Graduate Fiction Workshop
This is an intensive fiction writing workshop for graduate students in the MFA program in Creative Writing. Reading will consist of short novels that have an autobiographical feel, including works by Rachel Cusk and Lydia Davis, both of whom will be taking part in this year’s Writers Festival.
Times: M 9-11
The Forms of (Depressing) Poetry
I’ve often given people poems to read, and encountered the response: ‘Gee, this is so depressing.’ This seems to me not a response at all. It’s like giggling when about to be tickled. What did you expect?! Joseph Brodsky quotes Montale on ‘lamentosa litteratura’ and talks of ‘melancholy disciplined by meter.’ Hardy talks of ‘a full look at the worst.’ My point is, this comes with the territory.
Therefore, in this semester’s ‘reading class,’ I propose to read the collected poems of several of these melancholy masters: Gottfried Benn, Joseph Brodsky, Eugenio Montale, James Schuyler, and Rosemary Tonks. Black should be worn to class.
(Lest you wonder, or worry, I expect the effect of this reading to be buoyant and vivifying; even the grimmest achieved poem is a thing of joy.)
Times: T E1-E3
Graduate Poetry Workshop
In this course we will workshop student poems alongside a study of the New York School poets. In addition to reading the poems and prose of Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, and Barbara Guest, we will touch on their relationships with the visual artists in that mid-century urban milieu, which gave rise to their name.
Times: M 9-11
Storytelling in Fiction and Film
Close readings of stories, novels, and movies, with the purpose of describing the choices writers and filmmakers make—and the effects they produce. Writers will probably include Chekhov, Hemingway, Turgenev, Doyle, Chandler, Penelope Fitzgerald, Anthony Powell, and perhaps—because 2017 is Thoreau’s bicentennial—that most enigmatic of stories, Walden. Movies may include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (the five-hour Alec Guinness version), All the President’s Men, The Philadelphia Story, and Rules of the Game.
Assignments: (1) Weekly two-page papers, responding to prompts. (2) A final paper of modest length (5–7 pages).
Times: T 9-11
Screenings: R 9-11
Feminist Theory and German-Language Film
(Cross-listed with GEW 6901, Special Studies German Literature)
The cross-listed graduate pro-seminar has a two-fold objective: one, introduction to academic research processes, scholarly writing, professionalization, and teaching; and two, a study of feminist theory in relation to German-language film. In addition to reading feminist theory and discussing its applicability to film, we will host scholars Hester Baer and Erica Carter for public lectures and seminar discussions of their scholarship and academic careers. Films will range from the classics Girls in Uniform and Redupers: The All-round Reduced Personality to contemporary films, such as Falling, The Hairdresser, and Toni Erdmann. The seminar will address research and writing for graduate school, as well as for conference participation and publication. Members of the seminar will have ample time and opportunity to apply materials to their areas of research interest. Course assignments include prepatory research activities, professional exercises, academic genres (e.g. book review and abstract), drafts and responses on research projects, presentations, and active involvement in hosting guest speakers.
Times: W 9-11
Versions of Enlightenment
The Enlightenment has been regarded as the source of either the most progressive or the most retrograde among the values of modernity. It has been described as a historical seedbed for scientific progress, social equality, and political freedom, but also as the moment when modern forms of totalitarianism, scientism, and discrimination by race and gender acquired their contemporary outlines. In this course we will contrast and examine these competing conceptions of the Enlightenment by considering how the movement was envisioned, promoted, and criticized both by its central figures and by later historians and cultural critics. We will read, for example, Condorcet’s optimistic description of the possibilities of human progress next to Rousseau’s critique of the arts and sciences; or Adorno and Horkheimer’s critical study of the Enlightenment alongside more favorable accounts by Isaiah Berlin and Jonathan Israel. Other readings will include Bacon, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft, Kant, Herder, Foucault, and Hannah Arendt. Among the questions we will be addressing are: What exactly was the Enlightenment? Was it a single European phenomenon, or a collection of national movements with certain incompatible features? What is the nature of its modern legacy? And what can it teach us about the cultural and political crises of our own time?
Times: W 6-8
Empire and Gender: The US Experience
In the last two decades the study of US literature and culture has been transformed through an emphasis on the transnational circuits of empire. This course takes imperialism as central to the construction of the United States’ national imaginary and raises a number of questions about the intersection of empire and gender: How is the language of empire gendered? How does gender structure metaphors such as the frontier? How are representations of colonized spaces and racial others invested with discourses of gender? How does the captivity narrative persist in the narrative of contemporary imperialism? How do imperialism and war rhetoric build up masculinity? We will focus on specific sites of U.S. imperialism such as Hawai’i, the Philippines, Vietnam and Iraq.
We will engage with works in a variety of genres including novels, creative non-fiction, drama, and popular films. We will also read works by major postcolonial theorists such as Said, Young, N’gugi, and Mbembe as well as theorists of gender and sexuality such as Susan Bordo, Ann McClintock, and Ann Laura Stoler. The course should be of interest to students of American literature and culture as well as to those broadly interested in questions of imperialism and gender.
Possible texts might include Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Susanna Rowson’s Slaves in Algiers, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Mary Helen Fee’s A Woman’s Impression of the Philippines, Bulosan’s America is in the Heart, Le Ly Hayslip’s When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, Cosmatos’ Rambo First Blood, Part II, and Cameron Crowe’s Aloha.
Requirements: 5–6 response papers; oral presentations; seminar paper
Times: W 6-8
Theoretical Approaches to Black Cultural Studies
This course employs an interdisciplinary approach that requires students to familiarize themselves with Langston Hughes’ literary and sociopolitical writings, and apply critical intersectional theories, which scholars as Frank B. Wilderson III, Jared Sexton, Saidiya Hartman, Calvin Warren, and essayists like Ta-Nehisi Coates and James Baldwin employ, which signals a burgeoning Afro-Pessimism and or postNegritude moment where the postracial fantasy of neoliberal gestures have evaporated with the departure of President Barack Hussein Obama.
Discussion topics include the Harlem Renaissance, African American literature, the blues tradition in poetry and life, and the international sociopolitical climate of our contemporary life. In discussing the literary work and political life of Langston Hughes, the seminar participants will critically assess how Hughes fared as an American writer and social critic and how critical race theory might reveal or deny the persistence of anti-black violence in words and deeds. How does Hughes’ writings symbolically expose and fervently articulate a “Black Lives Matters” consciousness in African American literature, creativity, and intersectional theoretical thought.
Times: T 6-8
Comparative Children’s Literature
This seminar considers comparative children’s literature both historically and in our globalized moment. Emer O’Sullivan proposes that on the one hand, children’s literature (and in particular folk narratives) has long transcended linguistic and national borders, while on the other hand, there’s no such thing as transcendence. We’ll consider the ongoing tussle of comparative literature in relation to “world literature” as well as literary nationalisms, with particular focus on the role of children’s materials. O’Sullivan will be our main guide, and we’ll take up some of the nine areas of focus she suggests for the enterprise, among them contact and transfer studies; intertextual studies; intermediality studies; image studies; and comparative historiography of children’s literature. We will talk with current and recent grads of our program who work in the field, and we’ll also collaborate with researchers affiliated with the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL), the Australasian Children’s Literature Association (ACLAR) and International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY ).
Knowledge of multiple languages isn’t required, although it would certainly be a boon. I’m pitifully monolingual myself. We will work with our skills and interests and develop where we can. Assignments will likely include 1) a précis of the state of research on a topic of your choosing (a lit review or annotated bibliography); 2) an interview with and profile of a researcher working on a topic of your choosing; 3) possible participation in collective resources project; and 4) a longer individualized research project. Some possibilities include comparative analyses of texts or genres; case studies of national literatures, including materials such as anthologies or readers; work with or studies of comparative/national literature collections, such as the European Picture Book Project or the International Young Library in Munich; projects on translation, publication, editing; research on circulations of value or the “classics.” But there are lots of other possibilities too.
Some likely readings: Clare Bradford, Unsettling Narratives: Postcolonial Readings of Children’s Literature; Paul Hazard, Books, Children and Men; Emer O’Sullivan, Comparative Children’s Literature; Ankhi Mukherjee, What Is a Classic? Postcolonial Rewriting and the Invention of a Canon; as well as various shorter materials.
Times: T E1-E3
Maurice Sendak: The Artist, the Art of the Picture Book, the Golden Age of American Children’s Literature, and the Archetypes of Childhood
“Let the wild rumpus start!”
This seminar focuses on the art of Maurice Sendak, one of the key, shaping figures of American and, indeed, world children’s literature for more than half a century. Sendak’s influences on the art of the picture book as well as our thinking about childhood has been ubiquitous and profound. The seminar will explore Sendak works (in print and other media) with special attention to the rich historical sources of his works, his archetypal poetics, his revisioning of the form of the picture book, and his redefinition of the role of the artist creating works for young people in contemporary culture. Along with discussions of his core works, participants in the seminar will respond to Sendak’s works imaginatively, through a series of bi-weekly creative projects and a final, longer work.
Times: T 6-8
As we move into an era of greater climate instability, climate science will shape how we imagine the collective futures of humans and other living creatures of the Earth. In this course we will investigate a vital contribution of the humanities to our understanding of the significance of climate change. We will read a wide range of climate-related texts, mostly from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and mostly in the emerging genre of climate fiction: stories that are grounded in realities of global climate crisis, mass extinction, climate-induced migration, and economic collapse: a world in which former habits of mind and body are incompatible with situations on the ground, in the air, and under the water. The diverse authors whose works we will study show that creating new habits is difficult and perilous; it is easier to find fear, cynicism, and despair — none of which responses, it is clear, is up to the challenges of the real futures that approach us.
Much of what we will read is, implicitly and explicitly, an indictment of the blind hubris, cruel appetite, and reckless improvidence that have pushed us all toward terrible ends. This course proposes that the literary imagination of climate, haunted by the losses and negations of crisis, may also point in the direction of a new ethic of climate that embraces critical reflection, shared responsibility, and hopeful resolve.
Graded writing requirements for this course include periodic participation in seeded class discussions and a final research paper.
Times: M 6-8
Women, Literature, and Gardens in the Long 19th Century and Beyond
In February of 1913, suffragettes attacked the Orchid House and burned down the Tea Pavilion at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The Journal of Horticulture and Home Farmer reported on the second incident in this way: “For the second time within a fortnight female vandals have visited Kew Gardens with direful consequences. The picturesque tea pavilion was razed to the ground by fire. Happily the perpetrators were captured and are unlikely to resume their insane campaign for some time to come.” No longer content to be hothouse plants themselves, these early feminists apparently viewed Kew, with its vast collections of plants from around the world, as a bastion of masculine and imperialist power. Considered by the establishment as insane for wanting to destroy such beautiful and treasured places, the women saw the garden as a contested space and put their political agenda before aesthetic appreciation.
This course will explore the various dimensions of women’s engagement with gardening, botanical studies, and horticulture in England during the long 19th century and beyond—from the early educational treatises to such radical political acts. Representations of the garden and landscape—and women’s place in them–are often central to women’s literature. In the earlier part of the period, women writers used the subject matter of gardens and plants to educate their readers, to enter into political and cultural debates, particularly around issues of gender and class, and to signal moments of intellectual and spiritual insight. Gardens were viewed as real places and textual spaces to be read and interpreted for oneself and others. As more women became engaged in gardening and botanical pursuits, the meanings of their gardens became more complex. The garden became less a retreat from the world, as it had been in earlier eras, and more of a protected vantage point for engagement and expression of one’s status and aspirations to the world. Gardens were seen as transitional or liminal zones through which women could negotiate between domestic space and the larger world, as is evident in the range of women’s writing about the garden.
In looking toward the twentieth century, we see an increasing interest in what Virginia Woolf famously termed “Professions for Women.” The garden is no longer merely the woman’s domesticated landscape but it is the site of professional advancement and identity. Women such as Beatrix Potter became important environmental advocates and farmers. As horticultural colleges opened their doors to women and some were founded specifically for women, women began to write about their new opportunities. The first chapter of Frances Wolseley’s Gardening for Women (1908) is not accidently called “Gardening as a Profession for Women.” Professional “lady gardeners” were important in the response to the war effort in World War I, when estates were encouraged to give over some of their pleasure grounds to useful crops and women became part of a “land army” at work for the good of Britain and the war effort, a more socially acceptable way to demonstrate their competence than burning down tea rooms. Women writers increasingly became interested in the preservation of rural England, a goal that sometimes clashed with the more public, visible, and active lives of women in both the countryside and the metropolis.
In additional to a range of landscape theorists and historians, writers represented will probably include, among others, Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Smith, Charlotte Bronte, Jane Loudon, Margaret Oliphant, Julia Horatia, Ewing, Beatrix Potter, Frances Hodgson Burnett, , Virginia Woolf, and Vita Sackville-West.
Students will be encouraged to pursue their own interests for their research project. In addition to a few informal presentations and writing assignments, students will produce a 20-page seminar paper in stages (proposal, mock-conference paper, completed draft). Students interested in the long nineteenth century (very loosely defined here to include the interwar years!), women’s studies, literature and the visual arts, literature and science, landscape theory, feminist geography, and children’s literature will find ample material on the syllabus and for research. Class sessions will also include trips to the Harn museum to view women’s botanical prints and to Special Collections in the Smathers Library to learn about archival resources.
Times: M 3-5