22. Privileging Oral Stories w/ Shenishe Kelly

In Episode 22, we talk to Professor Shenishe Kelly about the importance of teaching non-canonical and oral stories and encouraging students to bring their textual lineages–whatever form they take–into the classroom with them.

Shenishe L. Kelly is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. She serves as an Assistant Lecturer (Teaching) of Writing in the University of Southern California’s undergraduate Writing Program while pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership.

Prior to teaching and learning at USC, Shenishe served as a certified secondary English teacher for ten years—five years stateside in Washington, D.C. and Chicago, Illinois and and five years abroad in Busan, South Korea and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Some of her career highlights include participating in the development of test questions for the Korean National English Test administered to approximately five million Korean high school students annually, creating curriculum and assessment resources utilized in 83 high schools throughout the emirate of Abu Dhabi, leading small group professional development sessions for English teachers from five continents (i.e., North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia), coaching more than half a dozen ESL students to place as semi-finalists and finalists in a university-sponsored English creative writing competition, and her class being selected as model of best practices during in international school inspection. 

Shenishe is an emerging educational scholar and creative writer who will publish in both fields in the coming year. Her scholarship centers around intergenerational inquiry and learning, identity development, learned humanity and hopefulness, and critical family literacy. Her creative writing interests center around poetry and flash creative nonfiction, which she uses to navigate the intersection of her past, present, and future. She is committed to engaging with her many communities around literacy education for collective uplift.

People and Texts Mentioned in the Episode

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  • Sankofa proverb
  • Paulo Freire
  • Too Much Schooling, Too Little Education: A Paradox of Black Life in White Societies  by Mwalimu J. Shujaa
  • Nipsey Hussle
  • The Allegory by Royce da 5’9″
  • The allegory of the cave in Plato’s Republic
  • Kala by M.I.A.
  • Big K.R.I.T.
  • Toni Morrison
  • “Beyond Beats, Rhymes, & Beyoncé” by Gloria Ladson-Billings
  • “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy” by Gloria Ladson-Billings
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay
  • Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies by Django Paris and H. Samy Alim
  • Siren (TV series)
  • Lola Igna (TV series)
  • Miracle in Cell No. 7 (film)
  • Karl Marx
  • Pierre Bordieu
  • Émile Durkheim
  • Alfred Tatum
  • Gholdy Muhammad
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Jay-Z
  • “Ego Tripping (there may be a reason why)” by Nikki Giovanni
  • “Beyond the Methods Fetish: Toward a Humanizing Pedagogy” by Lilia Bartolomé
  • “On Being White…and Other Lies” by James Baldwin

“I approach words in the same way that I approach the world, and that’s rooted in the Sankofa proverb. It translates to, ‘It’s not taboo to go back and fetch it.’ And so, most of my life is kind of rooted in me trying to understand the relationship between my past, my present, and my future.” -Shenishe Kelly

“I’m very passionate about oral stories…I really want to untangle that [textual lineage] and take that primary focus off of looking at print texts because in a lot of cultures that’s not so salient; they don’t always engage in print texts, particularly working class people.” -Shenishe Kelly

“Sometimes when we talk about community engagement we try to push students to go out in the community, but sometimes we need to push them to turn internally, to unpack who they are, their identity.” -Shenishe Kelly

“I really believe in trying to resonate with people’s souls or seeing in which ways my soul resonates with someone else. That’s the way I move through the world…I want people to see me beyond those color labels, see the other parts of my humanity…I’m not just going to agree or be in the Amen corner with what my students are writing about just because we share the same race. I dig deeper than that.” -Shenishe Kelly

“I think it’s a very powerful and bold statement to tell the students that you have just as much agency to push against me as I do to you…We are all in partnership.” -Shenishe Kelly

“I can’t gloss over these things [the protests and resistance]. We have to be in conversation. That’s why I say for people who are looking for that packaged ‘best practices’…around race and class and culture, etc….You have to live it…All these things should always be a part of your teaching and classroom in an organic way. It should not be forced…or sprinkled on.” -Shenishe Kelly

“Students who have been racially constructed as ‘of color’ or students who are socially constructed as [having] lower economic backgrounds…our whole society is designed to ‘fix’ them, to ‘solve’ them, and so most of the texts that they engage with, or we’ve engaged with in that way, are texts that are turned on us. And so that kind of forces us, from my perspective, to always stay inward. And so sometimes I have to push students from upper middle class backgrounds or students who are racialized as white to go inward because they’re used to doing the gaze and they’re not used to going inward…I try to coach my students individually to see if they need to go more inward or more outward.” -Shenishe Kelly

“Having students engage in that self-discovery [means] they’re seeking out texts that they can relate to…or they’re bringing in texts that they relate to and using that to approach other texts that we’re engaging with….We have to privilege stories of all kinds. I think that is crucial…It does not have to be this traditional, academic way that we bring people into our stories or we try to understand and to be in community with each other around story.” -Shenishe Kelly

“It’s not about all the texts you’re reading, but it’s the texts that shape who you are, your thinking and your identity. We can push and cram things down students’ throats all we want to, but…that does not mean that that text is going to resonate with students. When we start to think of each other as living texts…every student is not going to jibe or resonate, but [we can] continue to try to find ways in which we can see our common humanity through that.” -Shenishe Kelly

“That imprint that people leave with us? It doesn’t come in the form of a formal text or empirical work but in oral story.” -Shenishe Kelly

Mug squad

This episode was recorded on July 21. Please be aware that, because we recorded via Zoom, there are occasional audio hiccups. Our theme song is “4 am” by Makaih Beats. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher and follow us on Twitter @writingremixpod.

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