Roles of Affect and Imagination in Reading and Responding to Literature: Perspectives and Possibilities for English Classrooms

William McGinley, George Kamberelis, Alyson Welker, Mary Kelly, Jeanne Swafford


In this essay, we argue that to engage in critical readings of literary texts, in ways that are also ethical and compassionate, requires readers to enter emotionally and imaginatively into the complex, textual worlds of others as they are portrayed in stories. In this regard, we discuss both past and recent work of scholars whose insights we believe are useful for rethinking and deepening what it means to read and respond to creative narratives with “one’s heart as well as with one’s mind.” Given the popularity in recent years of teaching literary theory, and embracing the power of “critical” reading in English classrooms, the value of personal and emotional ways of reading has been increasingly understated. We thus call for the kind of engaged humanities reform we believe is ultimately crucial to democratic forms of community rooted in a general concern for the value of the lives of others.


Literature, Curriculum, Language Arts, Stories

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