AWEJ Volume.5 Number.4, 2014                                                               Pp.353-364

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Rites of Passage in an English Class: Auto-ethnography and Coming of Age stories in Cross-Cultural Contexts



Gregory Stephens
University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico



This essay draws lessons from implementing a new Freshman English curriculum in a Middle Eastern university. Three inter-related areas of emphasis are outlined: 1). Universities as a rite of passage; 2). Auto-ethnographies as an effective means for students to reflect critically about and narrate their own coming-of-age process (or movement between worlds); 3). Stories from Coming of Age around the World were used to model relevant themes in the coming of age process, such as diversity and gender. These included stories from the Middle East and the Caribbean, such as “The Veil,” “The Women’s Swimming Pool,” “Shoes for the Rest of My Life,” and “Man-Self.” Here I will concentrate on two stories in which gender roles and the rewriting of scripts are foregrounded (“Man-Self” and “Shoes for the Rest of My Life”). A subsequent paper will develop a comparative perspective on teaching two stories set in the Middle East (“The Veil” and “The Women’s Swimming Pool”).
Key Words: rites of passage, auto-ethnography, coming of age stories, Middle East, Freshman English



Gregory Stephens is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez.
Stephens has taught film, literature, and media/cultural studies at the University of South Florida
(2010-12) the University of West Indies (2004-08), and the University of California. He is the
author of On Racial Frontiers: The New Culture of Frederick Douglass, Ralph Ellison, and Bob
Marley (Cambridge UP, 1999). From 2013-2014 Stephens was an Assistant Professor of English
at Alfaisal University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Publications drawing on experience in/study of
the Middle East include “Recording the Rhythm of Change: A Rhetoric of Revolution in The
Square,” Bright Lights Film Journal (May 2014). Currently, Stephens is finishing a book project:
Real Revolutionaries: Revisioning the Romance of Revolution in Literature and Film.