Even more than the foods people eat, books help to shape their identities, believes Lopa Basu, English and philosophy professor at UW-Stout.
“The books we read constitute who we are,” she said.
As UW-Stout strives for equity, diversity and inclusion, and in recognizing the necessity of representation in literature, the Literature Committee and campus community named “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel as this year’s Reading Across Campus selection.
“Fun Home,” Bechdel’s graphic memoir published in 2006, has been called a contemporary classic for its exploration of LGBTQIA+ issues of identity. Centered around her relationship with her father, it also touches on family trauma.
“The work resonates with me because Alison Bechdel comes to grapple with her identity through reading various authors like Proust, Rita Mae Brown and Kate Millet. It is a celebration of reading,” said Basu, committee co-chair.
The committee is co-sponsoring the Sharing Community with the university’s Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center to present two virtual talks as part of Reading Across Campus this fall. The talks are free and open to the public.
- “Banned Books and LGBTQIA+ Themes: Exploring Intergenerational Queer Lived Experience in Alison Bechdel's ‘Fun Home,’” by Rickie-Ann Legleitner: 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30. Join Legleitner’s talk in Microsoft Teams.
- “Composition of Memory and Memoir: Dissecting Visual Storytelling and Comix through Alison Bechdel's ‘Fun Home,’” by Mary Climes: 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 4. Join Climes’ talk via Zoom.
The universitywide program aims to foster student engagement and community involvement through literary studies. “Fun Home" will be incorporated into 10 to 15 sections of English composition and literature classes, with close to 300 students reading the book this year.
Electronic copies are available through University Textbook Services to students, faculty and staff. Readers may contact IRS Director Bob Butterfield: email@example.com. It may be purchased at Bookends on Main in downtown Menomonie.
Representation and censorship
Legleitner, an associate professor of English, frequently teaches “Fun Home” in her composition classes as an example of a memoir and a banned book. As adviser for the women, gender and sexuality studies minor, she also plans to incorporate it in additional courses this year.
“This coming-of-age story frankly explores identity and family dynamics and offers students many points of personal connection and social exploration,” she said.
“Due to challenges that the text has faced on some college campuses, it also elicits important conversations about censorship, the First Amendment and the significance of representation in literature,” she added.
Legleitner appreciates Reading Across Campus because it enables students to share conversations and perspectives, while “gaining exposure to a book that they may not have encountered otherwise.”
From a ‘comix’ perspective
Climes, a lecturer in the School of Art and Design, will present on the elements of visual sequential storytelling and how the drawn page can evoke pacing and tone. As a comics maker, scholar and instructor, Climes is excited to share her perspective.
“Comics at its core is a prime example of the democratization of both art and literature,” she said. “‘Fun Home’ is a contribution to the legitimacy of comics as a serious art form and is an excellent choice for Reading Across Campus.
“Not only does the narrative content connect with so many students and faculty – queerness, cyclical family trauma, loss of a parent, growing up – but the medium opens up the conversation to include ‘what is literature’ and ‘how can storytelling be achieved through sequential images.’”
Climes called Bechdel an “important figure in underground and indie-comix,” who brings light to queer representation and birthed the Bechdel Test, which calls attention to gender inequality in fiction.
In the spring, Reading Across Campus will feature talks by Nicole Eastman, the Qube coordinator, and Heather Stecklein, university archivist. The Qube connects LGBTQIA+ students and allies in the community through social, cultural and academic programs and events.
Reading Across Campus is a collaboration between the English and philosophy department, the University Library and Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation. It is made possible from a grant by the Chancellor’s Office and Provost’s Office.
The Nakatani Teaching and Learning Center provides resources and professional development events for educators and encourages the exploration of in-depth research and learning.
Chippewa Valley Book Festival event
UW-Stout is also partnering with the Chippewa Valley Book Festival to host a free virtual talk by graphic novelist Lila Quintero Weaver, author of “Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White.” Quintero Weaver will present “South American Eyes in the American South,” a reflection on her childhood as an immigrant growing up in the Deep South during the Civil Rights era.
The event will be at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25 and is made possible with the technology assistance of the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library. Advance registration is required.
“‘Fun Home’ and ‘Darkroom’ are hybrid artifacts, combining words and images,” Basu said. “They speak to issues of equity, diversity and inclusiveness, a university priority for the next strategic plan.”