To support more equitable literacy across all grade levels, while marking its 75th anniversary, Penguin Classics has joined forces with #DisruptTexts, a crowdsourced, grassroots organization orchestrated by and aimed at teachers. Spearheaded by Penguin Random House Education, this collaboration includes a series of initiatives—programming, online events, and educator resources for guided student reading—that are due to roll out in the coming year.
The idea for the partnership stemmed from the publisher’s previous successful ventures with #DisruptTexts. “We have worked with them on a number of initiatives in the past,” said PRH Education marketing manager Spenser Stevens, “including collaborating on the development of educator resources for one-off tiles, and we knew that their work to create more inclusive and representative curriculums would pair perfectly with Penguin Classics’ goal towards bringing in new voices into the canon.” “What better way to bring Penguin Classics into the classroom than to partner with experienced educators?”
The Core Four
Expanding the canon with new authors are the first four Penguin Classics texts, which will be paired with corresponding educator guides: Passing by Nella Larsen (1929), Monkey King by Wu Cheng’en (1592), Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (1977), and The Penguin Book of Migration Literature, edited by Dohra Ahmad (2019). Before selecting these titles, PRH Education, Penguin Classics, and #DisruptTexts devised key themes designed to jumpstart classroom discussions, such as Family; Community and Collective Action; and Power, Freedom, and Oppression. The team then curated a list of possible books encompassing each of these topics.
For subsequent discussion guides, Penguin Classics plans to tap into its numerous PRH imprints in the coming year. Future works include Amanda Gorman’s The Hill We Climb, Change Sings, and Call Us What We Carry, all for use with a poetry study guide.
Also key to this joint venture are discussion panels and virtual events that promote dialogue between teachers and students. Earlier this month, Penguin Classics celebrated its 75th anniversary with a live Zoom between Min Jin Lee, author of Pachinko, and Tricia Ebarvia and Lorena Germán of #DisruptTexts, which centered on the question, “What is a classic?” This query will also be the central theme of the forthcoming National Council of Teachers of English event, slated for mid-January.
While the initial set of resources available through the #DisruptTexts partnership is primarily focused on high school-level texts, PRH Education plans to expand its programming geared for the younger end of the K-12 market. In January, the publisher will be introducing ELL Classroom Libraries for K-12, developed by literacy experts Carla España and Luz Yadira Herrera. Earlier this month, PRH Education hosted an inaugural Common Reading Virtual Author Event featuring U.S. Senator and author Mazie Hirono, along with Heather McGhee (The Sum of Us), Michael Sayman (App Kid), and Judith Heumann (Being Heumann). On November 9, the company hosted a discussion between Michelle Obama, Black-ish actor Yara Shahidi, and students from 22 schools across the country.
Although these programs reflect a moment when supporting classic literature and expanding the canon with more relevant voices is prevalent, Stevens sees this as an ongoing endeavor. “This work is always being done,” she said. “The subjects and texts that get taught in classrooms are an ever-evolving conversation among educators, and PRH Education strives to support their needs in a wide variety of ways, including our partnership with #DisruptTexts.”