A moving memoir depicting a teacher’s experience leading a literary workshop for gifted young girls from a forsaken neighborhood in Cincinnati.
“Though I grew up in small-town Appalachia and my students were coming of age in an urban ghetto,” writes Hicks (Program in Education/Duke Univ.), “we were connected.” Her students were descendants of Appalachian migrants who moved North for jobs that have since vanished. In 2000, while volunteering as a teacher, Hicks decided to experiment with an after-school and summer program that emphasized literature and creative writing for a small group of girls over time. Most of the girls in the class “had lost their mothers to drugs, neglect, and the debilitating effect of poverty,” while fathers tended to be abusive or absent. Yet Hicks found them responsive to books and authors that explored the world via working-class or female protagonists (as well as the transgressive release of horror fiction, which the girls loved). She describes mentoring a core group of eight girls from ages 8 to 12; she reconnected with them at 16. Her carefully constructed memoir fleshes out the girls as characters, capturing their inner ambitions and innate creativity; yet this makes the economic forces stacked against them at their young ages even clearer, giving this tale a grueling, ominous undertone. “I began to realize... that there exists a shadow system of high school education for young people living in the margins of access and opportunity,” writes Hicks. In the epilogue, she asserts that even though “the lives of poor and working-class whites have come under increased scrutiny in the media,” a post-secondary education remains both challenging and vital for those looking to escape poverty and achieve social mobility.
A valuable look at the intellectual lives (and fragile potential) of girls buffeted by American social realities, and an excellent reflection on the challenges of teaching.