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The Challenges of Teaching the Genre of Testimony: New Classroom Approaches to Elie Wiesel’s Night

November 2, 2012

In the “Preface to the New Translation” of Night, Wiesel draws attention to the notion that “the topic of Auschwitz has become part of mainstream culture.” The Holocaust is a subject that many of us teach, and Night is often required reading for certain grade levels. But how do we present material of this nature to our students? How do we situate and supplement the genre of “testimony” in our classrooms—particularly when “human memory is a marvelous but fallacious instrument” (Primo Levi)? This workshop focuses on Wiesel’s Night, a text that has been categorized as memoir, testimony, autobiography, and even fiction (despite Wiesel’s insistence that it is a “deposition”). We use writing from images, writing-to-read, and writing-to-learn strategies to identify new ways of approaching this text, the genre of testimony (as defined by Yad Vashem, the world center for documentation, research, education, and commemoration of the Holocaust), and the Holocaust as a subject. We also look at short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction works that speak to Wiesel’s themes and offer different narrative forms that testimony might take. Authors may include Eva Hoffman, Irena Klepfisz, Charlotte Delbo, Jerome Rothenberg, Else Lasker-Schüler, and Daniel Mendelsohn.

Text: Night by Elie Wiesel, translated by Marion Wiesel (Hill and Wang, 2006)

Workshop fee: $150 (includes morning coffee, lunch, and 
workshop materials)