Inspiring lifelong readers
As a child growing up in Zimbabwe, Geraldine Mukumbi was an avid reader. The library in town had a rule: Children could check out no more than two paperbacks and one comic book each week. The librarian soon learned that Mukumbi was finishing all three in a weekend, so he agreed to add two more books to her weekly allotment.
The children’s books available to Mukumbi were mostly British and American series like Goosebumps and Nancy Drew. Later, in high school in Johannesburg, Mukumbi learned about and grew to love African writers: Chinua Achebe, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Tayeb Salih.
For Mukumbi, reading offered nourishment and solace, something that became even more useful as she ventured into predominantly white spaces: attending college at the University of Notre Dame (she graduated in 2016 with a double major in Africana studies and English), and later teaching in Bratislava, Slovakia. “When you take on new adventures and new experiences,” she says, “it’s exciting, yes, but it’s also deeply lonely. What books did for me was that I never felt completely alone.”
That love of reading doesn’t happen naturally for all students, and plenty of literature classes focus more on how to answer exam questions about the book than on reading for reading’s sake. By pursuing a PhD at the GSE, Mukumbi hopes to learn to design classroom instruction that inspires young people to become lifelong readers.
She’s especially interested in young adult literature, or YA—books like Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. When she taught high school in Slovakia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, she found that students were more receptive to YA than traditional fare, and still gained essential reading and analytic skills. (In Zimbabwe, Mukumbi taught at the USAP Community School, run by GSE alum Rebecca Zeigler Mano, MA ’92.)
Mukumbi earned a Knight-Hennessy scholarship to support her doctoral studies. She’s grateful for the opportunity: “I often think of this PhD as the gift of time,” she says. “I get the luxury of waking up in the morning and thinking about things that matter to me.”