Clark Street students read Great World Texts

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More than 1,200 Wisconsin high school students - from areas as diverse as Middleton, Bonduel, Janesville, and the Milwaukee Public School system - are in the process of reading a book that many Americans have never heard of: the classic novel of sixteenth-century China, Wu Cheng’en’s Journey to the West.

Locally, students at Clark Street Community School, the Middleon-Cross Plains Area School District’s groundbreaking charter school, are taking part in the program. They even went on their own journey (to the east, to China Town in Chicago) as part of their studies.

Thanks to a major grant awarded by the Wisconsin Humanities Council to UW-Madison’s Center for the Humanities, UW-Madison faculty, graduate students and staff will join students in their classrooms to engage in the collaborative study of world literature over the course of the coming year.

Launched in 2005 by the Center for the Humanities, each year the Great World Texts in Wisconsin program engages high school students and teachers across the state in thoughtful, critical dialogue with one another and with world-renowned scholars about works of literature as diverse as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and The Arabian Nights.

These texts serve as lenses through which to see our world anew, providing students the opportunity to discuss some of the most pressing issues of our time, and to explore the relationship between humanistic inquiry and global citizenship. Shaped by voices that reflect a variety of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, this conversation provides students a critical opportunity to explore these questions with peers from across the state of Wisconsin, and to become familiar with great works of literature that are not usually taught in high school classrooms.

Great World Texts is unforgettable to the students and teachers who participate. Lydia Myer, a junior at East High School in Madison who read Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions as part of last year’s program, says “I gained a greater appreciation for the history of the world. It was interesting to look into the life of someone from a different place and time.”

Arundhati Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, says of her experience as keynote speaker at the student conference, “What more could any writer ask for? It was pure inspiration. I wanted to pack everybody up, the students, the teachers, and bring you home to show my folks how books should be taught, how books should be read, how books should be owned. I was exhilarated by the kind of mad, youthful creativity of the students and equally by their feisty, spirited teachers.”

Grant funds awarded by the Wisconsin Humanities Council will support the Great World Texts program’s statewide outreach initiative, which is new to this year’s programming. In previous years, participating high school students convened on the UW-Madison campus for the program’s Annual Student Conference. The same is planned for this year, but with a twist thanks to the Wisconsin Humanities Council: over the next few months, UW-Madison experts and Great World Texts staff will visit high schools statewide to mentor students and educators as they prepare for the program’s culminating event.

Dena Wortzel, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Humanities Council, says “Great World Texts is the kind of experience that can change the way a student sees the world and their academic future.” The Wisconsin Humanities Council is “excited that Great World Texts has continued to expand to reach more schools across Wisconsin with one of the finest humanities education experiences available to K-12 teachers and their students,” says Wortzel.

The Great World Texts Annual Student Conference, featuring an interactive discussion with Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, who created a TV film adaptation of the novel, will take place on Wednesday, April 20, 2016 from 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at Union South. Conference events are free and open to all. Further information on the Great World Texts program, including a list of prior texts, teaching materials, and information on how to participate, is on the web at

The Wisconsin Humanities Council is a leading statewide resource for librarians, teachers, museum educators and civic leaders, who drive entertaining and informative programs using history, culture and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone. The Wisconsin Humanities Council also awards more than $175,000 a year over seven rounds of grants to local organizations piloting humanities programming.

For more information on Wisconsin Humanities Council, visit or connect on Facebook at www.facebook/WisconsinHumanitiesCouncil or Twitter at @WiHumanities.



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