other holiday traditions this year.

Steffi Arkilander: I think that traditional holiday experiences can come in forms we may not necessarily consider traditional. Although my experience with the holidays may seem unique and different, it’s always been my normal to celebrate the holidays twice and to embrace both sides of my identity as not separate, but whole. Maybe my celebration of the holidays isn’t Western, but it doesn’t mean it’s not traditional. This is a tradition in my family and a tradition within many Chinese and even biracial communities. Although my celebrations may not be the majority, it doesn’t mean they aren’t any less meaningful.

Jessica Gelbard: I’ve notice in recent years, that in order to partake in “mainstream holiday seasons,” many Jewish people have taken to the idea of a “Hanukkah Bush” to replace a “Christmas Tree.” While the idea is cute, I think it adds to the unfortunate reality of assimilation. I too however, partake in events such as Christmas markets, and listening to Christmas music (obsessively I may add!) to feel apart of what society has deemed a “traditional holiday experience.”

Trisha Gregorio: The “traditional holiday experience” presents this ideal where all is cheerful and light-hearted during the holidays. As heartwarming as that can be, I also think it places a particular burden on those of us who don’t have access to the picture-perfect scene that Christmas ads present. For some, the holiday season may have its complications, whether it might be seasonal depression, or someone having to be around homophobic relatives, or simply having to spend Christmas alone. Not everyone has what counts for a warm, “complete” family, either, nor has the financial means to afford a big dinner. It isn’t so much that traditions are affected by this ideal; more than anything, it’s that this expectation of existing traditions isolates those who don’t have any.

 

What’s one takeaway you want readers to walk away with?

Rachel Lieske: Not having strong holiday traditions can be isolating at times. Just know that many people are on the same page as you, those who may have distant family relationships that don’t call for celebrating. This holiday I’m taking advantage of my free time and expending my energy on what’s important to me, and that’s okay.

Razan Samara: The holidays can be overwhelming. Whether you’re facing challenges, or your life seems to have been taken over by festive stress, it’s important to recognize when you need to take a break and focus on your own wellbeing. In the past, I’ve definitely been caught up in all the great expectations of the holiday season while also feeling quite lonely when I don’t see my own cultures and identities well represented. Whether you want to celebrate or not, I encourage you to seek out meaningful connections with your communities — it’s made a world of difference for me.

Steffi Arkilander: Biracial communities often have mixed celebrations and traditions that have shaped how we’ve grown up. I am not just 50 per cent Chinese and 50 per cent white. I am 100 per cent mixed and that is a different experience altogether. My culture can be seen through my meals, holidays and languages (or lack thereof) and they help shape my identity and who I’ve come to be today.

Jessica Gelbard: While the holiday season is often portrayed with a heavy focus on Christmas and the mainstream idea of Christmas, it’s important for us to have pride and joy in our own cultural and religious holidays at this time of year! We should be sharing our holiday joy and knowledge with others as well, so they too can join in the recognition and celebration of our respective holidays. Celebrate your holiday with pride, and reflect on your family’s history as these holidays have been celebrated over the generations before you.

Trisha Gregorio: Don’t get me wrong: Christmas is my favourite part of the year! I think that even at its most simple, the holidays can be a quiet, lovely period to take a break from life. However, while it’s important to channel the Christmas spirit, it’s also worth keeping in mind those who might not be spending Christmas like you are. This doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be happy — you are, and despite everything, I encourage liveliness during the holidays whenever possible. It’s simply that one aspect of Christmas means extending that helping hand, so if you know someone who might be spending Christmas alone, or someone who will be going through a tough time attending family parties, it won’t hurt to send a message or two.

 

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By Olivia Fava, Contributor

Two of McMaster’s professors, Chandrima Chakraborty and  James MacKillop, have recently been named to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists.

Founded in 2014 and based in Ottawa, the College of New Scholars aims to gather the “emerging generation of Canadian intellectual leadership” from a broad range of disciplines. Recipients of the College’s title must have demonstrated exceptional achievement in the early stages of their career. By pooling together award recipients, irrespective of their disciplines, their goal is to encourage a dialogue between intellectuals with diverse perspectives, and hopefully inspire new insights. 

The College acknowledges five aspects of the current academic landscape that inform their mandate: the increasing use of new media in research communication; the emergence of interdisciplinary research; the majority of Canadian professors being recently hired; greater female representation in academia; and greater First Nations and visible minority representation in academia.

A clinical psychologist by training, MacKillop’s award-winning research focuses on addiction — the factors causing it, how it sustains itself and how it can be treated. He is currently the director of McMaster’s Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, and co-director of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medicinal Cannabis Research. He studies both cannabis addiction and the potential risks of prescribing cannabis medically. He is a member of the department of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour. MacKillop was not available for comment.

Chakraborty, on the other hand, is part of the department of English & cultural studies. In the past, her work has focused on the relationship between religion, masculinity and nationalism in India, with an analysis of media and literature. Currently, she is focused on the 1985 Air India bombings and the post-9/11 targeting of South Asian populations.

Chakraborty was nominated by McMaster to become a member of the College. According to her, the nomination was formally initiated by the previous president, Patrick Deane. She considers the nomination not only personally significant to her, but also significant in its recognition of the value of research that engages the community.

“Much of my work straddles a number of different fields. History, memory studies, trauma studies, nationalism, masculinity … For me, this nomination is a recognition of that kind of work that crosses those kinds of disciplinary boundaries. I also think this recognition is important because my work is very much situated in the community,” she said. 

Specifically, Chakraborty referenced her current work on the Air India bombings, through which she has interviewed families of victims and collecting photographs. She has been learning from the community and recognizing them, in her own words, as “carriers of knowledge”. She works as a mediator to bring a seldom-recognized tragedy into the realm of public consciousness.

Chakraborty’s efforts have resulted in the first-ever public archive on the Air India tragedy. She emphasizes that this project is not simply about researchers writing about the tragedy but also about families sharing their stories on their own terms. The archive also engages questions of race, Canadian citizenship and public mourning.

“Why is it that if 329 people were on that plane, and about 280 of them were Canadian citizens or permanent residents, why do Canadians of [student] age, for instance, not know about this tragedy? How do certain griefs become part of the public realm and part of the national consciousness whereas certain other kinds are seen as local? … Is it ignorance, is it apathy, is it racism, what is it?” she asked. 

When asked what she would attribute her personal success in terms of this recognition, Chakraborty named her childhood experiences as a child of refugees as well as her experiences as an immigrant in Canada.

“I might be an English literature prof, but I don’t speak like white Canadians — accent and gender and race and all of those things. You learn to work harder than others … you always feel like ‘I really have to prove myself, because nothing is given to me,” said Chakraborty.

She also expressed gratitude to her teachers and family, her colleagues at McMaster for their support and the students who have expressed interest in her work.

The College of New Scholars summarizes its membership criteria as “excellence.” Congratulations to these two researchers for demonstrating the excellence of the McMaster community in a range of disciplines on the federal level.

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Photo by Kyle West

By: Geena Sandhu

Assigned readings are an essential component of university life. Having said that, students should be given the option of purchasing their hefty 400-page McMaster University courseware as a digital copy with an included audio component.

Finding the time to sit down and read five assigned readings in one week is undeniably strenuous. As students, we prioritize completing assignments, papers and tests to the point where readings often become neglected.

This is where the solution of audiobooks comes in. Oftentimes, they are formatted so that one may listen to the text while simultaneously reading it.

We hear about leisure reading audiobooks, however, academia has also developed audiobooks. Many professors at McMaster have made their textbooks accessible online with a convergence feature, that is, the text being read aloud to the listener.

However, the long lines at the campus stores at the beginning of each semester indicate that many professors still prefer old school physical textbooks. Before pushing for more audio textbooks, is listening to a textbook as beneficial for students as reading it?

As a first-year student, when my professor announced the textbook could be accessed physically from the bookstore or online, I was hesitant towards the idea of an audio textbook because it was not something I was familiar with.

Even though the idea did not appeal to me, this semester I was obliged to try audio textbooks as one of my textbooks was only accessible through an online app.

Since then, the process of accessing my audio textbook at any time of the day through my iPhone rather than carrying a copy in my backpack has become exceedingly convenient.

One of the critical differences between reading and listening is that audiobooks are great for multitasking on the condition that one of the tasks being performed is a menial job that does not hinder one’s mental capacity.

Since audiobooks are easily accessible, the text can be listened to while commuting to school, between classes, running errands, cleaning your room and in innumerable other instances. This is a great way to occupy extra time through doing something productive.

Additionally, scholarly textbooks can include words that may be too technical or advanced for students that are learning a concept for the first time. This may interfere in the process of the student comprehending the message. Consequently, students may become unmotivated to continue reading the required texts.

However, when an audiobook is used, it allows readers to effortlessly decode the message as well as learn the pronunciation of unfamiliar words as the narrator speaks.

McMaster is also a very diverse school where English is not everyone’s first language. The use of an audio textbook would be especially useful for English-language learners as audiobooks not only improve vocabulary and comprehension, but they also increase students’ ability to communicate with others.

Overall, the university should encourage instructors to offer audio textbook options as they benefit a wide range of students. Through audio, students will have an extra one to two hours for other productive activity, and also have a better time understanding the syntax behind a language.

My recommendation for students would be to set the pace of the narrator's voice to a speed that feels comfortable and compatible to your own. Students should also read and listen concurrently so that during a test, the words may appear familiar.  

 

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McMaster offers programs for students to develop their English language skills and immerse themselves in the English-speaking McMaster community. However, McMaster does not offer an English as a second language program for students who wish to further their education in this field of interest.

For students who are looking to improve their English in an environment that is predominantly English-speaking, McMaster does offer a 4-week ESL program from July to August to help students develop their English-speaking skills.

McMaster also offers a program for international students, whose primary language is not English, who wish to improve their English skills. This includes oral, written communication and English-speaking skills to help students who speak English as a second language feel more comfortable adapting to an English-speaking environment such as McMaster. The McMaster English Language Development Diploma is committed to providing and encouraging and supportive environment for development and success in the program.

However, given that the diploma is a two-term, full-time bridging program in English language and development, students who are interested are expected to apply for the program with a the a minimum score of English proficiency in order to register for the program. According to MELD McMaster, these minimum scores of English proficiency are 70 in TOEFL iBT, 5.0 in IELTS, 55 in CAEL or 65 in MELAB.

"ESL education would not only benefit students who are interested in becoming educations, but also surrounding communities where there is an increasing need for ESL educators," 

Students can work for MELD as coaches, however, it is not a program that students can participate in for the intent of teaching. Although the opportunity to be a coach for MELD would be beneficial as well, it does not serve the same purposes that an ESL program for the pursuit of obtaining a certificate/diploma to be certified as an ESL educator would.

Especially for students who are interested in teaching English abroad or even voluntarily participating in the active efforts to help refugees in Canada adapt and improve their English-speaking skills, an ESL education program at McMaster would be beneficial.

Alternatively, the University of Waterloo, through Renison University College, is now offering a TESOL certificate and diploma for students who are interested in pursuing teaching English as a Second Language as a summer program for students who are in their final year of their undergraduate career or for anyone who is certified as a teacher. The certificate program certifies you to teach English internationally, while the diploma certifies you to teach in Canada and overseas as well. The certification would allow students to teach different levels of ESL including adult education.

The program is a summer program the requires you to complete 150 hours (or 100 modules) of in class study along with a 30-hour practicum for completion. It is available for students at McMaster in enroll in, though enrollment would be done completely separately of McMaster University.

Though McMaster offers programs for international students who can benefit from ESL programs, there are no programs available for students who are interested in being the educators of ESL programs, or those who simply wish to be able to take courses that are directly related to ESL education. For those who do wish to pursue ESL education, the closest campuses to Hamilton would be Brock University or the University of Waterloo, which is difficult to manage if you are already a student who is enrolled at McMaster.

ESL education would not only benefit students who are interested in becoming educators, but also surrounding communities where there is an increasing need for ESL educators.

McMaster should consider offering a program for ESL education, where students who are interested in pursuing ESL education as either a study or a summer certification can do so here instead of having to seek an opportunity elsewhere.

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Growing up, I always found it difficult to fully empathize with the leading characters in young adult novels. Often starring an ambiguously White female lead with a token Black or Latina BFF, the books of my childhood didn’t mirror my coming of age experiences. While most of these stories were set in some North American city or town, and I could often relate to that element, the plot lines were portrayed through White eyes and never touched upon the challenges I faced growing up, or the simple quirks and differences between my childhood and that of someone White growing up in a White home and a White world.

Now that I’m a grown adult who has constant access to the Internet, I’ve recently started to spend a considerable amount of my free time looking into books that feature lead characters that I can relate to. Below are four of my choices if you’re looking for a similarly diverse reading experience:

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Set in 1970s small town Ohio, Everything I Never Told You tells the story of a mixed race Chinese-American family with three children. The story is centered on the family’s dynamics after the death of one of their children, alternating narrators between the parents and children. While I don’t come from a directly mixed race home, I did grow up in a family that has a long history of mixed race ancestry and what I’ve grown to refer to as decades of cross-cultural pollination. For this reason, the book did hit home. It touches on the intricacies of family and cultural burdens, and how the notion of acceptance changed across the family’s male, female, racialized and white characters.

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Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

This was the first book I ever read that was by and about a woman of colour. It is technically young adult fiction, and I did read it when I was 13, but that doesn’t make it any less well written and relatable. The novel follows the teenage journey of Dimple Lala, an Indian-American girl growing up in New Jersey in the early 2000s. It spends a lot of time addressing issues among social circles, especially those related to having friends from different backgrounds, and therefore being treated differently by peers. The book also spends a considerable amount of time reflecting on the choice to pursue a career in the arts when coming from an immigrant American family, and even touches on gender fluidity and cross-dressing. I recommend the book for all ages with an interest in intersectionality.

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The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson 

Only released this past spring, The Star Side of Bird Hill tells the story of two teenage sisters from Brooklyn. They are uprooted from their home and sent to live with their grandmother in Barbados when their mother can no longer care for them. The story is relatable for anyone who feels they have two homes — the one where they grew up and the one that answers the question, “where are you really from?” The two sisters learn about their family history when they move to Barbados and are able to learn about aspects of their grandmother and mother’s lives they could never have imagined. But at the end of the day, they are torn between choosing which country is truly their “home.”

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If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan

I will admit, I have not actually read this book but it has been on my reading list for the last few months and I have read the pages in the Amazon free preview. If You Could Be Mine tells the story of two queer women living and falling in love in 20th century Iran. This book is different from the other three on the list because it does not directly touch upon North American culture and race relations.  It does however deal with the queer identity in third-world communities, and eventually touches upon the prospect of gender reassignment surgery as a method to bypass unjust laws against same-sex marriage. This is also considered a young adult novel, but it is still on my reading list.

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If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the reception of some of Canada’s most esteemed Black writers is surely influential. On Feb. 26, the National Reading Campaign hosted an evening of performances, readings and panel discussions in celebration of Black literary achievement.

The event, held at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, was arranged in partnership with TD Bank to help proliferate Black Canadian literature in the lives of every citizen. ‘Black Works Matter: Celebrating Black Literary Achievement’ was also done in parallel in Ottawa at the National Gallery of Canada earlier in the week.

Considering the Art Gallery as its venue, the event’s artistic vision did not fall short, with a special spoken word performance by Faduma Mohamed of RISE Poetry and a live painting by Camille Lauren.

Black Words Matter also featured a number of distinguished African Canadian writers who shared excerpts from their works and engaged in a dynamic discussion with the audience. The panelists included a diverse range of writers such as Canada’s Poet Laureate George Elliot Clarke, internationally renowned poet Lillian Allen, novelist and children’s author Pamela Mordecai and award-winning playwright Djanet Sears.

George Elliot Clarke spoke up regarding the frustrations of Black Canadians being underrepresented in literature. “Growing up, I didn't really see myself reflected in literature until I read African-American poetry. African-American poetry was about police harassment, poverty, racism, all things I recognized in Halifax. It was bizarre connecting to African-American literature in Halifax and not connecting as much to Canadian Literature, so that told me that I needed to have Black Canadian Literature.”

To help fulfill this niche, Clarke went on to writing numerous works in poetry and plays to narrate his experiences as a Black Canadian, such as his Execution Poems (2001), Beatrice Chancy (2009) and Black (2006).

“What really made me recognize myself as a writer,” noted Clark, “was reading about other Black people, reading books by Black authors, books with Black characters and relating this to myself.”

Despite the heightened emphasis on literary achievement for the evening, Clarke makes the careful distinction between awards and literary merit. “There doesn't have to be an easy one-to-one correlation between talent, creativity and the winning of awards. We are in a market that is fueled in part by popularity and prizes which may be richly deserved. At the same time, writers cannot write merely for prizes, writers write for readers and for the joy of expressing ourselves,” he said.

Bridging the topic of reading to the McMaster student body, Clark is supportive of the role that post-secondary education plays in fostering a critical perspective on society. “Because it is only with [education], that the citizens at large can be empowered to make positive decisions about the direction they want to take their society in.”

“I would like to reinforce the idea that reading is a democratic duty of citizens, and on top of all that, it is a very radical act. It is a link to the material, a link to the author. It connects the authors to our own souls, our own body — very richly, deeply and organically.”

Photo Credit: Karim Bassiri/ Photo Contributor

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By: Bina Patel

Each year, the English and Cultural Studies Department hosts the Mabel Pugh Taylor Writer-in-Residence. This four-month program seeks to attract highly accomplished Canadian writers, from which a selection committee narrows down to the top three authors who they believe are best suited to occupy the position in subsequent years. The recipient uses their knowledge and experiences to engage McMaster and the wider Hamilton community in the craft of creative writing.

This year, that resource is author and teacher Kim Echlin. According to Jeffery Donaldson, McMaster English professor and Chair of the Writer-in-Residence Committee, although published work gives an applicant eligibility for the position, selecting the ideal candidates goes beyond just the technicalities.

“We want to have some idea of what skills the writers will be bringing. Do they have the skills that we would expect them to have in editing and advising students? The more they know about the publishing community, the better advice they can give. We want to feel that the writer is a writer of reputation,” said Donaldson.

And of reputation she is. Echlin’s publications include Elephant Winter, The Disappeared, Inanna and Elizabeth Smart: A Fugue Essay on Women and Creativity. She is the winner of the Torgi Award, CBC Literary Award for non-fiction, Barnes and Noble Award, and has been nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize as well as the Chapters/Books in Canada First Award. It is distinction of this nature which indicate to the selection committee that the applicant inhibits what they consider are core skills in making a significant impact during the residency, which include one-on-one mentoring to students.

Her mentee and McMaster History and English alumnus Nichole Fanara, recounted her experience working with Echlin, whom she approached for assistance in writing and graduate program application. “We worked on my novel. She helped me get to the standard so that it would be good enough and was really great, really helpful,” Fanara said. In addition to mentoring aspiring writers, the Writer-in-Residence also reaches out to the wider community through public readings and lectures. One of these instances was during Prof. Donaldson’s Creative Writing Inquiry course, where Echlin shared her wisdom with the class of writers. “She’s brilliant. When she was talking she was making suggestions and little lights were going off in my head. She was saying things that you would think would be no brainers but they hadn’t occurred to me to say to my students,” he said.

Echlin has had a passion for writing since her childhood. Her most recent book, Under the Visible Life, follows the lives of two women in different parts of the world: Hamilton and Afghanistan.  Despite having struggled through stigma and systematic oppression, both find their freedom through their love of music. “I explore the kinds of oppressions that women from all over the world have lived with and how they continue to make themselves free,” she said.

Although having a Writer-in-Residence has largely to do with fostering the creative imagination of students, Echlin makes clear that the advantages are mutual. “This is the first time I’ve been a Writer-in-Residence, and I really like it. At McMaster it’s very interesting because in the Humanities program you have a lot of alternative forms of storytelling. You have creative writing with Jeffery Donaldson, but also you have Daniel Coleman and he’s working with a lot of different forms of narrative.”

Donaldson added that although McMaster has not yet established a creative writing program, having an individual of such literary prowess to consult with is inspiring for young writers.

Photo Credit: McMaster University

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“Like” has become one of the most useful words in our vocabulary. So useful in fact that we only notice how ubiquitous it is in colloquial speech if we’re specifically listening for it or if it’s emphasized for comedic effect. But what’s so funny about ‘like’? Considering that people who use the word do so for a host of linguistically valid reasons — to approximate, exaggerate, and even quote someone — it’s a little strange that overuse of the word is still associated with less-than-intelligent immature women.

It is particularly associated with teenage girls portrayed as uninterested in any sort of intellectual pursuit and are, like, always talking about their hair and make-up! Just listen to Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl,” a hit from 1982. The first YouTube comment on the video was about how scary it is that some girls still talk like this.

Oops, I just used the L-word “correctly,” but why is it so much more acceptable there than in other contexts? New words fill our dictionaries every year, so why do we grapple with the fact that “like” now has multiple usages? Maybe it has nothing to do with the word itself and everything to do with the stereotypical image attached to its excessive use: the California-loving valley girl Zappa refers to, or maybe the giddy young woman talking to her friends about her crush. Notice anything in particular? For some reason, “like” is often ignored for its merits and shoved aside as a word for the illiterate, and more often than not, the illiterate female.

Not surprisingly, language remains a great tool for misogynists, but here’s the thing: I’ll bet that the people who ridicule those who use “like” have their own crutch. One use of “like” is to fill the silence while one is thinking of how to complete a thought, but other filler words, such as “um”, “uh” and “er” don’t get nearly as much flack.  One could argue that those aren’t actual words to begin with, so in defense of “like’” at least it is considered an actual word and not just a Neanderthal sound. Of course, “like” can be used to express hesitation as well, but it wouldn’t be right to completely discount the thought that follows just because the person was more comfortable using a filler word rather than a pause. It can also be a way of expressing imprecision. Say you are recalling a conversation you had with a friend; rather than say “He said things were good,” you might prefer to approximate his exact words by using “like”: “He was like, things are good.” In a way, you’re conveying to your listener that you are not quoting your subject directly, but are recalling to the best of your ability.

Other filler words, such as “um,” “uh” and “er” don’t get nearly as much flack

I think it’s time we acknowledge that using “like” in everyday conversation is useful, and at this point, ubiquitous. It’s not limited to the negative stereotypes we associate it with. Some people may choose to use different words for a similar effect, but we can’t deny that “like” is a convenient way of enhancing our speech in ways we may not even be aware. It’s time we stop attaching negative and sexist associations with the word and embrace its versatility. For those who are worried that we use “like” way too much for our own good, at least these non-traditional uses are limited to conversation and don’t come up in our written work. Well, with the exception of, like, this article.

Photo Credit: Jon White/Photo Editor

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bae

Bae, originally mistaken to be a lazy form of "babe," stands for "before anything else" and referred to a significant other. Now, bae can be used to describe anything you're even remotely attached to. "No, I don't want Burger King; pizza is bae."

- Tobi Abdul

basic

An adjective used to mock the behaviours of a cliché, unoriginal, or predictable girl, or the place or thing being associated to that girl. Example: "That white girl in line at Starbucks wearing her TNA jacket and Hunter rain boots is so basic." The name-calling of "basic", or "basic bitches" gives the presumptive invitation to assume that all demographics of white Western-European middle-class girls are all stupid, copy cats, and live to Instagram all of the privileges in their lives.

- Carolyn Zeppieri

can't even

The state of mind where you're so dumbfounded and awestruck that your brain cells cannot possibly string together a few words to be able to properly express yourself. Famous for being used in situations when this is not the case but when the user simply has a strong desire to sound like a YouTube comment.

- Mitali Chaudhary

slacktivism

A combination of "slacker" and "activism." Simply put, fighting for a cause with little or no effort put in. Examples include signing an online petition, sharing a picture on your Facebook timeline that supports a charity. It raises awareness of an important issue. However, in this period of high social media usage, it increasingly makes us complacent and feeling like we have solved the problem by giving a like on Facebook.

- Asefeoluwa Abodunrin

swerve

Popularized by Big Sean in one of the puniest verses ever on Kanye West's "Mercy," swerve means to avoid someone like an ex. Swerve also doubles as a way to say "what you just said is so wrong that I want you to leave." For example, "Kristen Stewart is so ugly." "Swerve, peasant." Alternatively, you could just say it as a substitute for "cool" and yell it while swerving your car if you're driving.

- Jason Woo

tbh

Tbh means "to be honest," and is a precursor to some serious truth, all tea, all shade. As a part-time insult comment, full time meanie pants, I am a big fan. "Tbh, you smell like a day old taco." Classic.

- Hayley Regis

throwing shade

To deliberately, yet nonchalantly, direct attitude towards someone either aggressively or passive-aggressively via verbal comments, facial expressions, body language, and/or social media. Perfect for people with attitude problems and a lack of filter, who also desire some sliver of truth in their insult style.

- Daniella Porano

turn up/turnt

Popularized by the one-lined Lil Jon party anthem, to turn up is to get loose, be wild, and have so much fun that you just can't stop. Except for school. Turn down for exams. Also not to be confused with turnips.

- Jason Woo

yaaaaas

An exaggerated way to agree with something. The more a's, the more agreeable and excited you are. If you feel like throwing it back, use the full phrase "Yaaaaaas Gaga yaaaaaa."

- Jason Woo

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