Episode 7: Reading 1984 in 2017

[I]t’s rhetorically a lot easier to blame a president that you don’t like, than it is to deal with issues at a 125-year-old institution that also employs you… I think to skew everything towards the frame of Trump is really to miss a much more important big picture. The big picture is a series of class politics that’s been ongoing for the last 100 years…

Abigail Droge

In our seventh episode, we spoke with Justin Tackett (Ph.D. ’18), Abigail Droge (Ph.D. ’18) and Juan Lamata (Ph. D. candidate) about reading across institutional boundaries in order to cultivate community and bridge the divisions characteristic of our political moment.

Transcript: Episode 7, Reading 1984 in 2017

Justin, Abigail, and Juan recount how the 2016 presidential election inspired them to form Civic English at Stanford, a group devoted to combining literary study and civic engagement. 

The following year, Civic English produced Reading 1984 in 2017: Literary Criticism in the Community, a night of dramatic readings and dialogue between local high school students, their parents, and Reading After Trump‘s own Alex Woloch. Justin and Abigail worked with students from a nearby high school to prepare passages from George Orwell’s dystopian classic for dramatic readings. After leading a separate reading group on 1984 with the students’ parents, Abigail and Justin brought everyone together at the Stanford Humanities Center, where the students performed their readings and discussed the novel with their parents as well as Professor Woloch. 

Meanwhile, Juan Lamata, who helped plan Reading 1984 in 2017, spent the event itself on the opposite coast, where he was teaching an introductory English class at the City College of New York in Harlem. You can hear him discussing this experience as an of extension Civic English’s attempt to bridge divided reading communities here.

Abigail Droge follows up Juan’s account of teaching across divided reading publics by arguing, from her own research, that institutions of higher education have in fact systematically cultivated the fragmentation of reading publics since at least the 19th century. Abigail explains that the kind of communal reading resuscitated by Reading 1984 in 2017 was once a common extracurricular pastime, before literature evolved into a specialized field of study within a range of compartmentalized, pre-professional disciplines.

Finally, Justin, Abigail, and Juan toss around ideas for future community reading experiences, with ideas ranging from Marx’s Capital to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. 


Here are a few links for exploring further the books and subjects in the episode:

Primary topics and participants:

Stanford Event: Reading 1984 in 2017: Literary Criticism and the Community

Read about the Stanford-CUNY/CCNY exchange program

1984 by George Orwell

Or Orwell by Alex Woloch

Reading skills : the politics of literacy in the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries a dissertation by Abigail Droge

“Teaching Literature and Science in Silicon Valley” in Journal of Literature and Science by Abigail Droge


More scholarship and criticism on education, literacy, and literature as functions of systemized class division:

Professing Literature by Gerald Graff

Cultural Capital by John Guillory

The Uses of Literacy by Richard Hoggart

Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem by Catherine Robson

The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes by Jonathan Rose

A Manifesto for the Humanities: Transforming Doctoral Education in Good Enough Times by Sidonie Smith


Current projects addressing the division of publics in relation to education:

The WhatEvery1Says Project: The Humanities in Public Discourse

The Dumbarton Circle: A collective of critics in Silicon Valley

CommUniverCity San José: Building partnership between San José State University, the City of San José, and neighboring communities