“’Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she/ With silent lips.”
- Emma Lazarus “The New Colossus”
Course Overview: This course explores the evolution of the American voice and identity through literature and non-fiction. While we will study many of the canonical works of American literature, reading the classics that have established the foundation of our literary history, we’ll also be reading more contemporary and experimental texts showing how American literature has evolved. We’ll consider how to define an “American” voice in our discussions of the issues that face us as a nation. The end goal of this class is to develop as writers and readers, and you should expect to participate in discussion on a daily basis to create an engaging and intellectual classroom community. Reading is a subjective experience, and our class is richer when many voices contribute.
Written assignments will be both analytical and personal. You can expect to write often and deeply, considering both the resonant American themes in the literature and non-fiction that we read, and writing strategies for effectively conveying complex and important ideas. While considering the notion of the American voice, you will also work on developing your own writerly voice, writing both creatively and analytically – sometimes simultaneously. Your assignments – and this class – will be challenging, creative and fun.
This year’s titles may include:
- Founding documents by Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (among others)
- A wide array of poets
- Transcendentalist writing (contemporary and classic): Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, and Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Short fiction and ghost stories by Karen Russell, Edgar Allen Poe, Jhumpa Lahiri, Tobias Wolff, Bushra Rehman, Lorrie Moore and Sherman Alexie
- Essays by Joan Didion, David Foster Wallace, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Martin Luther King Jr., Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brent Staples, and Henry David Thoreau
- Walden (1854) – Henry David Thoreau
- Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass (1845) – Frederick Douglass
- Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) – Zora Neale Hurston
- The Crucible (1953) – Arthur Miller
- The Great Gatsby (1925) – F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Things They Carried (1990) – Tim O’Brien
- The Laramie Project (2002) – Moises Kaufman
- The Namesake (2003) – Jhumpa Lahiri
- Salvage the Bones (2011) – Jesmyn Ward
- Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) – Directed by Ben Zeitlin
- Into the Wild (1996) – Jon Krakauer
- When the Emperor was Divine (2002) – Julie Otsuka
- Fun Home (2006) – Alison Bechdel
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) – Junot Diaz
- The Central Park Five (2012) – Directed and written by Sarah Burns
- Citizen (2014) – Claudia Rankine
- In what ways does American literature break from and continue previous literary traditions and forms?
- How do (and have) writers contribute(d) to the character of the country?
- How has American literature evolved as the country has grown?
- How does “canonical” and “non-canonical” literature contribute to an American voice?
- How do the “ghosts” of America’s history influence our literary traditions?
- How can we define “American literature” in a country so big and geographically, racially, ethnically, politically, and socially diverse?
- How can we use American literature to identify distinctly American themes?
- How do a writer’s stylistic choices enhance her message?
- How can we utilize rhetorical and literary techniques in our own writing to develop our writerly voices?
- How can we apply literary theories to better understand and analyze literature?
- How can we converse with each other about literature, rather than simply state our own thoughts?
- What does it mean to be an informed, responsible American citizen?
- How do our nation’s writers help us better understand the moral and philosophical issues that face us as people?
- How do American writers experiment with form to create new meanings of old themes?