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Teaching Multicultural Literature : A Workshop for the Middle Grades
Workshop 1 Workshop 2 Workshop 3 Workshop 4 Workshop 5 Workshop 6 Workshop 7 Workshop 8
Workshop 3: Research and Discovery - Shirley Sterling and Laura Tohe
Authors and Literary Works
Shirley Sterling
Laura Tohe
Key References
Video Summary
Teaching Strategies
Student Work
Interactive Workbook -- Explore two poems using strategies from these workshops. Go.
Channel-Talk -- Share your views on the discussion board. Go.

Authors and Literary Works
No Parole Today

In this prose and poetry memoir, Laura Tohe describes growing up on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico, and attending "Indian school," the government-mandated boarding schools for Native American children. The book opens with her letter to Richard Henry Pratt, who instituted Indian schools in the 1800s, and famously said he hoped thereby to be able to "kill the Indian, save the man."

"I am a survivor," she tells him in her letter as she describes the ways the boarding schools tried to eradicate Native American culture. But, she writes at the end, "I speak for me, no longer invisible, and no longer relegated to the quiet margins of American culture, my tongue silenced... Writing is a way for me to claim my voice, my heritage, my stories, my culture, my people, and my history."

Tohe speaks honestly and with flashes of humor about her life in the Indian schools. She tells of senseless and cruel institutional experiences, like being hit "for the crime of speaking Diné," but she also describes teenage crushes and school dances and trips to Woolworth's as ordinary "American" experiences seen through the lens of her Diné identity. In the poem that gives the book its title, she reflects on a prison riot in Santa Fe in 1980, and remembers her "own scars" as someone who lived in a kind of prison herself. "I'm not from here/no more rubber meat and showering on cement floors/I learned early that my life/was separated by walls/and roll calls."

Tohe began to write stories "in secret" when she was 12, but only intermittently. After college she took a fiction-writing course given by noted Mexican American writer Rudolfo Anaya, who "saw my potential" and encouraged her to write stories using the oral tradition of the Diné people. "I write because I want to give a Navajo voice or give expression to the Navajo." But Tohe says she wants to reach a wide audience, so she writes for "both Indian and non-Indian people."

No Parole Today was chosen as Poetry of the Year by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers. Tohe was recognized for her contributions to American Indian literature through "Those Who Speak the World into Place: An Honoring of Native Writers," made possible through Joy Harjo and the Lila-Wallace Reader's Digest Fund.

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