Samantha Orciel, English Subject Advisor
February is LGBT+ History Month in the UK, and a great time to reflect on the range of texts that your students might encounter in the A Level classroom.
LGBT+ texts and writers are often extraordinarily creative in the way they craft language and narratives, which can be a world away from the set texts students may have encountered at GCSE. The contexts of these texts are also great starting points for discussion. Below are some suggestions and experiences for your A Level students to explore.
Mary Jean Chan’s Flèche, from the collection of the same name, is simultaneously precise and playful. Ocean Vuong’s Aubade with Burning City is sure to get students thinking about the relationship between poetry and reportage, and Danez Smith’s alternate names for black boys is a powerful and deceptively simple use of form. All three texts could be used as inspiration for recreative writing.
Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun is a perennially popular dramatic choice for the A Level Literature NEA; this reflection on its film adaptation is a useful resource for exploring context and authorial control (with echoes of Tennessee Williams’ disputes with Elia Kazan and Richard Brooks over Cat on a Hot Tin Roof). Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home could be a good way of talking about text transformation between genres.
Elif Shafak’s novel The Island of Missing Trees has a very unusual narrator at the heart of its love story – once students ‘click’, this would be a fruitful prompt for dissecting the rules of character and voice. This overview of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando is a useful riposte for tired old tropes about women writing in the early part of the twentieth century, whilst this interview with Douglas Stuart about Young Mungo also highlights the difficulties of publishing LGBT+ narratives in the twenty-first century.
For teachers of A Level Language, it’s always worth exploring snippets from Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, not just for its place in history but also for Wilde’s use of epithet, allusion and influences from other writers.
A collaboration with your modern foreign languages department could prove useful in looking at side-by-side translations of the work of Federico García Lorca, such as in this blog post, and investigating the effects of the language choices made in translation.
This article in The Gay and Lesbian Review is a fascinating overview of how Black ballroom vernacular has made its way across cultures into mainstream (particularly internet) slang.
Bookstores specialising in LGBT+ writing can make for thought-provoking and inspiring visits. These include Lighthouse in Edinburgh, Category Is Books in Glasgow, The Bookish Type in Leeds and Shelflife in Cardiff.
In Manchester, the newly-reopened Portico Library is hosting an LGBTQ+ Literary Salon.
Finally, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to get to Shakespeare’s Globe in London, they regularly run a Pride Guided Tour, bringing to life the LGBTQ+ stories and characters from Shakespeare’s life and works.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you have any questions, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_English. You can also sign up to subject updates and receive information about resources and support.
Prior to joining OCR in September 2022, Sam spent ten years teaching a range of English qualifications in secondary schools, including as a head of department. She did this alongside completing a MSt in Advanced Subject Teaching at the University of Cambridge, specialising in A Level English curricula and pedagogy.
In her spare time, you’ll find her either fussing over her dog, watching tennis, or (predictably!) reading anything and everything.