By Rediet Worku
I began collecting books when I was six. My shelves in my bedroom were covered in books that were responsible for molding me into the person I am today. It was when I was packing my books before leaving to college that I realized that most of these books- many of which I studied for school- are written by men.
However, there were some books among the ones I chose to take with me that were plastered with yellow post-it notes. These books told stories that resembled my own life, pages that echoed the doubts and worries that ran through my mind. I sincerely felt what I was reading even if I didn’t quite understand their constructs. So much of what I have learned from these authors aren’t about definitive rules to life and literature, but rather the delicateness of the world; how the lines between things such as love and pain, intellect and madness are blurred.
I then came to St. John’s and started reading books that made me question all I have ever known and expanded my horizons. However, the more I read these books, the more I realized that I had a craving. I truly did love everything that I read in my freshman year but that said, my soul yearned to hear a voice that was like mine. I understand that as Johnnies, we are more concerned with the questions that the texts bring up rather than the person who wrote them, but I felt that the questions that we are brought to ask are heavily influenced by the authors’ life experience, which varies according to societal class, race, sex or other similar matters. Although I could passionately discuss Aristotle’s Politics for hours while finding ways to relate it to the societies that came before us, I still could not stop from asking myself if the arguments presented would have been different if a person that had been oppressed at that time wrote it. I knew that four years is not enough time to read all the Great Books, but I knew that I owed it to myself and to the program to take all the skills I learned in my tutorials and seminar and apply them to books outside of the program.
Shortly after coming to this conclusion, I compiled a list of Great Books by women and checked them out from our library. I started with the first known author, Enheduanna and made it through to Virginia Woolf and Joan Didion. The more I read, the more I felt like I was quenching this thirst I had observed. As I was going through this list, I noticed that I was approaching my tutorials and seminar in a different light; I was asking questions not because I thought it was the right question to ask rather because, I knew it was the right question to ask. Shortly after, I had an idea to start a Great Books by Women study group on campus. I knew that the Santa Fe campus had one, so I reached out to alumni and with their help compiled a reading list. After announcing it to the polity, I was honestly surprised by the number of people that expressed their interest to me. It was not just students reaching out to me but also, staff and faculty members. Everything we have read so far has forced me to challenge the way I think. This study group has become more than just a study group to me, it is now a composed of a group of people that remind me that every moment leads us to a new character and that even the smallest steps have their own significance in literature and life.