November 16, 2022

In New Book, Bay Ridge Prep Faculty Member Adam Wolfsdorf Navigates Trauma in Literature



A new book published by Upper School Humanities Department Chair Dr. Adam Wolfsdorf draws upon his teaching experience at Bay Ridge Prep, Columbia University, New York University and Wesleyan University. “Navigating Trauma in the English Classroom”, published by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), focuses on how trauma in literature impacts students’ ability to read, write and engage in the classroom. 


“Several things inspired me to write this book,” said Dr. Wolfsdorf, who holds a PhD in English Education and Masters degree in Psychology from Columbia University. “First, I became aware that so much of the literature I was teaching was packed with examples of trauma. Literature, almost by its fundamental nature, taps into and explores many of the traumas and taboos that impact many of us throughout our lifespan.”


What’s tricky about literature, he added, is that we often read about trauma without realizing that we are reading about it. 


“I think this is the case because great writing tends to be somewhat seductive,” said the Boston native who studied literature from a young age and earned his undergraduate degree in English from Harvard before moving to New York City. “We lose ourselves in the power and beauty of the language and can fail to recognize the intensity of the narrative.”


Another thing that compelled Dr. Wolfsdorf to author this book is the emergence of trigger warnings being used more frequently in mainstream media and educational settings. While the concept of trigger warnings carries with it strong opinions during these very polarizing times for society, Dr. Wolfsdorf wondered instead why the conversation was not focused on helping educators become more informed about trauma.


“It occurred to me that the trigger warning, and whether educators gave them or not, was only one part of a far more complex and far-reaching problem,” he said. “So I wanted to write a book that really dove into the heart of trauma, one that could help both educators and students to navigate the complex intersectional space bringing together reading, writing, pedagogy, and psychology.”   


His book’s primary audience is anybody who is studying or teaching curricular content that is packed with traumatic material and, as he pointed out, literature and history classes are two spaces where trauma often inserts itself. He added that the book can also be read by anybody who loves who loves reading, writing, philosophy, or psychology.


“Trauma is such a universal part of the human experience,” Dr. Wolfsdorf said. “Almost everybody will experience some forms of trauma throughout their lifespan. My hope with this book is that it works to normalize trauma, and to help both educators and students to better understand, process, work with, and heal from the adverse experiences that we face as human beings in today’s world–both inside and outside the classroom.”


Marginalization of women, domestic conflict, physical and sexual abuse, political and racial oppression, and mental illness are all forms of trauma that Dr. Wolfsdorf says are commonly represented in literary works that students navigate at both the secondary and post-secondary level.  


“Having some understanding of how trauma operates in the literature that we read makes us more trauma-informed, self-aware and prepared to navigate the emotional and intellectual rigors of deep reading and interpretation,” he said. 


While he works to spread awareness about trauma in literature through his book and other publications, Dr. Wolfsdorf is still teaching in the classroom each day at Bay Ridge Prep. It is something he has done now for over 20 years, in addition to currently being an adjunct professor at NYU Steinhardt and a visiting professor in Wesleyan’s graduate school. If you ask him why he enjoys being part of Bay Ridge Prep, he says it all comes down to the school’s unique culture.


Such warm, engaging, and welcoming people,” is how he described Bay Ridge Prep. “At our recent open house, the students were asked why they enjoyed Bay Ridge Prep and so many of them talked about the vibrant community and ‘second home’ feeling that this place generates. I’ve been in the Bay Ridge Prep community for more than two decades and it has never lost touch with its original mission and intention.”


When he works with other educators at NYU and at Wesleyan, Dr. Wolfsdorf said he tries to describe and help them understand the work he and his colleagues do at Bay Ridge Prep. 


As he put it, “I’ve never known another place quite like it.”




“Navigating Trauma in the English Classroom” is now available from NCTE and on Amazon.