Today the Teagle Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced that leading American poets Reginald Dwayne Betts and Major Jackson will kick off the opening workshop on Thursday, October 7, 2021 of the Teaching with Transformative Texts series as part of Cornerstone: Learning for Living, an initiative to revitalize the role of the humanities in general education at our colleges and universities.

Betts, the poet, essayist, nonprofit leader, and lecturer at Yale Law School will join in conversation with Major Jackson, the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University and advisory council member for Cornerstone: Learning for Living.

As a poet and lawyer, Reginald Betts has championed the power of the humanities. He created Freedom Reads, an initiative to curate micro libraries and install them in prisons across the country, inspired by the impact literature had in countering hopelessness in his own life when he was incarcerated as an adolescent. His award-winning essays and poetry reflect on his journey towards becoming a working lawyer, the failure of the criminal justice system, and his post-incarceration experience. His insights will deeply inform the goals of the Cornerstone: Learning for Living initiative in re-engaging students with transformative works of literature and philosophy and providing them with clear pathways through general education that enable them to connect the humanities to their professional aspirations.

Major Jackson is the author of five books of poetry, including The Absurd Man (2020), Roll Deep (2015), Holding Company (2010), Hoops (2006) and Leaving Saturn (2002), which won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize for a first book of poems. He has received numerous fellowships, including those from Guggenheim Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. His awards include the Pushcart Prize and Whiting Writers’ Award and he has been honored by the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. His poems and essays have been published in American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, Orion Magazine, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Poetry London, and Zyzzyva.

“There is no one better than Reginald Dwayne Betts and Major Jackson to launch this workshop series and discuss the impact of teaching through transformative texts, an essential part of revitalizing general education at a time when our students need it most,” said NEH Acting Chairman Adam Wolfson. “The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to be a part of this effort to support institutions in offering students more immersive exposure to the humanities.”

The workshop series and kickoff event are free and open to all interested participants who have a stake in the future of the humanities to learn more about how to strengthen general education and ensure that college students, regardless of their major or background, reflect on the context and capacities cultivated by the humanities that contribute to their professional aspirations.

“As humanities programs dwindle across the country, colleges must find ways to ensure that all students still get a chance to confront enduring questions through literature, history, philosophy, and the arts,” said Andrew Delbanco, President of the Teagle Foundation. “We must restore the vital role of the humanities in undergraduate general education, and we believe the Teaching with Transformative Texts workshops can help humanities faculty touch the lives of students regardless of their majors or career goals.”

Over the next few months—from October 2021 through April 2022—the Teaching with Transformative Texts workshop series will provide practical insight on effectively teaching humanities-based general education courses to first-year students and non-majors. Upcoming workshops include:

To join the kick-off workshop with Reginald Dwayne Betts and Major Jackson on Thursday, October 7, 2021, please fill out this registration form. If you are interested in additional upcoming workshops, please register here.