Celebrating Poe

Carrie Gaffney is the managing editor of The Educational Forum. She spent twelve years as a secondary English teacher and is still active in The National Writing Project and Second Story, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit devoted to bringing creativity to underserved schools.  

January 19 marked the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe.

During my time as a secondary English teacher, there were many writers I loved bringing to my students. But of all of those authors and their work, the person I loved teaching the most was Poe.

Interestingly, he was not a writer I particularly enjoyed reading on a personal level. The power of his stories, at least for me, came during the actual teaching, the conveying of him and his life to my students.

The kids. Loved. Poe.

In the spirit of celebrating the man who made my classroom more colorful, I present this list of reasons your secondary students, like mine, will love learning about him.

1)      He had a crazy personal life. If reality TV had been a thing while Poe was alive, his hijinks would have rivaled anything going on in the Jersey Shore or Kardashian household. He married his cousin, who was thirteen, and he was a notorious partier. My students were fascinated by the demons that drove him to write.

2)      He created characters that stayed with you. We had read about three of his stories when one of my students pointed out that Poe seemed to like opening his work with the likes of, “I know this is going to make me sound crazy, but…” and then a crazy story would ensue. Boom, immediately, we had a lesson in unreliable narrators (and no one did unreliable narrators better!).

3)      His death was chock full of conspiracy theories. Poe was found wandering around in someone else’s clothes, completely incoherent, at the age of forty. He died just a couple of days later. Upon learning that there was no formal cause of death, my students would search for days on end to unravel the mysteries behind why he died so young: rabies? Alcoholism? Something else?

4)      The Poe Toaster.  Although the last time the mysterious Poe Toaster left three roses and an unfinished bottle of cognac on Poe’s grave was 2009, the tradition, which was cloaked in secrecy, lasted 75 years, spawning numerous theories about how one person could maintain such longevity. Don’t we all wish to be honored in such a way?

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and start gathering up some Poe stories. Your students will thank you.

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