This week Magical Teaching brings you a series on teaching the works of Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian novelist, to students in Dillon, Montana. In a segmented essay as ambitious as her curriculum, Dr. Danielle Jones assigns one of Nabokov’s novels for one night’s homework and attempts to lead students through conversations about binaries in the literature. As you might expect, she struggles. “I wonder if… they will all drop the class,” she writes, “and I will be standing here alone tomorrow, doodling pictures of horses.”
“Teaching Nabokov to Cowgirls” is the story of a teacher who grew up in Dillon herself, left the town with no expectation of returning, and returned anyway—as a professor of Russian literature. It’s also the story of Jones’ students, who find joy in grappling with the salt and blood of literature in a sound-byte culture.
One of Jones’ students lives in a horse trailer. One closes a Nabokov novels in the middle of class and asks, “What happened?” One predicts he will never leave the United States. Several have manure on their shoes. In Jones’ words, “It’s hard to imagine a world more foreign to Nabokov born in Russia in 1899 to a noble family.”
Jones works a peculiar kind of magic, eliciting a comment on Nabokov’s descriptions of butterflies from a boy named Mano. Mano appears in the stories throughout this week on Magical Teaching. I hope you’ll appear too. The series starts tomorrow.
Dr. Danielle Jones teaches writing and literature at the University of Montana Western. She has a Ph.D in Poetry from SUNY-Albany and an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Seattle Pacific University. For the 2012-2013 academic year, she has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar Grant to Russia, where she will teach literature and work on her memoir, Mother Russia, Father Time.