Dear Mr Gove,

Like many 17 year olds, I have finished with my GCSEs. Since I progressed to A Level before the changes to the education system, I found myself lucky enough to study To Kill a Mockingbird in GCSE English. I feel sorry for the new cohort for whom novels such as To Kill a Mockingbird are effectively blacklisted.

When I first encountered Harper Lee and John Steinbeck I was aware that they were part of the American canon and, after reading the texts, it is difficult to divorce the writers from their respective contexts. However, we should not divorce these books from the English curriculum simply because Lee and Steinbeck are ‘foreigners’. The mentality behind removing American literature from our classrooms is frightening. 18th or 19th century English novels are certainly rich pieces of literature to study, yet the time in which they were written was a time when the English were beginning to travel around the globe and vastly enrich their perceptions of the world (unfortunately, this came at the expense of other nations). To consequently limit the serious study of literature to only mainland English literature is to define the parts of the globe that aren’t English as inferior.

‘Sub-English’, not good enough for British children to study, would be populated by Steinbeck and Lee, Vikram Seth and Arundati Roy (both recognised by the literary prizes, but not good enough for our new nationalist, I mean national, curriculum) – authors whose first language isn’t English, why that would be unthinkable! Discredit ‘Heart of Darkness’ by the Polish Joseph Conrad and ‘Unbearable Lightness of Being’ by Czech Milan Kundera. Perhaps the dedicated literature enthusiasts among the GCSE takers will surreptitiously read these novels in their own time but, under the conditioning from the new education system, would they consider these novels to be unworthy of serious analysis because their experience of education has taught them that, unless it’s English, it’s undesirable? What’s to stop their thoughts from making the link, whether consciously or not, from categorising the authors and their nationality as undesirable?

Judging books not by their content but by the country in which the writers were born ignores that English is a global language and that the study of literature has only been enriched by understanding and encouraging the global writing scene. The criterion for assessing whether a book can be studied in English classrooms should simply be whether the text is in English. Due to the virtue of translation, this means the choice of books is limitless, which is exactly as it should be. Instead of burning books and trying to push English students away from arts subjects, the education system should be encouraging children to pursue a range of literature, and actively discourage the judgement of others on the basis of their nationality.

Yours sincerely,

Claire Sosienski Smith



1. People and weird and confusing and messy and I think I'm endlessly pursuing an understanding of the human condition. Maybe I'll never figure it out? Is that what being a person is? I always come back to the scene in Frances Ha where she nervously laughs and apologises for not being a real person yet.

2. You will still get called an immigrant in Brighton. And bite your tongue not to say 'immigrant or immiGREAT???'

3. Bosses will allow you to be an hour late to work and it will only be your guilt that makes you do better next time. Guilt and the fact that working two and a half hours means your payslip is under 10 pounds for the past two weeks.

4. You will learn all the words to Catalina Fight Song.

5. Life still goes on even when you fail exams. "Different smart" is my favourite term of the moment. I'm a big nerd but distracted and messy and weird and confusing.


They made me go

Lately I've been having conversations with my friends about how it's good that the situations we're in right now are temporary, because that's what makes it mean something and oh my I just realised that this whole post could basically paraphrase Gwen Stacey's valedictorian speech from The Amazing Spider-man 2, which I've watched twice this week already, so obviously this is too recycled but you know what I mean about a sense of nihilism to highlight the good parts of... life... I guess.


Still figuring it out

I'm overwhelmed by how well this blog is still doing, so thank you from the bottom of my eternally 12 year old heart for validating what may or may not have been a good idea to start. I think this fragmented narrative will be unfinished forever.

Some really crazy weeks have been had this year and I'm still firmly heading upwards on that graph of 'every year is better than the last'. I've woken up in strange places in Brighton, ran to work, vomited at work, stolen tshirts from friends, consumed a tonne of fruit and fibre (note to self: look into getting sponsored by Kellogg's), spent my entire bank account, gone to Paris, applied for a visa to China, turned vegan, turned Grimes-style-vegan, failed at being vegan, and spent more hours on trains than not.

My back constantly aches and I think I need to sleep more. My ankle is still swollen. I've decided not to shave my legs and boycott Veet. Feminist club is going nicely. I went to see Bombay Bicycle Club and it was so fun. The unravelled strands of my pseudo-existential-teenage-crises aren't bothering me anymore.


2013 -14

Einstein, responding to a letter he received in 1946, offered advice to a young girl hoping to pursue a career in science. He wrote, "I do not mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself do not mind. There is no reason for it."

I feel like this is very important in terms of equality as it's about not allowing arbitrary descriptions, like gender, define who you are or limiting your possible future. Since September '13 I've been back in co-ed! Which is a noticeable step when you've spent four years in your girls school and allowed that to define a lot of yourself. I'm not arguing against that, and girls schools are very important, Davison ex-patriots are (whether they'd willingly admit to this) surely somewhat happy to have gone to the school. No emphasis was put on our gender with an exception of pride mixed with generic school pride that's encouraged (the appropriate attitude of a young lady was thrown around a bit too much as an incentive to behave). It's very different in boys and girls mixed as a lot more conformity is accepted and there are those gender roles, I'd naively believed were outdated, still present. 

My main question was why doesn't my college in Brighton have a feminist society? So we started one. And we're popular and discuss topics like pornography and careers and education and reclaiming the night. I'm very proud and slightly pressured that it's a bunch of responsibility I took on because why not? Why shouldn't an opportunity be taken? We kept ourselves as Feminist Society because Feminism isn't something to be shied away from. It's gender equality and if that offends someone, then that someone is wrong. Culturally we are very accepting but there are times when we need to dare to be dangerous and contradict someone because some interpretations are incorrect.

I also got a job at an independent cinema in my town, it's very badly paid and I'm very passionate about it. I've slept on the sofa in the office, eaten (and given away free) enough popcorn to feed an embarrassingly large number of people and watched lots of films. I saw Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom at the weekend and thought it was very good, although criticized for not being what people wanted - they wanted more about apartheid and less family drama - which I think I disagree with, but worry if that's because I can't stand the bleak reality of how recent these atrocities happened. I go to a creative writing club at my college, still go to my fair share of concerts (guess who broke her glasses in the front row at gnarwolves?), still spend more time on a train than not. I'm nursing a swollen ankle because I drank too much wine and fell over and I'm still clumsy and spending late nights in A&E, concussed. 

I would still rather be in over my head than not trying at all and fearing what social tropes I'm fitting into. I'm trying to keep my head down this next year and pass some exams and maybe not spend £62 on a skirt again. College is an awful lot better than high school.