Social media sometimes gets a bad rap for all its negativity, but here’s a really great outcome.
When English professor Dr. Barry Devine was contemplating which books to incorporate into his Studies in the Irish Novel literature class this semester, he posted a photo of a stack of potential selections. Among them was “The Cruelty Men” by Emer Martin.
Emer herself saw the Instagram post, recognized her book in the stack and commented, “teaching my new novel? U made my day.”
“Her book hadn’t even come out yet in the U.S., so I contacted her to ask for advice on ordering copies for the students. Later that day, she suggested that we set up a conversation with the class.”
Using Canvas, Barry was able to establish a discussion board connection with the author and his students, who posted questions and comments as they were reading “The Cruelty Man.”
“It’s been really great. The students posted their observations, comments and interpretations, and she would go through and read the posts and comment back to them,” Barry said.
Not only did the students gain new knowledge about the text, plot, their perspective and the way they approached the book dramatically changed. It just seemed more authentic for them.
“Reading is such a personal experience, but reading and discussing a work together as a class (with the author) brings new perspectives to the text and helps us make deeper and more meaningful connections,” said senior English major Elyssa Williams. “With Emer contributing to our discussions, we were able to make these connections and find meaning from the author herself, which clearly is a very unique experience.”
And, they were able to discover truths about the text and the complexity of the characters that they may not have otherwise learned. Emer shared articles and research with the class about the historic, tragic events that inspired her novel, and she opened up about her own motivation for writing it, explained junior English major Katharina Oehmichen.
McKenzie Biniker, a senior environmental science major, said Emer’s storytelling and follow-up discussion opened her eyes to the importance of stories being passed down through generations. Because of the author’s interaction with the class, reading “The Cruelty Men” became anything but homework. “It was something I wanted to read and get invested in,” she said.
Katharina said she also appreciated Emer’s perspective about women’s rights, feminist literary theory and strong female characters.
“I loved the way she responded to everyone’s comment even if they weren’t in line with her own opinions,” Katharina said. “And it was just very cool to hear a female author’s voice when in literary studies, women are still largely underrepresented.”
All three students agree the opportunity to connect with the author was an incredible experience. “This is something you’d expect to get at a bigger school, having such an amazing author do something like this,” McKenzie said. “She made sure she read all the comments and answered questions or topics people were struggling to understand.