As a professor emeritus at Harvard University, a renowned child psychiatrist, and the author of more than forty books, including The Moral Intelligence of Children, Robert Coles knows better than anyone the transformative power of learning and literature on young minds. In this “persuasive” book (The New York Times Book Review), Coles convenes a virtual symposium of college, law, and medical school students to explore the phenomenon of storytelling as a source of values and character.
Here are transcriptions of classroom conversations in which Coles and his students discuss the impact of particular works of literature on their moral development. Here also are Coles’s intimate personal reflections on his experiences in the civil rights movement, his child psychiatry practice, and his interactions with his own literary mentors including William Carlos Williams and L.E. Sissman. The life lessons learned from these stories are of special resonance to doctors and teachers looking to apply them in classroom and clinical environments.
The rare public intellectual to be honored with a MacArthur Award, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a National Humanities Medal, Robert Coles is a true national treasure, and The Call of Stories is, in the words of National Book Award winner Walker Percy, “Coles at his wisest and best.”
Featuring writings by James Agee • Julia Alvarez • Charles Baxter • Raymond Carver • John Cheever • Anton Chekhov • Erik H. Erikson • Anna Freud • Thomas Hardy • Toni Morrison • Howard Nemerov • Flannery O’Connor • Tillie Olsen • Leo Tolstoy • Tobias Wolff • Richard Yates
Ideal for educators and students of all ages, Teaching Stories will inspire anyone who loves great writing.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
James Rufus Agee (1909 – 1955) was was one of the most influential film critics in the U.S. He was the author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (to which he contributed the text and Walker Evans contributed the photographs) which grew out of an assignment the two men accepted in 1936 to produce a magazine article on the conditions among white sharecropper families in the American South. His autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family (1957), won the author a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
Simone Weil (1909 – 1943) was a French philosopher, activist, and religious searcher, whose death in 1943 was hastened by starvation. Weil published during her lifetime only a few poems and articles. With her posthumous works --16 volumes in all -- Weil has earned a reputation as one of the most original thinkers of her era. T.S. Eliot described her as "a woman of genius, of a kind of genius akin to that of the saints."
William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963), was an American poet who was also a pediatrician and general practitioner of medicine. Williams "worked harder at being a writer than he did at being a physician," wrote biographer Linda Wagner-Martin; but during his long lifetime, Williams excelled at both. He considered himself a socialist and opponent of capitalism and is probably spinning in his grave at the current state of things, economically and socially. One of his best known poems is an "apology poem" taught to most American children in elementary school called "This Is Just to Say" : "I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox / and which / you were probably /saving / for breakfast. / Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet /and so cold."
Dorothy Day (1897 – 1980) was an American journalist and social activist who became most famous for founding, with Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker movement, a nonviolent, pacifist movement which combines direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf.
Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965) was a hugely influential American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best know for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange's photographs humanized the tragic consequences of the Great Depression and profoundly influenced the development of documentary photography, one of Robert Coles' great passions.
Erik Erikson (1902 – 1994) was a Danish-German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theories on social development of human beings. He may be most famous for coining the phrase "identity crisis." Erikson's greatest innovation was to postulate not five stages of development, as Freud has done with his psychosexual stages, but eight. Erik Erikson believed that every human being goes through a certain number of stages to reach his or her full development, theorizing eight stages, that a human being goes through from birth to death.
Walker Percy (1916 – 1990) was an American southern author best known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans, the first of which, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1962. He devoted his literary life to the exploration of "the dislocation of man in th
In Felix Holt, the Radical, George Eliot observes that progressive reformers can be even more self-serving than their conservative counterparts; in The Prime Minister, Anthony Trollope suggests that honest men must cope with the corruption of politics–or leave leadership entirely to the crooked; and the works of Nadine Gordimer and George Orwell reveal that those who overturn tyrants often envy their power and repeat their mistakes. Anyone trying to understand today’s confused and violent world will be both challenged and inspired by this unique and important collection.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
As a student, Coles questioned Paul Tillich on the meaning of the "secular mind," and his fascination with the perceived opposition between secular and sacred intensified over the years. This book recounts conversations Coles has had with such figures as Anna Freud, Karen Horney, William Carlos Williams, Walker Percy, and Dorothy Day. Their words dramatize the frustration and the joy of living in both the secular and sacred realms. Coles masterfully draws on a variety of literary sources that trace the relationship of the sacred and the secular: the stories of Abraham and Moses, the writings of St. Paul, Augustine, Kierkegaard, Darwin, and Freud, and the fiction of George Eliot, Hardy, Meredith, Flannery O'Connor, and Huxley. Ever since biblical times, Coles shows us, the relationship between these two realms has thrived on conflict and accommodation.
Coles also notes that psychoanalysis was first viewed as a rival to religion in terms of getting a handle on inner truths. He provocatively demonstrates how psychoanalysis has either been incorporated into the thinking of many religious denominations or become a type of religion in itself. How will people in the next millennium deal with advances in chemistry and neurology? Will these sciences surpass psychoanalysis in controlling how we think and feel? This book is for anyone who has wondered about the fate of the soul and our ability to seek out the sacred in our constantly changing world.
A New York Times Notable Book
What do children think about when they consider God, Heaven and Hell, the value of life in the here and now, and the inevitability of death? Child psychiatrist, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, and Harvard professor Robert Coles spent thirty years interviewing hundreds of children—from South America and Europe to Africa and the Middle East—who are developing concepts of faith even as they struggle to understand its contradictions.
Be they Catholic or Protestant, Jewish children from Boston, Pakistani children in London, agnostics, Native Americans, or young Christians in the American South, they offer honest, enlightening and sometimes startling ideas of a spiritual existence. A Hopi girl who knows for a fact that we are resurrected as birds; an African American child who believes God exists as a hurricane to “blow away” drug dealers; a young Christian who needs his faith to cope with the death of his sister, lest she be just “a big heartache to us till the day we die”; and a Tennessee child who rationalizes his belief by admitting that “if there's no God, that's all there is, ashes.”
The Spiritual Life of Children is “a remarkable book. The generosity of vision that characterizes Dr. Coles's enterprise enables him to create a climate where words of great beauty and truthfulness can be spoken.” —The New York Times
With wisdom and a unique personal perspective, Coles explores Springsteen’s words as contemporary American poetry, and offers firsthand accounts of how people interact with them: A trucker listens to “Blinded by the Light” during long, lonely nights and reminisces about his mother; a schoolteacher is astonished when a usually silent student offers a comparison between “Nebraska” and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; a policeman responds to “American Skin (41 Shots),” reflecting on his own role in his family and community. As these people, and others, candidly discuss the meaning Springsteen’s words have in their lives, Coles listens and, with the special insight and compassion that are the trademarks of his art, sheds new light on “The Boss,” removing the legendary American rock musician from fan-filled stadiums and placing the poet in a greater social, cultural, and philosophical context. Coles sees Springsteen as a representative of a uniquely American documentary tradition—as a sing-ing and traveling poet who does not simply embody the culture of which he is a part but fully engages it, interacting with its people and creating a conversation that has helped to shape a distinct way of looking at, and living, American life today.
From the Hardcover edition.
From the Hardcover edition.
Coles tells how to be a moral leader and shows how the intervention of one person can change the course of history, as well as influence the day-to-day quality of life in our homes, schools, communities, and nation. We need to "hand one another along" in life, says Coles, quoting his friend Walker Percy, and in Lives of Moral Leadership he explores how each of us can be engaged in a continual and mutual life-giving process of personal and national leadership development. Coles discusses how the actions of the American president affect the way people feel about themselves and the country, and-citing the influence of Shakespeare's Henry V on Robert Kennedy, and of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina on his own mother--explains how reading literature can motivate action and growth. The way in which moral leaders emerge today, and for all time, comes vividly to light in this brilliant book by one of America's finest teachers and writers.
From the Hardcover edition.
Dr. Coles shows how the work of writers, artists, and thinkers of the past two centuries can inspire our own reflections on the daily lives we lead. He offers a compelling call to venture outside of our own selves and lives and to listen, attentively and with growing humanity, to the way others get through life. Coles encourages us to examine our own character, kindness, and complexity by looking carefully at our perceptions of others, and by studying the wisdom of authors from Charles Dickens to Flannery O’Connor, from James Agee to George Orwell, and many others. In this influential conversation about empathy and engagement, Coles inspires us to seek out deeper meaning in our lives, and guides us toward achieving greater clarity, strength, and richness of understanding, amid the moral, psychological, and social complexities of the modern world.
From the Hardcover edition.
In the 1950s Robert Coles began studying, living among, and, above all, listening to American children & their parents.