Spring 2021

Literary Storms

Listed in: English, as ENGL-116


Anna J. Abramson (Section 01)


In this course we will weather famous storms featured in literary, artistic, and cinematic works from the nineteenth century through the present day. Together, we will make our way through snow, sleet, hurricanes, cyclones, tropical storms, superstorms, and everyday rain showers. This topic will provide a unifying thematic thread for a class focused on the fundamentals of close reading, viewing, writing, and revision. We will examine how various genres, narrative styles, and authorial voices engage this common topic in strikingly different ways. We will also use storms to learn about literary and aesthetic concepts such as the sublime, and to think about the basic building blocks of narrative. How do storms blur lines between setting, plot, characterization, suspense, and closure? What does it mean for a setting to come to life or function as a character?

Together, we will discuss: How do stories of environmental violence and human violence collide? Who gets to tell the story of a storm? What stories emerge on either side of the ostensibly rupturing event itself, before and after the storm? How do storms expose and exacerbate disparities along racial and socioeconomic lines? Can reading local storm stories provide a way of thinking about global climate change?

Some of our storms will be based upon actual events, including Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, and Irene; this will raise complex questions about the boundaries between history and art.

Possible works include paintings by J. M. W. Turner; short stories by Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Ben Marcus; novels by Zora Neale Hurston, Ben Lerner, and Jesmyn Ward; film by Behn Zeitlin, and documentary by Spike Lee.

While this class will default to an online (mostly synchronous) format, there will be on-campus opportunities, including but not limited to office hours; it is also possible that on-campus group meetings might become more possible as the semester progresses. But students should be clear that the online format is the default we will begin with.

Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Abramson.

If Overenrolled: Preference will be given to first year students and English majors who still need to complete their 100-level requirement.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Gender and Sexuality, Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Issues of Social Justice, Attention to Writing, Online Only


2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021, Spring 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2019, Spring 2021, Fall 2021