Literature of Aging


“Let’s read that one first!” Frances suggested in response to my account of student squeamishness about a story by Ethan Canin, “We are Nighttime Travelers.” This story ends with a subtle depiction of an intimate moment between a long-married couple, a moment that has prompted an involuntary response from twenty year olds: “Oooh, gross!”

Frances’s suggestion to read this story first made it clear that this semester’s discussion was bound to be enlightening. Meeting twice a week this spring (Tu/Th 9:30-10:45) at Meadowlark Hills, the Literature of Aging class is attended by both K-State students and older adults. Residents are interested to hear the students’ perspective; the twenty year olds are interested to hear what the older adults have to say. The result: deep conversations about literature (including laughter and a few tears).

Discussing Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, attendees shared their own experiences with curmudgeons and speculated about why typical expectations for men result in a character like Ove. For me, a personal highlight was last week’s performance of Edward Albee’s The Sandbox — the first reading I’ve been part of that actually included a grandmother reading the role of “The Grandmother” (I played “Mommy”).

One of the texts for “Literature of Aging”

The people who live at Meadowlark stay busy; as a result, some of them are only able to attend on Tuesday, and some of them have to leave early to get to an exercise class. I feel fortunate that they have made time to join our class discussion, and I look forward to what they have to say each day.

In the next few weeks, class periods will be spent discussing Saul Bellow’s story “Leaving the Yellow House”; Richard Selzer’s short essay “Toenails”; Barbara Pym’s novel Autumn Quartet; Alice Walker’s “To Hell with Dying”; and Alice Munro’s story “Spelling.” I look forward to these discussions, conversation that is bound to help dispel stereotypes of aging.

Deborah Murray, Instructor

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