toni mcnaron's garden


After teaching for 37 years at the University of Minnesota, in English, Women’s Studies, and GLBT Studies, Toni retired in 2001 from formal work. Because she is a natural teacher, however, she has carved out a series of teaching venues in retirement that keep her engaged with a wide swatch of literature. Here is a short summary of those classes.

Greek Drama

A group of about 12 adults gathers in Toni’s living room for two session per play as they read six plays a year. Authors this group is reading include Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes. When the group has exhausted this group of writers, they plan to take on the new translation of Homer’s The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate this ancient epic.

No-Name Book Group

Once a month for the past 38 years, Toni facilitates a women’s book group whose members include 2 members who have been with the group the entire time, one member whose grandmother and mother precede he , and published writers. The reading list for this group comes to almost 400 works by women of color, poets, lesbian writers, pre-20th century writers, memoirists, biographers and graphic novelists.

Books in the Garden

Once a month for the past 5 years, Toni has driven out to the University of Minnesota Arboretum, an extensive landscape full of every imaginable flower, shrub, and tree. Her class of about 20 adults discusses books in which gardens and gardeners and nature broadly conceived figure prominently. Titles include such a varied grouping as Milton’s Paradise Lost, Cather’s My Antonia, Silko’s Turquoise Ledge, Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, Atwood’s Surfacing, and Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea.

Lifelong Learning Program

Three months in the fall and three months in the spring, Toni offers classes through LearningLife, a noncredit program in the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing and Professional Studies. Themes have included Women and War, Black and White in Three Genres, Behind the Velvet Curtain: What Else the Victorians Told Us, Shadows of Slavery, and Novels of Marilynne Robinson. Adults who take these evening classes have a deep desire to keep learning even as they pursue careers, care for grandchildren or aging parents, and explore new worlds through literature.

Other Offerings

In addition to these on-going classes, Toni facilitated two groups, again in her living room, who read every word written by William Shakespeare, a feat not even achieved by some Ph.D.’s in Early Modern Literature. That means these groups, each of about 12 adults, read 37 plays, 154 sonnets, and 2 long narrative poems.

Finally, for 39 years, Toni co-taught with Susan Cygnet a series of Saturday classes called Women Reading Women. The classes spanned a wide spectrum of genres, time periods, cultures, and themes. They were held in a local church that charged a minimum fee so that women who registered could pay minimal amounts for a series of Saturday classes.  Many of the women taking these classes, which only ended in 2017, came for decades to learn how to read and expand their thinking so as to be better citizens in our diversifying world.