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Common Ground Teachers Institute

2019 Common Ground Teachers Institute
June 14; June 17-21, 2019

Daily Schedule 
Friday, June 14: 9 a.m.-noon
Monday, June 17: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tuesday, June 18: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Wednesday, June 19: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Thursday, June 20: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Friday, June 21: 9 a.m.-noon

Register for Common Ground 2019 by clicking here. For more information, contact Stacey Michael.

2019 Seminar Topics

The Play’s the Thing”: Reading, Crafting, and Performing Plays – Elizabeth Brown-Guillory 

This intensive seminar should be of interest to anyone who enjoys reading and/or attending plays. It is designed for someone who has never written a play or for someone interested in sharpening his/her playwriting skills. There are few experiences that come close to sitting back in a dark theatre watching actors perform your words and listening to reactions from the audience.  Imagine the burst of applause at the end of your play. Imagine the talkback where you get to answer questions about your writing process and aim of your work. This seminar should appeal to writers of all levels looking to learn the basics of writing for today’s stage, including writing dialogue for emotional impact, constructing compelling characters, developing credible conflict and structure, crafting a scene, moving from true story to story true, and reviewing/revising formatting. The study of the craft of playwriting will be imperceptibly linked to the study of models, meaning as we gather around to discuss the literary merit of selected plays, we will also be dissecting the plays to determine the good, the bad, and the ugly. To that end, we will read and analyze seven plays by contemporary American women playwrights, including four Pulitzer Prize-winners. If feasible, we will attend a live performance as a group at one of the local theatres and then, as part of the writing process, come back to the seminar with our own critical reviews of the live performance. As early as the first day of the seminar, we will begin discussing your ideas for a short play that each of you will write, direct, and produce for seminar participants, with brief excerpts to be presented at our closing Common Ground ceremony.   

Reading List: 
Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus (1996) 
Lynn Nottage’s Ruined (2009) 
Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Water by the Spoonful (2017) 
Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta (2018) 
Vasanti Saxena’s Sun Sisters (2011) 
Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play (2010) 
Martyna Majok’ Cost of Living (2018) 

Literatures of the Borderlands - Max Rayneard 

Borderlands are physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy.”  

– Gloria Anzaldúa in Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza 

This seminar will explore borderlands, which have proven irresistible playgrounds for writers seeking to rethink identity in an increasingly diverse and mobile world. We willof course, engage texts (Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek and Américo Paredes’ With His Pistol in His Handabout the Southern Border of the United States, a deeply contentious site in the current discourse. However, we will also think about other borderland experiences. J.M. Coetzee’s short novel, for example, takes us to far-flung edges of an allegorical empireIn Fae Myenne Ng’s Bone, the Angel Island internment of Chinese immigrants informs the lives of subsequent Chinese-Americans. Joseph O’Neill’s novelNetherland, is a vision of a New York City steeped in borderland identities.    

The seminar will draw on these and other texts, as well as our teaching experience, to think about borderland dynamics in Houston schools and classrooms. 

Reading List: 
Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros 
Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee 
Bone by Fae Myenne Ng   
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill 
With His Pistol in His Hand by Américo Paredes 

Other readings will include excerpts and essays by Mary Louise Pratt, Gloria Anzaldúa, Benedict Anderson  

 “Try to Praise the Mutilated World”: Stories and Poems of Loss and Recovery – William Monroe 

The experience of loss would seem to be universal in human experience, at least since the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden. But what of recovery? While not universal, we have ample evidence in literary and personal experience that losing what you love is not the end of the story. Maybe we should call our seminar, “Lost & Found.” We’ll be exploring the depiction of loss in the form of depression, abuse, addiction and recovery—perhaps always tentative, never permanent and assured. Losing and finding, or getting back, or just moving on: this is a pattern or plot that is at the heart of much classic and contemporary literature and one that remains timely and tonic for us and for our students.

Reading List: 
Willa Cather, My Antonia
Ted Estess, “Losing What You Love and Getting It Back”
Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”
Walker Percy, The Second Coming
Gwendolyn Brooks, “Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity”
Langston Hughes, “As I Grew Older”
William Brewer, I Know Your Kind (selections)
Mary Cregan, The Scar: An Intimate Insider Account of Recovery from Mental Illness
Raymond Carver, “Where I’m Calling From”
Flannery O’Connor, "Good Country People”
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden 

The Vessel of the Poem: Using the Page as a “Field of Composition” – Robin Davidson

A poem uses the devices of line, sentence, stanzaic pattern, and the space of the page to enact its richly layered content. A poem may communicate its truths—whether personal, cultural, sociopolitical, or historical—within the rhythms of a classical form moving vertically down the page as a kind of container—or it may break open and move vertically or horizontally in either direction, spilling into, writing from the margins. In this seminar we will explore these compositional possibilities by beginning with classical European and Asian forms—the sonnet, villanelle, tanka, pantoum, ghazal, and others—as well as readings from Ellen Bryant Voight’s The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song (Graywolf, 2009). We will then move toward a poem’s breaking open into what Charles Olson calls composition by field in his essay “Projective Verse” (ca. 1950), and proceed to more experimental verse of the 21st century, including documentary poetry and poems that write from the margins of race, ethnicity, and gender. We will conclude our seminar with a study of the poetic manuscript—how an author determines the arc of poems comprising a book, its architecture—by examining the recent books of several local Houston poets in particular, with possible guest appearances as part of our workshop.

Reading List:  

Jennifer Chang, Some Say the Lark (Alice James Books, 2017)
Jehanne Dubrow, American Samizdat (Diode Editions, 2019)
Tyehimba Jess, Olio (Wave Books, 2017)
Lupe Mendez, Why I Am Like Tequila (Willow Books, 2019)
Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, Newsworthy (Bloomsday Literary, 2019)
Kevin Prufer, How He Loved Them (Four Way Books, 2018)
Solmaz Sharif, Look (Graywolf Press, 2016)
And other readings to be announced.

Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary, selected definitions (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
Charles Olson, “Projective Verse” (
Ellen Bryant Voight, The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song, selected chapters (Graywolf Press, 2009)

Common Ground Lunch Events 

Monday, June 17  |  12-1 p.m.

Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, Houston’s Poet Laureate, reading from her new poetry collection, Newsworthy, that looks at how society determines what becomes newsworthy and whose perspective drives those narratives.

Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton’s new book asks us to reconsider how we communicate and consume information in uncertain times.

"Newsworthy, by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, is a collection of poems and short essays that examine the nature of virality and the other ways in which we get news. The book will be released with a special performance April 20 at University of Houston Downtown, coinciding with National Poetry Month."
Houstonia Magazine

Tuesday, June 18  |  12–1:30 p.m.

Dr. Virgil Wood, civil rights activist, former lieutenant to Dr. Martin Luther King, and author of In Love We Trust: Lessons I learned from Martin Luther king Jr., will present "Communities, Families and Schools***, One Voice of Aspiration."

He will discuss when educators learn their own teaching (serving) style, and when students and parents learn their own learning (relating and serving) style, then great learning spaces replace failing spaces. Further resulting in everyone knowing their authentic voice, loving faces become happy and safe places; happy and safe places become inner spaces, safe and succesful.

Wednesday, June 19  |  12–1 p.m. 

Caroline Leech, author of young adult fiction, reading from her most recent release, In Another Time.

"A glowing story of friendship, growth, and a steadfast first love."
- The New York Times, by Elizabeth Wein, bestsellng author of Code Name Verity

Thursday, June 20  |  12–1 p.m. 

MikadoA live musical preview of this summer's production of Topsy Turvy Mikado from the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Houston. This new spin on The Mikado by artistic director Alistair Donkin takes place during a rehearsal of the original 1885 production by the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company and features all the beloved music with soaring beauty and rollicking wit. Performances span July 19-28 at Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center. 


Established in 1989, the Common Ground Teachers Institute is an educational collaboration of teaching faculty at the University of Houston and teachers of English from secondary schools throughout the Greater Houston metropolitan area. Common Ground, which follows a seminar model, affords teachers the pleasure of reading significant multicultural works and discussing them with fellow colleagues and teachers. We invite you to spend two weeks this summer discovering new literature and revisiting the classics with professors, educators, and friends. 

Since 1997, the Institute has been supported by The John P. McGovern Foundation. Teachers participating in the Institute's seminars explore the American literary tradition by studying classic works from the "canon" alongside significant works by minority writers. Each seminar takes place over two weeks each summer in the Honors College on the University of Houston campus. Morning seminar meetings, which are devoted to study and small-group discussion, are followed in the afternoon by a light lunch and readings by poets and writers.  

Common Ground participants earn 30 hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) hours certified by the Texas Education Agency.  Underwriting by the McGovern Foundation allows the Honors College to offer the Common Ground Teachers Institute absolutely free of cost to participating teachers, who also receive a stipend for books and on-campus parking.