Modern greats of stage and novel join the curriculum

Some authors and playwrights fear that being recommended may turn a new generation off their work
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The Independent Online
There was a curious mixture of delight and foreboding among the literary establishment last week as some of the world's best-known novelists and playwrights contemplated their new place in the canon of standard school textbooks.

Publishers predicted a surge in demand for the 70 authors, dramatists and poets to be included in the new secondary school curriculum for the first time.

The book trade eagerly sifted the wide-ranging list of recommended reading, which will shape the tastes of a generation of youngsters. Writers themselves were cautious about their work lying dog-eared in the schoolbags of thousands. Some were hoping that early force-feeding of their work would not have the effect of putting a generation of young people off their books.

The new national curriculum, which was put out for consultation on Thursday, includes, for the first time, Ernest Hemingway, Doris Lessing, Alan Bennett and Muriel Spark. Other recommendations include figures such as Joseph Conrad, EM Forster, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh.

Ministers believe the changes will help bring the curriculum up to date and create more enthusiasm for literature among the teenagers of today.

There are two new categories of books covering contemporary writing and world literature. The contemporary drama, fiction and poetry written for young people and adults include Alan Ayckbourn, David Hare, Willie Russell, Brian Friel, Susan Hill and Adrian Mitchell. Drama, fiction and poetry from other cultures include Arthur Miller, the Nigerian Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka, Maya Angelou, Nadine Gordimer and Doris Lessing.

Two plays by Shakespeare remain compulsory, as do major works of fiction written before 1914. But teachers will no longer be compelled to pick pre-1914 classics from a prescribed list.

Ben Russell, Linus Gregoriadis

and John Schetler

JG Ballard, whose novels include High-Rise, Crash, Concrete Island and Empire of the Sun, which was nominated for the Booker Prize.

It's a great honour and I'm thrilled. It's a two-edged compliment, of course. As we all remember, when we were forced to read a writer, we all too often decided we never wanted to read him or her again when we grew up. There is always that danger.

Empire of the Sun is based on my experiences as a boy in China. The hero of the book is a teenager so there should be lots of identification between the young readers and the hero.

I think a novel like Alex Garland's The Beach would be a good read to have on the list. I think teenagers would love it. It's about young people and is being made into a film with Leonardo DiCaprio. Empire of the Sun was filmed by Steven Spielberg. When it ties in with a film, it completes the full circle. People like being able to see the film if they have the book and vice-versa. the BBC into a 4-part serial. Will Self would also be a good choice.

Linus Gregoriadis

Arnold Wesker, whose plays include the trilogy of Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots and I'm Talking about Jerusalem.

The plays seem to touch young people and have done for years. It's gratifying when I hear from the directors and actors that people come up and say `it's my story'. The trilogy is about self discovery and touches people all over the world.

Novelist and playwright Susan Hill has consistently had her books, including A Bit of Singing and Dancing and I'm the King of the Castle, on the set texts lists for A-Level and GCSEs for 20 years. This is the first time she has been recommended for general reading

"I wonder if it will make any difference. The list could just end up pinned on the staff notice board.

"I am very dubious about recommended lists because it is patronising to teachers by telling them they don't know what books to give children to read.

"The curriculum is already so full. It is a lazy way out for some teachers and others will be feeling the Government is just pushing them about."

Susan Hill recommends Great Expectations, Catcher in the Rye, Brave New World and All Quiet on the Western Front as good books for young people to read.

Alan Ayckbourn, author of The Norman Conquests, Absent Friends and other plays, is artistic director at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough where he is about to open House and Garden, two interlinked plays taking place simultaneously in separate auditoria.

I'M VERY honoured to be on the list. I always used to say it's the beginning of the end when you get on to a list like that, as things that were written for entertainment are suddenly being rammed down people's throats. I just hope they'll get the same enjoyment out of studying them as they do out of watching them.

The problem is, a lot of plays are written to be performed. It's like studying sheet music. Until you hear it and see it, it really isn't the same thing. But it's nice to be on [the list].

I didn't want to see a Shakespeare play for about 15 years after I studied them at school. Only when I saw a performance done well did I came round to it.

The author Nadine Gordimer's works include A Guest of Honour and The Conservationist. Her novel The Burger's Daughter and her collected short stories are on the recommended list.

"The Burger's Daughter is about a young woman and how she reacts to a family in which politics is a religion, so perhaps it may be of interest. I applaud anything that will encourage young people to read rather than depend on TV and images. When I was a child I read whatever I could find in the library, from Gone with the Wind to Dr Doolittle, finding something in all of them."

She says that even if a young person cannot completely grasp a book's meaning, it is still an important educational tool. "It will improve their ability and understanding of the world."

She recommends: Crime and Punishment, A Passage to India, and any of Chekhov's short stories.

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