Category Archives: Contemporary Fiction & Nonfiction

Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

“Even when not reading it, I can hear the music. The choice and arrangements of the words, the cadence, I can’t pick any one thing that makes it so beautiful and long-lived in my memory. I realize that even written words can carry the music I loved in stories; it is a descriptive statement. It does not carry an illustration. It is a picture in itself and yet more than a picture and a description. It is music. Written words can also sing”(Thiong’o 65).

Thinong’o, Ngugi Wa. Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir. New York: Anchor, 2011. Print.

In this scene, Ngugi is describing “a drawing of a man, an ax on the ground, his face grimacing with pain as he holds his left knee in both hands, drops of blood trickling down”(64). Ngugi is also describing the words in the caption below the drawing is describing what he sees based on his senses: what he hears and sees. “One day, I start hearing music in the words,” he is metaphorically hearing the music and describing the music and the words together. In my own writing, I would like to try and take something concrete, like a descriptive statement, and show its beauty through my senses. For example, what does this cup of coffee smell like, taste like, and sound like in the context of my overall piece?

What is a poetic device and can it be used in prose?
Key terms to define:
1. Metaphor
2. Simile
3. Personification
4. Alliteration

Ngugi also transitions nicely throughout Dreams in a Time of War. At times, my writing can seem “dream-like” because it is fragmented in terms of structure. Ngugi is using his memory and imagination in this memoir but the structure is not fragmented (like memories and imagination can be). For example page 96-97 he transitions from one chapter to the next nicely. Ngugi is told by his father to leave and to stop playing with the other children. His father wanted him and his brother to follow his mother. “We did not have a chance to say farewell to the other children and tell them that we had been banished from their company and from the place that up to then had defined our lives. But before leaving home, I was able to dash into my mother’s hut to retrieve my school material, among which was my beloved torn copy of stories from the Old Testament”(96). The next chapter begins with, “The expulsion was, if not from paradise, from the only place I had known”(97). Here, he is using a concrete object, the Old Testament, to transition with a metaphoric image of “paradise.” He is comparing the idea of his expulsion of home to the expulsion of paradise and because he previously gave a concrete image of the Old Testament the transition reads clearly.

Questions for an In-class Discussion:
Where does Ngugi Thinong’o use poetic devices in his memoir? How does his use of poetic devices serve the image in the text?
How does the author use concrete descriptions and metaphors as a transition between scenes?

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. New York.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. Print.

The protagonist, Oskar Schell, is a nine-year-old boy on a journey to cope with death and a quest to unlock his new perspective on his life, including the people in it. Oskar’s father died on September 11th, 2001 during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Oskar is dealing with grief and trauma as he attempts to cope with the loss of his father. He searches through his father’s closet for anything tangible that will remind him of his father and finds a key. Although he is told that his completing his mission would be a miracle, he is determined to discover the lock his father’s key belongs to. His journey does not bring his father back to life, but Oskar does build new relationships and strengthen the old ones.

Each chapter of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close dives deeper into Oskar’s psyche. For a thorough character analysis, students could create a character blog. The students are responsible for seventeen blog posts, the number of chapters in the novel, and each blog post must prove Oskar’s emotional state and desire. It is crucial that the individual blog posts are matched to each chapter. The students are expected to persuade their audiences that the emotional states and desires chosen are true to Oskar’s character. Also, the length of each blog post should be three paragraphs. The first paragraph must hook the audience and state the main focus or argument. In the second paragraph, students should use direct quotations as evidence from the appropriate chapter. The third paragraph acts as a conclusion to the blog post and strongly states the student’s personal opinion. The purpose of the character blog is to teach students persuasive writing strategies. Students are introduced to modern technology as they practice persuasive writing in their blog.

Persuasion Writing Rubric (slightly altered from ReadWriteThink)

Organization: 1-4 pts.

  1. There is no clear introduction, structure, or conclusion.
  2. The introduction paragraph includes the main goal or thesis. Most information is presented in a logical order. A conclusion is included, but it does not clearly state a personal opinion.
  3. The introduction includes the goal or thesis and provides an overview of the issue. Information is presented in a logical order but does not always maintain the interest of the audience. A conclusion states a personal opinion.
  4. The introduction is inviting, states the goal or thesis, and provides and overview of the issue. Information is presented in a logical order and maintains the interest of the audience. The conclusion strongly states a personal opinion.

Goal or Thesis: 1-4pts

  1. The personal opinion is not easily understood. There is little or no reference to the issue.
  2. A personal opinion is not clearly stated. There is little reference to the issue.
  3. There is one goal or thesis that states a personal opinion and identifies the issue.
  4. There is one goal or thesis that strongly and clearly states a personal opinion and identifies the issue.

Reasons and Evidence: 1-4pts.

  1. Arguments are weak or missing. Less than two reasons and direct quotations are stated.
  2. Two reasons are made but with weak arguments. Evidence/ direct quotation is missing.
  3. Three or more reasons are stated, but the arguments do not match direct quotations and evidence.
  4. Three or more excellent reasons are stated with good support. It is evident that a lot of thought and research was put into the assignment.

Attention to Audience: 1-4pts

  1. Argument does not seem to target any particular audience.
  2. Argument demonstrates some understanding of the potential audience.
  3. Argument demonstrates a clear understanding of the potential audience.
  4. Argument demonstrates a clear understanding of the potential audience and anticipates counterarguments.

Word Choice: 1-4pts

  1. Word choice is limited.
  2. There is evidence of attention to word choice.
  3. Word choice enhances the argument.
  4. Word choice is creative and enhances the argument.

Grammar Mechanics & Spelling: 1-4pts

  1. There are numerous errors in grammar, mechanics, and/or spelling.
  2. There are several errors in grammar, mechanics, and/or spelling.
  3. There are few errors in grammar, mechanics, and/or spelling, but they do not interfere with understanding.
  4. There are no errors in grammar, mechanics, and/or spelling.

read write think


“… imitating electronic textuality through comparable devices in print, many of which depend on digitality to be cost effective or even possible; and intensifying the specific traditions of print, in effect declaring allegiance to print regardless of the availability of other media.” -N. Katherine Hayles

A blog is relevant to the make-up of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, because Foer uses methods of new media. 

A question for an in-class discussion: How does Foer manipulate structure and new media to convey trauma?







Contemporary Fiction & Nonfiction

Dreams in a Time of War by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Thinong’o, Ngugi Wa. Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir. New York: Anchor, 2011. Print.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. New York.: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. Print.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Reprint ed. New York: Scholastic, 2010. Print.

Friedman, Sandford. Conversations with Beethoven. New York: NYBR Classics, 2014. Print.

Green, John. Fault in Our Stars. New York: Dutton, 2014. Print.