English 101 will set you to work planning, writing, and revising essays of various lengths, practicing a handful of essential skills that make for clear and persuasive writing. Though every English 101 features a play by Shakespeare, the content of each courses differs widely, from medieval poetry to contemporary drama, from African-American memoir to speculative fiction.
This course examines not merely texts about University women (those who work there, study there, or subsidize the place), but also the historical place of women in higher education, how its institutions have been involved in debates about political representation, gender and sexual identities, labor activism, and discourses of care and vocation. This will take us deep into conversations about class privilege, white feminism, campus activism, neoliberalism, and academic precarity. How have people attached to the idea of the University, and how have those attachments influenced the freedom of women to do intellectual work? How do changing notions of “safe space” and free speech bear on women’s experience of living and working in academe?
Students in this class will read some interesting works about teaching and learning in a range of genres: essays by Virginia Woolf, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Sara Ahmed, mystery novels by Dorothy Sayers and Amanda Cross, plays by Adrienne Kennedy, Margaret Edson and Ameera Conrad’s activist coalition of students at the University of Cape Town, campus novels by Julie Schumacher and Zadie Smith, and a few popular films and television episodes. They will come away with a more sophisticated sense of how a campus works as well as where and how power is concentrated in higher ed spaces. The pace of reading will accommodate the course’s writing-intensive attribute, and students will also have some choice in the kinds of writing they want to do.
Devastation, dystopia, and decay seem like constant features of our current discourse, but this course wants to think about annihilation, the reduction to non-existence, in ways that go beyond destruction, and which offer creative modes of literary and even religious expression. The course will be divided between Medieval and Early Modern texts, such the Old English poems “The Ruin” and “The Wanderer,” The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, The Cloud of Unknowing, and authors like Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare, and modern texts, including authors such as Oscar Wilde, Sigmund Freud, Kurt Vonnegut, J.M. Coetzee, Amiri Baraka, Ralph Ellison, and Susan Sontag. The course will conclude with reading Jeff VanderMeer’s science-fiction masterpiece, Annihilation.
Slavery and its legacy, systemic racism, have been subjects for American writers, for more than two centuries. Revealing a yawning gap between American ideals and practices, they continue to tell us something vital about our country. This course examines representations of slavery and race in major works of fiction and poetry primarily from the 20th and 21st-centuries. Professor Grammer will choose course materials after registration to avoid teaching books students have encountered in other American Literature classes; she will have her eye on works by Harriet Jacobs, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Ernest Gaines, Toni Morrison, Tiana Clark, Natasha Tretheway, Terrance Hayes, Claudia Rankine, Jesmyn Ward, Colson Whitehead, and Kiese Laymon. This class is appropriate for English, American Studies, and Creative Writing Majors; students considering these majors; pre-medical students; and anyone with an interest in subject matter.
“Everywhere was now a part of everywhere else. Russia, America, London, Kashmir. Our lives, our stories, flowed into one another's, were no longer our own, individual, discrete. This unsettled people. There were collisions and explosions. The world was no longer calm.”
- Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown (2005)
This seminar considers the Anglophone novel since 1989, a period that coincides with the increased pace of globalization. Written largely from transnational perspectives that defy the traditional national boundaries of literary studies, the novels in this course share a common concern with capturing global experience in the English language. From the revised role of America in global politics following the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the attacks of 9/11, recent humanitarian and economic crises, migration, and the urgent challenges of environmental insecurity, this course probes how the Anglophone novel wrestles with globalization. Does it make sense to speak about a literature of globalization? How are processes of globalization reflected through literature, particularly literary form? What role does literature play in our understanding of globalization? What role do we imagine for it? Finally, what role contemporary literature plays in imagining the lives of others in the global age? How does fiction reflect our understanding of the world and our relationships and obligations to others? To answer these questions we will be exploring fiction that moves between West Africa, South Asia, East Asia, North America, and Western Europe. Through close analysis of novels, films, and critical texts, we will consider how globalization has affected literature and literary study and how narratives shape our own understanding of the global. Recent seminars have included works from: Jhumpa Lahiri; Teju Cole; Mohsin Hamid; Ruth Ozeki; Nuruddin Farah; Kamila Shamsie; Zadie Smith; Amitav Ghosh; Leila Aboulela; Indra Sinha; and Michael Ondaatje.
A study of Tennessee Williams’s major plays alone would not do justice to their creator. Tennessee Williams was a dramatist but also a dramatic figure in his own right; he is first and foremost one of the greatest American playwrights, but he is also a poet and fiction writer who understood what it was to be from the American south and to be a queer male during the 20th century, and his understanding of otherness and human compassion pervades his work. Williams’s major plays, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to name a few, and some of his minor ones, introduce us to characters at once unique and also eerily familiar – our mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, ourselves. He extracted an archetypal understanding of human loneliness and struggle from his own life and used it to craft unforgettable characters who speak to us in our own voices, if only we were that poetic. He makes “a positive religion out of the simple act of endurance.”
We will learn about Williams’ life and his connection to Sewanee and study his major plays; we will also consider some of Williams’ poems, stories, and one-act plays. Along with some of the film adaptations of his plays, we will watch the theater department’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire; students will also have the opportunity to perform scenes from the plays. Although this is not a Writing Intensive course, students will write three short response papers on the plays and a longer analytical paper that addresses several of the works.
In English 358, we survey the latter years of Shakespeare’s career in the London theater, a period in which he returned to themes from his earlier plays with a darkened and more complex outlook. From the so-called “problem plays” (Twelfth Night, Measure for Measure) through his high tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth) to the late romances (The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest), Shakespeare insistently guides the audience’s attention to the aftermath of suffering and sorrow. Yet instead of bleak despair, he often both finds and offers consolation in wit, pleasure, and the enduring power of love.
In Renaissance Literature II, we read the poetry of 17th-century England. A tumultuous era whose intertwined religious and political controversies culminated in the execution of a reigning monarch by his parliament, it gave rise to remarkable diversity in poetic forms: the licentious love lyrics of John Donne, Ben Jonson’s passionate praise of friendship, George Herbert’s pious struggles with God’s will, as well as imitations and innovations practiced by a host of other figures. We finish with Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic that brings together poetry, philosophy, theology, and science to undertake a task no less ambitious than “to justify the ways of God to men.”
In this course we will explore themes of song-making, nature, memory, imagination, and seduction through the work of some major Romantic writers (Charlotte Smith, William Blake, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, John Clare, John Keats, Percy and Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron). Whether we know it or not, many of our current assumptions about poets and poetry originate in this period. We’ll trace the history of those assumptions in the context of the French Revolution and the origins of the women’s and labor movements in Britain.
Whether in lively vignettes of gossiping neighbors, gripping tales of social ambition, or Gothic visions of lovers prowling the moors, Victorian novels immerse us in worlds and lives that feel as real as our own. Crucially, though, they are not—not ours, and not real. It is in the space between these dimensions—the familiar and the strange, the actual and the imagined, the singular and the universal—that the Victorian novel unfolds. We will trace the narrative structures, techniques of representation, genre tropes, thematic preoccupations, and cultural contexts of nineteenth-century British fiction through the work of several major authors: Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Oscar Wilde. Marrying an intense focus on the inner life with wide-ranging social scope, their books ask enduring ethical and existential questions: What do we owe other people? How do we measure social progress? Is the present forever haunted by the past? Are human beings creatures of self-determination or fate? As we explore these imagined worlds, we will pay special attention to the fellow-feeling that binds individuals together in Victorian fiction—as well as the hostile impulses that drive them apart. Doing so will show us what Victorian novelists knew well: that literary narrative theorizes the world by representing it, and thereby offers a unique mode of social, psychological, and moral insight.
Like Abraham Lincoln’s announcement of “a new birth of freedom” in the Gettysburg Address, the American literature covered in English 378 struggles to articulate, then problematize, American freedom in the era surrounding the Civil War and emancipation. What is freedom? To whom does it extend? What are its blessings and its costs? Nobody has ever thought more profoundly about these issues than the American writers who emerged before, during, and after the war America fought with itself: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Harriet Jacobs, Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Henry James, Charles Chesnutt, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and others.
James Joyce predicted that his work would “keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” In this seminar, we'll learn to read Joyce's playful and challenging fiction and understand the modernist-era Irish cultural milieu(s) out of which it came; we’ll read some of those busied professors, Joyce’s critics; and we'll learn research and writing skills that allow us confidently to join those ongoing scholarly conversations. Cross-listed with Women’s and Gender Studies, this course will also pay sustained attention to the ways in which Joyce’s radical experiments in breaking and remaking genres have the effect of challenging and dismantling inherited assumptions about gender.
By turns terrifying, melancholy, and bizarre, Gothic literature channels real anxieties in monstrous forms. Drawing from the British and American traditions, this course features narratives of the mysterious, uncanny, supernatural, and grotesque. We will trace the Romantic origins of the genre in 18th-century tales of crumbling castles and deranged monks, then turn to the vampires and doppelgangers that menaced Victorian fantasies of domesticity and progress, and finally grapple with phantoms of slavery in 20th-century American fiction. In the process, we will examine how the familiar conventions of Gothic fiction—ghosts, doubles, old houses, family curses—take on new meaning in light of their literary and cultural contexts. As we put these gripping texts in dialogue with one another, we will see how the unsettling, explosive narratives of Gothic fiction give voice to individual and collective fears, unleashing monsters that refuse to be forgotten. Texts: The Castle of Otranto (Horace Walpole); The Monk (Matthew Lewis); Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë); Dracula (Bram Stoker); The Turn of the Screw (Henry James); short stories by Edgar Allan Poe; Beloved (Toni Morrison)
In this course, we'll read a selection of novels published over the course of the twentieth century--works that ask us to think deeply about what we mean by both "American" and "modern". We'll explore cultural and historical contexts and trace shifting literary movements. Authors include, among others, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Philip Roth.
This course will examine a number of American literary works concerned with the natural world and stemming from the 19th century to the present day. While the course will touch on some trends in American literary history, our primary goal is to see how various American literary imaginations have conceived of and put into practice notions of nature. We are also interested in whether these artworks—if they so be—provide us with explicit or implicit responses to our contemporary climate change crisis.
Literary texts may include: Emerson’s Nature, Thoreau’s Walden, Whitman’s The Song of Myself, Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Leopold’s Sand Creek Almanac, Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, McCarthy’s The Road, Dungy’s Trophic Cascade, and/or others.
Theoretical excerpts may be from Timothy Morton, Jane Bennett, Martin Heidegger, Arne Næss, Immanuel Kant, Ursula Heise, Stephanie LeMenager, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Hannah Arendt, John Zerzan, Theodor Adorno, and/or others.
The structure of this course is designed to give you a new vocabulary, a new language for approaching literary interpretation. In some cases, you will gain terms for ideas and interests you already have, but might not yet have the language to explore as effectively as you could. In others, the ideas and terms will be completely new, opening possibilities for questions, for arguments, and for connections that were simply not available to you before. Our readings will range from classic texts of deconstruction, psychoanalysis, race and gender theory, as well as new work emerging from diverse scholars and developing interpretive fields. But all our readings will be organized around a series of ‘keywords’ that sit at the intersection of a variety of interrelated ideas: terms like “surplus,” “environment,” “cyborg,” “alienation,” or “emplotment” -- all of which we will use to construct a new sense of what it means to read critically.
This approach isn't based around a ‘history of literary theory’ or a syllabus that takes you chronologically through the ‘schools’ of criticism. Rather, it looks to give you a working network of ideas -- ideas that are complex, shifting, and full of potential that you can use in your own reading and writing. In the end, you will have a well of possibilities to think from and your task will be to put them to use in careful reading of literary texts of your choosing. In the end, you will come away with an answer to the question: what is important about the study of literature? And the answer will mean you cannot see this question (or literary study) in the same way again.
This class fulfills the GMWI requirement for the major.
It is strongly recommended for students considering writing an Honors Thesis in the department. Syllabus available upon request
Aren’t you always telling stories to the people around you? But do you ever get a chance to write them down? Some of you wish you could.
If you’re interested in writing down the dramatic events your mind dreams up come take the Beginning Fiction Workshop. In this class you will be introduced to techniques one uses to write compelling fiction. You will learn to communicate about stories as a writer would, building muscle memory in the form of writing exercises to start your career as a working writer. You will be doing a ton of reading and writing. The author, R.O. Kwon has said that reading is almost as much, if not, more important than writing itself for a working writer. I agree. In order to write well one MUST read well and extensively. Via discussion of the techniques used in published stories, we will endeavor to construct individual critical frameworks through which to view stories written by others and ourselves.
How do we tell stories that matter? How do we make our voice heard in a way that connects us to the larger world?
If you’re interested in storytelling, the Beginning Fiction Workshop provides you with the opportunity to develop your skills, study unique and diverse stories from contemporary literature, and share and discuss creative work amongst a group of students in a welcoming space. The primary goal of the course is to help each writer find their own particular voice while utilizing distinct elements of craft. The beginning workshop allows for students to generate multiple stories over the course of the semester, and over the course of the semester we will develop a common language so we can discuss these stories with sensitivity, specificity, and generosity.
Why study and write the novella? The novella, unlike the novel, is wieldy enough to be imagined, written, and workshopped over the course of a semester. Similarly, its form, and literary merit can be examined in some depth over 15 weeks. Shorter than a novel—between 18,000 and 25,000 words—but longer than a traditional short story—really, the middle child of the word count world—the novella, or as some might cheekily call it “the short novel,” is the perfect form to practice writing long form fiction—be honest, you’ve been working on a novel since you were 12 and you’re convinced that this particular “novel” needs another form to fit into, one that allows you to actually finally finish a complete draft!—so this seminar will be devoted to making that happen. In this class we will examine the three-act story structure, elements that go into crafting an outline, and endings. We will give careful consideration to cultivating the following aspects of fiction in our own writing: how to develop major and minor characters, how to utilize different point-of-view strategies, how to develop acute and chronic tension and how to maintain these two types of tension to keep a reader engaged in the story, how to establish and utilize the setting a story takes place in, how to sustain voice, how to deploy subtext and stage desire in extended scenes etc. We will read, read, read because as R. O Kwon said, reading is as much, if not, more important than writing! We will feet-to-the-fire (you gotta take the class to find out what this is) every week and eat sadness pizza as we make certain that none of us share the fate of the deer featured in the photograph!
You've learned all of the rules, now it's time to break them. In Forms in Drama, we explore plays that experiment with form and structure. Each week we read a play that in some way challenges the boundaries of traditional storytelling, and then we complete a writing writing assignment in response to that play. For example, we will learn about metatheatricality as we read Robert O'Hara's Bootycandy, discuss the power of silence in Small Mouth Sounds, study absurdism in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fairview, and look at creating dystopian worlds on stage in The Nether. The goal is to think outside the box as we study craft and convention. This is an excellent opportunity for students who are interested in challenging themselves to make bigger, bolder choices in a safe and supportive workshop environment.
This class is focused on the contemporary moment of poetry—which includes you, dear poet!
Moving from the introductory to the intermediate level, we will deepen and broaden our thinking around the art of poetry—and specifically, its contemporary moment. We will read several debut books from living poets—Brenda Shaughnessy’s Interior with Sudden Joy, Joy Priest’s Horsepower, and Molly McCully Brown’s The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded; and several critical texts—from Lorca’s “Duende” and Auden’s “Making and Judging Poetry” to pieces by living poet/scholars Cathy Park Hong, Fred Moten, and Cristina Rivera Garza. These texts teach us a lot about the possibilities and range of issues + material we have to write about today. You will move from gently exploring and contemplating how/why poems work to crafting unique arguments around how/why poems work. You will write two short craft analysis papers on poems of your choice (from our class texts, or elsewhere, but approved by me) throughout the semester and co-lead discussions on the assigned texts as well as texts you choose collectively as a class. A large component of the course is drafting and workshopping your own poems, as well as revising poems for your final portfolio.
So, more of turning all your thoughts and feelings, and mostly pain, into ART.
After we have built a common language for discussing the craft of writing fiction, after we have utilized those elements of craft to make our own stories, and after we’ve started to complicate the motives for making art, the Intermediate Fiction Workshop provides the opportunity to expand upon those elements and continue to develop your own style and voice. We will read creative work that offers more complex possibilities for technique and expression. We will consider the citizenship inherent in being an artist. Most importantly, we will keep writing stories, workshopping them, and learning what is possible and attempting to go beyond that.
Building on the skills learned in Beginning Playwriting, students in Intermediate Playwriting will explore plays that utilize a non-linear story structure. The semester will begin with readings from contemporary playwrights like Tony Kushner, Paula Vogel, Katori Hall, and Lauren Yee, as we continue to discuss craft. By reading plays and dissecting the form and content, student have an opportunity to develop their analytic skills which will serve them well as they begin examining their own work. Students will apply the skills they have learned as they write their own original one-act play (30-60 pages).
As the final course for the poetry major, we will focus on your capstone project. The capstone includes 8-12 poems, totaling around 20 pages. You will spend most of the course generating and refining poems for this project. We will also read extensively, with a focus on the classic/contemporary—for example, reading Stephanie McCarter’s translation of The Metamorphoses alongside Paisley Rekdal’s Nightingale, Shakespeare’s sonnets alongside Jen Bervin’s Nets—the possibilities are far-reaching, and we will work together on our reading list. At the end of the semester, you will turn in your poems (which will be in the form of a chapbook you design and produce a limited run of…to give away, sell—if that’s allowed—or keep hidden away forever) and a 6-8 page statement that does three things: introduces the capstone, explaining what it is and how it works (speaking to both theme and form); places the work in context with canonical texts (we’ll discuss how to define this); and explains how it sits alongside the contemporary poetry landscape.