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Common Ground Teachers Institute

The Common Ground Institute has energized English teachers in the greater Houston metropolitan area since 1989 through collaborative seminars in which they discuss literature, the classroom, and the world with university professors, secondary educators and, as a matter of course, friends.


In the words of our Teacher Fellows, Common Ground is:
“Teachers learning together in a unique way”
“Reenergizing and revitalizing”
“Experiencing what it’s like to be a student”
“The passion of other teachers”
“Exploring literature in fun new ways”
“Learning things all day long”


Common Ground Teachers Institute 2022

Friday, July 8, 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Monday - Thursday, July 11-14, 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Friday 15, 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Register for Common Ground 2022 by clicking here.

Free to all participants. Book stipends and parking will be provided.

Seminar Topics

In the beginning was the end
Seminar leader:  Hayan Charara

Apocalyptic literature goes back to our earliest texts, sacred and otherwise. And in recent times, there has been a noticeable uptick in “end of the world” texts, be they novels, movies, comic books, or even self-help guides (look up “how to survive the zombie apocalypse” on Amazon and you’ll be inundated with options). We will read four novels that imagine various apocalypses: Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (zombie-vampire apocalypse), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (nuclear apocalypse, post-apocalyptic society), Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (climate apocalypse, inequality and injustice), and José Saramago’s Blindness (infectious apocalypse, social responses to pandemics). And we will screen one film: M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (alien invasion/faith). We will consider how these narratives imagine the end of the world, and what they reveal about our concerns, fears, and desires. We will also consider the ways that these apocalyptic visions inform our thinking on race, gender, class, and other identities. Finally, we may come to some sense of what these texts, which bring together literary, popular, religious, psychological, political, social and cultures values, tell us about our collective past, present, and future. Warning: Given the content of these works, there will be graphic and discomforting scenes, language, and discussions.

Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (1954, 1982), zombie/vampire apocalypse

Cormac McCarthy, The Road (2006), nuclear/environmental apocalypse

Octavia Bulter, Parable of the Sower (1993): climate change, inequality

José Saramago, Blindness (1995): infectious disease, pandemic

Signs, M. Night Shyamalan (2002): alien invasion/faith

Performing Memoirs: Legendary Women in American Theatre, Film, and Television
Seminar Leader: Elizabeth Brown-Guillory

In our seminar we will delve into the lives of several legendary actresses who created pathways for future generations of women in American theatre, film and television.  We will read best-selling memoirs that highlight lives lived well by Cicely Tyson, Rita Moreno, Sally Field, Mindy Kaling, and Viola Davis, as well as view and discuss movies, stage productions, films, and television episodes that help us gain insights about the lives of these legends. In every instance, these legends argue the importance of accepting only those roles that support their vision of the world. Tyson, for example, comments throughout her memoir that she only accepted roles that allowed her to portray the diversity of experiences among African Americans and that she had to summon up tremendous courage to turn down lucrative stereotypical roles that had long dominated the American literary imagination. Her memoir is filled with accounts of her battles with the industry that ran parallel to her own battles in her community to stave off race, class, and gender biases. She viewed her work as missionary, in many instances. Moreno, Field, Kaling, and Davis, likewise, have crafted memoirs that give us glimpses into deeply painful battles to survive whole and thrive in both their professional and personal lives. There is so much we can learn (or affirm and commiserate with) from the kernels of truth spread throughout their memoirs.  Their beautifully crafted memoirs will serve as models as we write and perform during the seminar our own personal essays designed to help us connect to the lives of these legendary actresses as well as provide a vehicle for catharsis and healing as we reflect upon where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to be.

Cicely Tyson’s Just As I Am
Rita Moreno’s Rita Moreno: A Memoir
Sally Field’s In Pieces
Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns)
Viola Davis’ Finding Me

Performing Memoirs in Stage, Film & Television:
Sounder or The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
West Side Story
Steel Magnolias
The Office or The Mindy Project (selected episodes)
Fences or Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

The In Between Worlds of Short Fiction
Seminar leader: Max Rayneard

“Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”           

– William Faulkner, Paris Review, 1958.

As a literary genre, short fiction is often characterized as wavering between the novel and poetry. Great short stories, the thinking goes, court readers with accessible prose and astound them with poetically-infused layers of meaning: they are simple but profound, approachable but intense, bite-sized but irreducible.

In this seminar we will discuss works that put the “in betweenness” of short fiction to work in their accounts of characters and communities marked by “in betweenness.” How, we might ask, does Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant collection, Interpreter of Maladies (1999), evoke the push and pull of India on its diaspora? How do the stories in Nigerian-American writer Chinelo Okparanta’s “stark but lustrous” Happiness Like Water (2013) speak to the intersections of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and religious faith ? How does Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees (2017) find literary language for characters silenced by linguistic displacements and unspeakable traumas? Finally, what are the in between spaces in the Houston of Bryan Washington’s debut collection, Lot (2019)? Do we hear a familiar meter in his prose?

Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies (1999)
Okparanta, Chinelo. Happiness Like Water (2013)
Saunders, George. A Swim in a Pond in the Rain (2021) (excerpted)
Thanh Nguyen, Viet. The Refugees (2017)
Washington, Bryan. Lot (2019) 

For more information on previous seminars, browse the items in the lefthand sidebar.

Thanks to a generous grant from the McGovern Foundation, Common Ground Institute is free of charge to participants, and a nominal book stipend is offered to help defray the costs of the texts.