Why study literature? In many contexts, including the contexts of most other academic disciplines, one reads in order to extract the gist of a text. By studying literature, we enable ourselves to do much more than that. Studying literature makes it possible to recover a relationship to language that we all once had, in which words and their interrelationships were new, strange, and rich with possibility. It makes it possible to develop a more acute awareness of the ongoing tension between language as units of meaning (words, phrases, sentences) and language as units of sound (the beat of syllables, the harmonization of one syllable with another). It even makes it possible for us to carry this sense of everything that is uncanny about language–the medium of our relationship to others and to ourselves–into our lives more generally, to recognize that in just about everything that we say, we mean more than we mean to mean. People who study literature are people who are capable of taking away from conversations, no less than from poems, much more than the gist, the summary, the bottom line. By dwelling on texts patiently, by slowing down the process of moving from mystery to certainty, by opening ourselves to the crosscurrents of potential meanings that are present at every moment in just about every sentence, it is possible for us to become more accurate and nuanced readers of just about everything that happens in our lives.
Eighteen seats reserved for first-year students. Limited to 18 students. Professor Sanborn.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL and FAMS) Unlearning Media is a module of introductory film and media courses that seek to learn new ways of understanding or making media by unlearning everything we believe we know about them. Focusing on a range of contemporary media phenomena, and taught by FAMS instructors specializing in critical studies, creative practices, or both, Unlearning Media courses delve deep into our relationships with media forms, devices, or practices that we secretly love, openly resent, or have simply stopped noticing. By turning things sideways and pausing on unexpected details, or taking the time to explore hidden alleyways and histories, we will discover how media get under our skin and shape what we believe to be true—and how they might yet unlock our imagination of what could be. In Fall 2022, Unlearning Media will be taught by Professor Rangan and the topic will be True Crime. Focusing on the recent boom in true crime documentary films, series, and podcasts, we will look to the past and future of the true crime genre to understand what drives the audience appetite for crime stories, and what narratives are missing that can help us understand why the world feels like a scary place—and point to ways to fix it.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Rangan.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
The world is ending, the planet is dying, civilization is falling to ruin – now what? For millennia, theatermakers have asked and answered this question through their art. Why does theater keep staging such scenes of devastation and renewal? In this course, you will read a selection of such apocalyptic plays, as well as works in other genres that ask us to imagine that, when all else has withered away, the theater will somehow survive. Course materials will range from medieval morality plays and Shakespearean tragedies to recent novels, avant-garde theater, and Broadway musicals. With the help of texts by and about BIPOC performers, we will also ask: For whom, exactly, is the world supposed to be ending? For whom did it end at least once already – whether years or centuries ago? And what does theater offer to communities who have already survived the apocalypse, or who currently live in apocalyptic times?
As an introduction to college-level studies in English, this course teaches the fundamental skills of close reading, attentive viewing, deep discussion, powerful writing, and effective revision.
Readings may include:
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Everybody
Everyman (anonymous 15th-century morality play)
Adrienne Kennedy, Motherhood 2000
The Crucifixion and The Last Judgment (medieval cycle plays)
Caryl Churchill, Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen
José Rivera, Marisol
Larissa FastHorse, What Would Crazy Horse Do?
Tim Crouch, Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation
Annie Baker, The Antipodes
Jordan Harrison, The Amateurs
Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
William Shakespeare, King Lear
DeLanna Studi, And So We Walked
Sarah Ruhl, Eurydice
Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown
Limit of 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Grobe.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 180 and FAMS 110) A first course in reading films and writing about them. A varied selection of films for study and criticism, partly to illustrate the main elements of film language and partly to pose challenging texts for reading and writing. Frequent short papers. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 25 students. Twelve seats reserved for first-year students. Open to first-year and sophomore students. Fall semester: Professor Hastie. Spring semester: Visiting Professor L. Shapiro Sanders.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
How does migration transform identity? Which techniques do writers use to express and recreate this complex experience on the page? What role can language and narrative technique play in forging a sense of self and home? How might writing be related to refuge? Reading across genres of poetry, fiction and memoir, this class explores how writers have described the experience of locating themselves while departing, arriving or living in between. The course will cover topics such as alienation, assimilation, generational memory, survival, nostalgia, hybridity, and transformation. Students can expect a wide range of writing assignments, both analytical and creative. Readings may include Bapsi Sidhwa, Amitav Ghosh, Zadie Smith, José Olivarez, Warsan Shire, Suji Kwock Kim, Fady Joudah, Edwidge Danticat, Eduardo Corral and Ocean Vuong.
Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Kapur.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
This course explores media literacy and the rhetoric of news through readings of a range of multimedia news and academic articles. It asks students, through critical writing, to come to terms with our responsibilities as engaged citizens for understanding, and acting on, the information we encounter in the news. Together, we will examine the way that journalists present the written word in print and digital spaces to inform, analyze, and present opinions–as we do the same in our own writing. We will pay close attention to the way that reporter teams explicitly and implicitly build arguments, use evidence, organize texts, and edit their own work, with an eye on developing strategies for using these skills in class assignments, and transferring them to other classes as well. Through writing projects that ask students to examine conversations on current events, particularly those relating to social and racial justice, students will develop skills to evaluate and contribute to the multimedia news landscape.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Lecturer Reardon.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Writing Intensive) (Offered as ENGL 120, AMST 120 and EDST 120) This course considers from many perspectives what it means to read and write and learn and teach both for ourselves and for others. As part of the work of this course, in addition to the usual class hours, students will serve as weekly tutors and classroom assistants in adult basic education centers in nearby towns. Thus, this course consciously engages with the obstacles to and the power of education through course readings, through self-reflexive writing about our own varied educational experiences, and through weekly work in the community. As an Intensive Writing course, this class further supports students as they hone deep reading strategies and multi-step writing processes themselves.
Although this course presses participants to reflect a great deal about teaching, this course does not teach how to teach. Instead it offers an exploration of the contexts and processes of education, and of the politics and desires that suffuse learning. Course readings range across literary genres (ex: essays, poems, autobiographies, and novels) in which education and teaching figure centrally, as well as readings from other disciplines, which may include ethnography, sociology, psychology, and philosophy. As part of the work of Intensive Writing, students will examine not only the content of these readings but also how they are constructed. Specifically, they will study rhetorical features (ex: audience awareness and genre expectations), as well as the structures of argument and analysis, with an eye on developing reading and writing skills they can use in other courses across the College.
Ultimately, students will come together as a community of writers who support one another as they reflect on their experiences as tutors and develop their own academic writing voices.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Lecturer Reardon.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as EDST 121 and ENGL 121) This course considers belonging and community in the college context, with a focus on reading and writing as part of a practice of making meaning of the college experience. Students will learn about the history of higher education as they research and reflect on the contemporary college landscape. They will analyze learning as a process: how it is understood by scholars and teachers; how it is shaped by cultural and rhetorical contexts; and how students engage with it. The course will consider equity and access and how students’ intersectional identities (i.e.: how class, race, gender, and disability, among others) impact the way they navigate college. As part of the work of this course, students will collaboratively work toward a community-engaged project centered on college access.
Assigned texts will include a range of sources (books, articles, podcasts, videos) from literature and education studies. As they read, listen, and view materials, students will examine not only their content but also how they are constructed. Specifically, they will study rhetorical features (ex: audience awareness and genre expectations), as well as the structures of argument and analysis, with an eye on developing reading and writing skills they can use in other courses across the College. Ultimately, students will come together as a community of writers who support one another as they reflect on their experiences and develop their own academic writing voices.
Preference given to first-year Amherst College students. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Reardon.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
This is a course about the ongoing, changing relationship between the three earliest forms of verbal artistic expression. Before there was drama, before there were novels, there were poems, songs, and stories, each a distinct genre but unimaginable without the others. Why did verbal art take those first forms? What are their defining features? What does each of them give us that the others don’t, or don’t quite? And in the modern context, in which they tend to be separated, what makes it possible for them to catalyze one another, to reveal one another’s qualities? What might a deepening awareness of their interrelationship make it possible for us to experience and understand?
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
With a focus on the skills of close reading and analytical writing, we will look at the ways in which writers imagine illness, how they try to make meaning out of illness, and how they use illness to explore other aspects of experience. This is not a course on the history of illness or the social construction of disease. We will discuss not only what writers say about illness but also how they say it: with what language and in what form they speak the experience of bodily and mental suffering. Readings may include drama by Sophocles, Molière and Margaret Edson; poetry by Donne and Mark Doty; fiction by José Saramago and Mark Haddon; and essays by Susan Sontag, Raphael Campo and Temple Grandin.
Limited to 18 students. 10 seats will be reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Lecturer Sweeney.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL-252 and BLST-152) This course is a survey of nineteenth and twentieth century African American literature (and its attendant scholarly criticism). We will begin in the nineteenth century with the literature of black freedom, bondage, and abolition (vis-à-vis the work of writers such as Frederick Douglass, Henry Box Brown and Harriet Jacobs). From there, we will move to the twentieth century canon with a focus on four major historical periods and “movements”: the Harlem Renaissance, 1940 and 1950s Naturalism and Realism, the Black Arts Movement, and black literature in the post-soul/post-civil rights eras. Novelists and writers discussed will include Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, Jean Toomer, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Ann Petry, Lorraine Hansberry, August Wilson, Ntozake Shange, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler. Students should leave this course with a firm foundation in major debates/approaches to the study of African American literature.
Spring Semester. Professor Roberts.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 162 and BLST 162 [D]) African and African-descended people have a long-documented and intimate relationship to the natural world as a source of healing, nurture, and wealth. However, for a people who were stripped of their land in colonial Africa, exploited to work the land by European enslavers in the New World, and hung from trees in the American South, and who still have a precarious relationship to water in such places as Flint, Michigan, and post-Maria Puerto Rico, inhabiting the earth is complicated. How might we begin to tell this entangled history? What kinds of stories have Africans and their descendants developed to address their relationship with nature? What does the term “environmental justice” even mean to and for people of African descent today?
In this course, we will encounter a range of texts, including slave narratives, novels, poems, visual art, and performance written by and about Black subjects, to begin to understand how various authors, artists, and activists represent the rich relationship between blackness and the natural world. Readings may include works by Olaudah Equiano, W. E. B Du Bois, Ken Saro-Wiwa, Zora Neale Hurston, Derek Walcott, Jamaica Kincaid, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, T. Dungy, Britt Rusert, Kimberly N. Ruffin, among others.
Limited to 18 students. Ten seats reserved for first-year students. Fall semester. Professor Cobham-Sander.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 163 and BLST 163) This seminar introduces students to the study of African American arts and expressive culture. Deploying a broad, interdisciplinary approach, we survey influential works of twentieth and twenty-first century African American fiction, music, drama, painting, and photography in order to understand the tendencies and trends associated with what scholars sometimes refer to as “the black aesthetic.” We will pay particular attention to “masterpiece” works—i.e. extraordinary works of art that have been widely acknowledged as watershed, influential, and enduring. What makes a (black) work of art a “masterpiece”? How have African Americans historically turned to the arts and expressive culture as sites of sociopolitical critique? What role have artists played in building and sustaining what the poet Fred Moten refers to as “the black radical tradition” (i.e. a tradition of black resistance, rebellion, and creative worldmaking). Some of the masterpieces which we will explore will include Toni Morrison’s Beloved, August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, Romare Bearden’s The Block, Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, Suzan Lori Parks’s Top Dog/Underdog, James Vanderzee’s The Harlem Book of the Dead, Ellis Wilson’s Funeral Procession, Anna Deveare Smith’s Fires in the Mirror, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Nina Simone’s Greatest Hits.
Fall semester. Professor Roberts.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as BLST 195[D] and ENGL 195) During the middle decades of the twentieth century, existentialism dominated the European philosophical and literary scene. Prominent theorists such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty put the experience of history, alienation, and the body at the center of philosophical and literary life. It should be no surprise, then, that existentialism appealed to so many Afro-Caribbean and African-American thinkers of the same period and after. This course examines the critical transformation of European existentialist ideas through close readings of black existentialists Aime Césaire, Frantz Fanon, George Lamming, and Wilson Harris, paired with key essays from Sartre, Camus, and Merleau-Ponty. We will engage black existentialism not just as a series of claims, but also as a method, which allows us to read works by African-American writers such as W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison in an existentialist frame. Last, we will consider the matter of how and why existentialism continues to function so centrally in contemporary Africana philosophy.
Spring semester. Prof. Thiam2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 280 and FAMS 210) An introduction to cinema studies through consideration of key critical terms, together with a selection of various films (classic and contemporary, foreign and American, popular and avant-garde) for illustration and discussion. The terms for discussion may include, among others: modernity, montage, realism, visual pleasure, ethnography, choreography, streaming, and consumption. Two class meetings and one screening per week.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Guilford.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as BLST 215[D] and ENGL 241) This course explores various musical forms and traditions as well as poetry from the Caribbean, South America, and the United States. We will explore thematic and stylistic synergies between the different genres and pay particular attention to their social, political, and ideological orientations. Musical forms will include: The Blues, Calypso, Reggae, Rap, and Spirituals and we will read poetry by Kate Rushin, Sonia Sanchez, Mutabaruka and others. Limited to 20 students.
Spring semester. Professor Bailey2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Poetry is an act of discovery. We write to discover what we don't know or understand aboutourselves and the world around us. To make these discoveries we must pay attention: practiceclose observation, question our assumptions, and test our truths.We must also pay attention to what’s happening in our bodies as we write: the breath, pulseand heartbeat that gives poetry life. When we practice embodied writing we include our wholeselves in our creative work.In many ways, poetry is a kind of research, and not so different than other fields. In this class,we'll look at poems that have curiosity and attention at their core: scientific, historic, culturaland social. We'll develop our abilities as researchers and writers through on-site exercises, thecultivation of a writer's notebook, close readings and regular writing practice.We'll look at poems by Elizabeth Bradfield, Tishani Doshi, Aracelis Girmay, Camille Dungy, JennGivhan, Layli Longsoldier, Danez Smith, Ross Gay and others, and make our own curious,embodied poem collections.The majority of our time will be spent practicing: there will be multiple writing assignmentseach week. Reading will be a crucial component of our efforts. Writing assignments anddiscussions of technique will be based in assigned texts. Both reading and writing assignmentswill address issues of form, musicality, syntax, imagery, diction and tone.The workshop format requires the constructive, critical attentions of each and every member ofthe class. We will discuss the ground-rules and work out the logistics of our workshop duringthe first class. Everyone should expect to read their work aloud, and the work of others, in class,many times during the semester. Class participants must be willing to read deeply, writeregularly, and engage in class discussions with energetic curiosity.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Spring semester: Visiting Professor Olander.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
This course explores the questions at the heart of creative nonfiction: What does it mean to tell a “true” story? And what does it mean to tell a true story “creatively”? A deep dive into essay, memoir, and genres of nonfiction that have yet to be named will allow us to form our own definitions of creative nonfiction. Through workshops that will encourage exploration, experimentation, and vulnerability, we will develop our own personal practices for writing from life. Writers in the earliest stages of their engagement with nonfiction are welcome, as well as writers who are seeking to hone their ongoing nonfiction writing and their possible senior projects. In Victor’s section, readings will draw from contemporary American writers of fiction and nonfiction such as Alexander Chee, Cord Jefferson, Jonathan Escoffery, T Kira Madden, Chanel Miller, Cheryl Strayed, Sheila Sundar, and Vanessa Veselka.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Section 01: Lecturer Sweeney. Section 02: Postdoctoral Fellow Yang.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
How can we re-imagine ourselves and the world through our deeply felt personal questions? This course will focus on using personal non-fiction narratives to consider larger themes of politics, history, current events, and our ever-changing social reality. The course welcomes beginning writers who want to learn how to write more creatively without limiting censors and unnecessary judgment. The class will function as a cooperative workshop to help all write more fluently and with greater joy.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Writer-in-Residence Lee.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as RUSS 225 and ENGL 315) This course looks at the fiction and career of Vladimir Nabokov, a trilingual fiction writer of genius and a sophisticated self-promoter. As a liberal aristocrat living in exile in Berlin and Paris during the 1920s and 1930s, the young Nabokov was hailed as the hope of an entire generation of émigrés – artists and writers forced out of their homeland following the Russian Revolution. We first examine this European career in its publishing and media contexts, including his writing for translation into German, French, and English and for adaptation into screenplays for silent and early sound cinema. We then track to his move to America and discover how a transnational career is crafted. Modernist fiction of this period was shadowed and overshadowed by a burgeoning film industry: we will watch a number of great movies from the silent and early sound era, including some of the masterpieces of Weimar cinema by the directors who would go on to create film noir in Hollywood. We will focus on a range of Nabokov’s darkly comic novels: The Luzhin Defense, Laughter in the Dark, Invitation to a Beheading, Lolita, Pnin, and Pale Fire. During the course we will learn through Nabokov’s fiction to appreciate the subtleties of irony, voice, and parody; to think more deeply about the relation between history and culture (how do events engender works of art?); and to study the interaction between literature and visual culture. All readings in English.
Fall semester. Prof. Parker.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
A first course in writing fiction. Emphasis will be on experimentation as well as on developing skill and craft. Workshop (discussion) format.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester: Writer-in-Residence Lee and Professor Myiint. Spring semester: Lecturer D. Sweeney.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
In this course, we will explore, through the reading and writing of fiction, our own personal journeys toward understanding race in America. Recognizing that these journeys are filled with myths, messiness, and mistakes, and that the truest stories are not always politically or socially comfortable to tell, we will look inward, rather than calling out. Together, we will create worlds on the page that are true to us and the people we love. Readings will draw from contemporary American writers of fiction and non-fiction such as Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, ZZ Packer, Danielle Evans, Ta-Nahisi Coates, Hilton Als, Jenny Zhang, Alexander Chee, and Anthony Veasna So. There will be very frequent writing, both through low-stakes reflections and in writing workshop with our peers.
Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Postdoctoral Fellow Yang.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Theater can boil things down to their essence, subjecting ideas and social issues to what one critic has called “great reckonings in little rooms." This course introduces you to the craft of play-reading by focusing your attention on exactly these sorts of “great reckonings.” Centered on the work of BIPOC, femme, and queer playwrights, this course features plays that tackle big issues but require few actors (three, two, one, or even none!) to produce.
As a foundational course in drama, this course will teach you the special skills involved in reading plays. As texts meant to be interpreted and staged by theater-makers, plays are radically under-determined things. As a reader, you cannot sit back and play the role of audience. You must also do the imaginative work of all those people–actors, directors, designers, etc.–who turn a play into a performance. This course will teach you the habits of mind that make this imaginative work possible.
Assessment in the course will be based on three things: (1) active participation in class discussions, (2) completion of regular reading responses, and (3) writing and revision of three mid-sized projects, one at the end of each four-week unit. These three projects will be modelled on the sort of documents routinely created as part of theater practice (and arts practice in general) today: a literary manager's reading reports, a dramaturg's research summaries, and community engagement or audience education/outreach plans.
Readings may include:
Yvette Nolan, The Unplugging
Tarell Alvin McCraney, The Brothers Size
Cherríe Moraga, Giving Up the Ghost
Paula Vogel, Baltimore Waltz
Lauren Yee, in a word
Antoinette Nwandu, Pass Over
Jen Silverman, The Roommate
Lloyd Suh, The Chinese Lady
Suzan-Lori Parks, Topdog/Underdog
Jasmine Lee-Jones, seven methods of killing kylie jenner
Caryl Churchill, A Number
Young Jean Lee, We're Gonna Die
Hannah Gadsby, Nanette
Anna Deavere Smith, Fires in the Mirror
David Greenspan, The Myopia
Nassim Soleimanpour, White Rabbit Red Rabbit
Heidi Schreck, What the Constitution Means to Me
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Grobe.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
A first course in the critical reading of selected English-language poets, which gives students exposure to significant poets, poetic styles, and literary and cultural contexts for poetry from across the tradition. Attention will be given to prosody and poetic forms, and to different ways of reading poems.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Worsley.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
An introduction to the genre of the novel and to the experiences that it affords. We will pay attention to the development of characters, to the complications and resolutions of plots, and to the ceaseless social framing of what it’s possible to express, but we will pay attention, as well, to less foregrounded things, like rhythm, motion, emotional atmospheres, and nonhuman presences. Students will read five novels, representing a range of types and styles, and write two ten-page papers.
Preference given to sophomores. Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Sanborn.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 251 and FAMS 251) How – or when – do we know if a film is a documentary? How does this knowledge, unreliable as it may be, shift our attitude toward the film, the people in it, and the world that it depicts? Documentary, perhaps most famously defined by the Scottish filmmaker John Grierson as “the creative representation of reality,” is as old as cinema itself, and to this day, debates rage on regarding the definition of documentary, and what, if anything, makes documentary films distinct from their fictional counterparts. This course will offer a historical survey of these debates to understand how the cinematic practice of representing reality has given rise to distinct formal conventions, film movements, ethical problems, political commitments, institutional frameworks, and communities of practitioners and spectators. Students will watch a dazzling array of difficult-to-find films from around the world, hear lectures on different methods and perspectives on studying documentary, and produce regular reading responses, textual analyses, and argument-driven essays.
Limited to 35 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
This course is an exploration of the ways in which African literature can be read as a philosophical engagement concerned with a critique of modern epistemology (David Diop's poems, Amadou Hampate Ba, Kaidara, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Ambiguous Adventure) and a theory of being (Tsitsi Dangarembga: Nervous Conditions, Ngugi WaThiongo: Petals of Blood) leading to a political engagement with the question of the good life in a good society (NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names, Blitz Bazawule, The scent of Burnt Flowers and Nnedi Okarafor’s Who Fears Death). The ultimate goal of the course is to explore how works of African literature ask: How did particular ways of thinking of the world lead to the invention of Africa and how can African ontologies offer a way out of the pervasiveness of coloniality? What really does it mean to be African, a version of a more general question that has dominated the history of philosophy: what does it mean to be human? And finally, how do African epistemologies and ontologies allow for radical political outlooks enabling the realization of a propitious society for the good life of its citizens.
Students will, at the end of the course, develop a clear understanding of the relation between literature and philosophy in the African context and have a good sense of the history of African literature and philosophy, with a good command of key figures, ideas, and debate that have dominated African literature and philosophy for the past 70 years.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Thiam.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 256 and BLST 256 [D]) In this course, we will develop a thoughtful understanding of the idea of Africa and the African diaspora and a complex appreciation of the meanings of black presence in the world. We will ask five questions that will allow us to explore the ways literary and philosophical texts from Africa and the African Diaspora challenge the Global Matrix of Power, question anti-Black racism in philosophy, literature, and cultural studies, and shape conceptions of being and identity in Africa and the African diaspora, namely: What is Africa? What is the African-Diaspora? How do these concepts engage with each other? How does race help make sense of both? How does the comparative analysis of the lived experiences of people of African descent allow us to understand the limits of Western modernity, question coloniality, and comprehend people of African descent’s presence in the world? These questions will be examined from the perspectives of three pivotal movements in African literature: Negritude (Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism and Leopold Seda Senghor, selected essays), the postcolonial and decolonial traditions (Ngugi Wathiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind and Cheikh Hamidou Kane, The Ambiguous Adventure), and Afropolitanism and the Afro-chic (Chimanda Adichie, Americanah, Taiye Selasie, Ghana Must Go, and Blitz Bazawule, The scent of Burnt Flowers). These readings will be supplemented by visual material and Afrobeat music. Students will develop a clear understanding of processes that lead to the “invention” of Africa, learn how to synthesize historical processes, key figures, and ideas that have led to contemporary conceptions of Africa and the Diaspora, and refine their critical thinking and writing skills.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Thiam.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 260 and FAMS 334) The word “podcast” was coined in 2004 as a portmanteau of “broadcast” and “iPod.” As the name implies, podcasts were born when an old mode of audio transmission (radio broadcast) met a new technology (portable mp3 players like Apple’s iPod, or rather RSS feeds adapted to handle audio files). But even back then, “podcasts” were more than just time-delayed radio programs you could carry around in your pocket. They also included a wide range of born-podcast formats: free-flowing talk shows, scripted audio-essays, anthologies of audio-journalism, etc.
In this course, we will study the historical origins and contemporary range of podcasts as a medium for writing and performance. We will consider how this medium has absorbed genres from other media (memoir, essay, drama, documentary, fiction, etc.) and combined them in innovative ways. We will also explore genres made possible for the first time by podcasts—whether by their ability for on-demand playback, by their low cost of distribution, or by their openness to audio-experimentation.
The primary skills taught by this course are careful listening and analytic writing. This is not a course in podcast production. It will, however, require you to analyze podcasts by “quoting” them in audio-essays of your own devising. As such, this course will teach you some basic script-writing and audio-editing skills.
No limit. Fall semester. Professor Grobe.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
This course introduces students to modernist literature and culture, with a thematic focus on modernist cityscapes. We will study literary works by T. S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, James Joyce, Nella Larsen, Jean Rhys, and Virginia Woolf, among others, alongside photography and early cinema, reading these texts against historical and critical discussions of the role of the city in shaping modern experience. Among other topics, we will explore modernist experimentation with form and voice, and the imperative to “make it new”; war, violence, and trauma; race, gender, sexuality, and the nation; and the relationship between politics and aesthetics. Writing assignments will include forum posts, short essays, and a final research paper.
Limited to 35 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor L. Shapiro Sanders.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
The stories we tell have the power to change our perceptions about the world around us and the people in it. Decolonizing narratives is the act of undoing colonialism, or, in a broad sense, dismantling the power structures that have historically defined mainstream narratives. In this course, we will explore how to redefine and subvert common archetypes and tropes found in mainstream theater. In addition to discussing representation and casting, we will consider the following questions: who do we want our audience to be? That is, whose gaze are we writing for? What do we assume the audience knows and what do we feel the need to explain or contextualize? Who do we hope or expect will identify with our characters? Do we need to provide dramaturgical justification for identifying a character as a particular race, gender, sexual orientation, or other marker of identity? How can we redefine portrayals of characters who are routinely depicted as victims, or as evil, or as other? How can we subvert stereotypes, not by simply reversing roles, but by rendering a character’s full humanness, complexity, and agency? Students will learn the fundamentals of dramatic writing and employ these craft principles to write short plays throughout the semester that explore these questions. There will be an emphasis on excavating one’s unique and authentic artistic voice, and on creative process over product. The course will culminate in students writing either a substantial one-act play or, in some cases, a full-length play, depending on individual progress and interests. Reading assignments will include plays and other artistic material that challenge traditional narratives using new forms and structure, or in questioning conventional portrayals of people of the global majority, queer and transgender characters, the working class, Muslims, characters with disabilities, and more. Examples might include work by Jackie Sibblies Drury, Michael R. Jackson, Taylor Mac, Qui Nguyen, Rehana Lew Mirza, María Irene Fornés, Clare Barron, Kristoffer Diaz, Martyna Majok, and more. Previous experience in playwriting is highly recommended.
Limited to 12 students, with permission of the instructor after submitting a writing sample. Spring semester. Professor Choudhury.
2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
In this course, we will survey plays written by American writers of East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian descent, starting with the first wave of Asian American playwrights in the 1960s to more contemporary work. Students will learn the fundamentals and vocabulary of dramaturgical analysis and employ these skills in class discussion and written assignments. Intersectional identities will be emphasized, and readings will include work by biracial, queer, and transgender writers. Playwrights studied will include Frank Chin, David Henry Hwang, Philip Kan Gotanda, Diana Son, Alaudin Ullah, Qui Nguyen, Young Jean Lee, Lloyd Suh, Madhuri Shekar, Rajiv Joseph, Carla Ching, Mike Lew, Jiehae Park, A. Rey Pamatmat, Clarence Coo, D’Lo, Rehana Mirza, Haruna Lee, Diana Oh, and more. While the focus will be on reading plays, students will also explore the socio-historical context of each work via reading assignments that will include critical essays, writings on the history of immigration to the U.S. from Asia, and writings on the representation of Asian Americans on stage.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Choudhury.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as SWAG 279, BLST 302, and ENGL 279) What do we mean by “women’s fiction”? How do we understand women’s genres in different national contexts? This course examines topics in feminist thought such as marriage, sexuality, desire and the home in novels written by women writers from South Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. We will draw on postcolonial literary theory, essays on transnational feminism, and historical studies to situate our analyses of these novels. Texts include South African writer Nadine Gordimer’s July's People, Pakistani novelist Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India, and Caribbean author Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea.
Spring semester. Professor Shandilya.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as RELI-280 and ENGL-297.)
Intensive study of the rich literary repertoire of the Qur’ān. An introduction to its literary qualities, including style, structure, eloquence, and unity; and an introduction to its characters (principally the prophets) and themes. We will further study the Qur’ān as Arabic literature, as Abrahamic literature, as Late-Antique literature, as Mystical literature, and as World literature. No pre-requisites. First year students welcome.
Spring semester. Professor Jaffer.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 283 and FAMS 234) What stories does television tell? And how does it tell them? This course will approach television’s narratives through a focus on both form and content. We will take into account issues of production, distribution, and exhibition, with attention both to historical developments and contemporary transformations to the medium. In this way, we will explore how shifts in programming, platforms, and viewing habits alter both televisual narration and consumption. By considering television’s specific form–whether commercial networks, cable TV, or subscription platforms like Netflix and Hulu–we will query how this specific media format enables or limits the ways it tells stories and what stories it tells. Each iteration of this course will focus on particular forms of narrative programming, through an emphasis on genre, format, historical eras, or cultural facets. Readings will include key critical works in Television Studies, essays on particular television series, and other works that situate television texts in a broader cultural framework and history. The goal of the course is to think through narrative form, representational systems, authorship, exhibition, and reception habits in order to define not just what television narrative is but also what it can be.
The focus of the course for Fall 2022 will be on “seriality.” We will begin by grounding our study in examples from the broadcast era. We will then shift to an exploration of contemporary serials, particularly in the context of digital platforms and the experience of streaming.
Limited to 45 students. Fall semester. Professor Hastie.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as EUST 303, ENGL 320 and RUSS 310) Acts of translation underwrite many kinds of cultural production, often invisibly. Writers of the Harlem Renaissance, for instance, engaged with black internationalism through bilingualism and translation, as Brent Edwards has reminded us. In this course we will study literary translation as a creative practice involved in the making of subjects and cultures. We will read key statements about translation by theorists and translators, such as Walter Benjamin, Roman Jakobson, Lawrence Venuti, Peter Cole and Gayatri Spivak. We also will directly engage in translation work: each student will regularly present translations in a workshop format to produce a portfolio as a final project. The class will be “polyglot,” meaning that students are welcome to translate from any language of which they have knowledge; when they share translations, they will be asked also to provide interlinear, or “literal,” translations for those who may not understand the language they are working in.
Requisite: Two years of college-level study of the chosen language. Limited to 15 students. Professors Bosman and Ciepiela.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL-430 and BLST-303) This course focuses on contemporary African American playwrights. Special attention will be given to changes in the landscape of black American theater over the course of the last two decades. What does contemporary African American drama have to say about issues such as gender, sexuality, class, and/or social justice activism? How has black theater and drama been renewed and/or transformed in the wake of the contemporary movement for black lives? We will search for answers to these questions through close readings of plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney, Dominque Morriseau, Antoinette Nwandu, Jordan Cooper, Anna Deveare Smith, Jeremy O’Harris, Brandon Jenkins, and Katori Hall among others. Our readings will be supplemented with viewings of live-theater performances (included a field-trip to New York City) and virtual conversations with variety of contemporary black playwrights/theater artists. Students should leave this course with not only with a firm grasp on major debates in black theater and performance studies---but also a strong foundation in dramaturgy and dramatic criticism.
Prior coursework in theater studies and/or Black Studies is recommended but not necessary. Spring semester. Professor Roberts.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 308 and LLAS 308) In this course, we will read and discuss recent works of Latinx literature across genres – novel, poetry, memoir, essay, and YA – in engagement with the live debates surrounding language, race, migration, and global capitalism that shape our definitions of Latinx identity and culture (and of literature itself). We will also experiment with different ways of responding to these literary texts in written forms ranging from creative writing to book review to research prospectus. Possible authors may include: Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, Dolores Dorantes, Angie Cruz, Valeria Luiselli, Raquel Salas Rivera, Natalie Diaz, Elizabeth Acevedo, and more.
Fall semester. Limited to 20 students. Professor Mireles Christoff.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
This course examines the way writers commit their own lives to the page and the many interesting hybrids that, falling somewhere in between fiction and non-fiction, writers have been experimenting with of late. Why have these hybrid forms become so dominant in the literary world? How do the assumptions and expectations we bring to fiction differ from those we bring to non-fiction? Why are forms that play with the relation between these forms so popular right now? What do they offer us, emotionally and intellectually? And what can they illuminate about literature, identity, the politics of representation, and social justice? This course will include a combination of critical and creative writing, and will approach readings on the level of craft so that we are always thinking of ourselves both as readers and as writers. Possible readings include: David Vann, Legend of a Suicide; Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts; Jeannette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?; James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain; Junot Díaz, This Is How You Lose Her; Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend; Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle; Michelle Tea, Black Wave; Beyoncé, Lemonade.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professors Christoff and Frank.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 316 and SWAG 316) “From whence comes my help?” “From where does your strength come?” The psalmist and Adrienne Rich ask these questions, which we will face while we read coming-of-age narratives that fit in a genre known by its German name, the Bildungsroman. These novels go beyond the pilgrimage out of adolescence, and into explicit representation of intellectual, aesthetic, and spiritual growth experienced in unison with sexual development, awakenings, thrills, mishaps, and marriage. We will pay attention to how we immerse ourselves into the condition of those who grow on the page; not to “identify” with the characters, but to accompany them. From our immersive accompaniment we will re-emerge–intentionally–to write about how we progress, digress, regress, and grow some more. As we read we will explore many terms and theoretical concerns: Erik Erickson on life stages; Donald Winnicott on holding environment and object relation; Jacques Lacan on mirrors and interminability of desire; Silvan Tomkins on affects and nuclear scripts; Shoshana Feldman on re-reading, un-learning, en-gendering, and–again–desire.
Readings will likely include: Plato, Phaedrus; Susan Choi, Trust Exercise; Lazarillo de Tormes; Teresa de Avila, Interior Castle; John Woolman, The Journal; Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse; Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot; Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous; Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre; James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook; Richard Powers, The Overstory.
Fall semester. Lecturer B. Sánchez-Eppler.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
"It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately, to the notion that something can also be gained." Salman Rushdie
What can we learn about the craft of poetry through the practice of translation? How can engaging with poetry in another language (even in translation) transform our own thinking and writing? This class will explore these questions by reading and translating poetry from around the world and across the centuries. Readings from Homer, Sappho, Catullus, Montale, Ghalib, Mir and a variety of contemporary Arab poets will be augmented with a mix of essays on the practical and theoretical aspects of translation. Students will experiment with a variety of translation-inspired writing exercises and design a final translation project of their choice. There is no language requirement.
Limited to 12 students. Spring semester. Lecturer Kapur.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as THDA 275, ENGL 325 and SWAG 275) Western text-based theatre has historically hushed the voices of women and those from marginalized communities. This course will focus on examples of such voices, paying special attention to artists, writers, and thinkers who challenge and deconstruct aesthetics that privilege the male gaze. In dialogue with feminist theories of gender and identity, we will read plays and study works by women and gender non-conforming artists, such as Hildegard von Bingen, Juana Ines de la Cruz, Susan Glaspell, Adrienne Kennedy, Marina Abramovich, and Taylor Mac. Finally, we will also inquire into new forms of gender-inspired “artivism,” such as The Kilroy’s, the Guerilla girls, Pussy Riot, and the #MeToo movement in theatres around the world. During this course, students are expected to pursue an individual writing or performance project that will further explore the concepts discussed. For this purpose, we will study the Theater of the Oppressed methodology as applied by contemporary Latinx feminist theater-makers.
Limited to 18 students. Omitted 2021-2022. Visiting Artist Carneiro.2022-23: Not offered
How do stories move? What are the uses and limitations of the term “plot” in describing movement or development in narrative? What culturally-specific assumptions and expectations about storytelling are bound up with conventional notions of plot, and how can we, as writers and readers, unravel them? In this advanced fiction writing course, students will explore these questions and more through writing, reading, sharing, and thoughtfully critiquing fiction that challenges, resists, or forgoes linear or sequential narrative. Readings will include Steven Dunn’s Water and Power, Gordon Henry Junior’s The Light People, Valeria Luiselli’s The Lost Children Archives, and Patrick Cottrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, among others. Writers of all aesthetic styles, including plot-driven writers, are welcome. The aim of this course is to build a nurturing and inclusive classroom community where all students can cultivate confidence in their work and writing process.
Requisite: ENGL 226 Fiction Writing I. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Myint.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as BLST 330 [CLA] and ENGL 312) This course offers a comprehensive study of selected Caribbean literature from the perspective of postcolonial and globalization studies. Writers include Dionne Brand, Achy Obejas, Edwidge Danticat, and Kai Miller. Themes include colonization, migration, diasporas, gender and sexuality, immigration, and the experiences of the urban residents. Limited to 20 students.
Spring semester. Prof. C. Bailey2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 330 and EUST 330) [Before 1800] By many accounts, a concept of “race” does not emerge in the West until the colonizing of the New World in the Renaissance. Yet medieval people had many ways of identifying, exoticizing, excluding, and discriminating against “others.” This was often framed in terms of religion (e.g., Christianity vs. Islam), but it also manifests in terms of physiognomic description and ideas of monstrosity in medieval romances and quest narratives. In this course, we will explore how the “othering” of certain medieval peoples creates a racialized language and discourse at once specific to the Middle Ages and its literature and relevant to our current understanding of race. We will read from medieval travel narratives (The Travels of Sir John Mandeville), crusade romances (Richard Coer de Lion), medieval drama, and romances by Chaucer and others alongside critical race theory and historical scholarship to give context to our discussions. We will also explore how the Middle Ages have been racialized in contemporary political and popular discourse. Our course will include visitors working at the vanguard of these debates.
Limited to 25 students. Professor Nelson.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
[Before 1800] Geoffrey Chaucer’s medieval masterwork, The Canterbury Tales, represents pilgrims from all walks of life, from peasants to artisans to nobility, telling tales that are comical, tragic, religious, and fantastical. In this course, we read almost the entirety of the Tales in its original language. The course aims to give the student rapid mastery of Chaucer’s English and an active appreciation of his poetry. Our focus will be on Chaucer’s poetry and the ethical and political questions this complex and delightful literary work raises, and how we can understand these questions within a modern context. No prior knowledge of Middle English is expected, although a knowledge of grammar in English or another Western language will be helpful.
Fall semester. Professor Nelson.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as BLST 339[US], SWAG 338, ENGL 361) This course examines a significant portion of Toni Morrison’s body of work. Taking a primarily thematic approach, we will read several novels, essays, and other writings by Morrison. Our readings will also include critical reception of, and the wide-ranging scholarly reflections on Morrison’s work and her contribution to American and Black Diasporic literatures. Assignments will include: oral presentations, essays, and a research project.
Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Carol Bailey.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 355 and AMST 364) Emily Dickinson’s poetry is rich in what she called “illocality.” Her writing characteristically dissolves images and refuses specificity of place or event, and yet no writer is more intimately connected to a particular place. Dickinson wrote almost all of her poems in this one house on Main Street, in Amherst. Coursework will include a project done in conjunction with The Emily Dickinson Museum, newly opened and significantly restored after two years of pandemic closure. In this course we will have the extraordinary opportunity to read these poems in Amherst, to study both her individual life and her practices of literary expression in the place where she lived and wrote and with access to her manuscripts and to many of the spaces, artifacts, and records of family and local history. It is a complicated history, and starting with new scholarship on the roles the Dickinson family played in the white settlement of the Connecticut River Valley, this class will be particularly attuned to the inequalities of race, class, and gender that structure Dickinson's poetic practice and legacy.
Preference given to juniors and seniors. Limited to 12 students. Fall semester. Professor K. Sánchez-Eppler.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 360 and BLST 360) This course explores the life and writings of American author James Baldwin. Born in poverty-stricken Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance (where he spent his childhood as a Pentecostal boy-preacher), Baldwin went on to become one of the twentieth century’s most influential essayists, novelists, orators, and political commentators---particularly around issues related to American race relations. Unapologetically black, queer, and radical—Baldwin’s writings have become a source of resurgent public interest, particularly in the wake of today’s turbulent U.S. political climate. In this course we will study key moments in Baldwin’s oeuvre and situate the author’s work in a variety of relevant historical “contexts” (such as in the contexts of the American civil rights movement; the black power movement; the gay liberation movement, and the contemporary movement for black lives). We will pay particular attention to reoccurring themes that sit at the center of Baldwin’s political philosophy including: the power of love as an animating force for social transformation; the resilient nature of black resistance; the role and responsibility of artists- as-troublemakers; the limitations of white “ally-ship,” the dangers (and creative possibilities) of organized religion; and the ongoing “problem” of global white supremacy. In addition, we will place Baldwin’s writings in conversation with the voices of some of his contemporaries and literary progeny. One primary concern will be how to place Baldwin’s writings in conversation with current debates about race, gender, sexuality, and politics in contemporary America. Why does Baldwin’s work seem to resonate so forcefully with the social justice concerns of today— and to what ends?
Fall semester. Professor Roberts.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 372 and SWAG 365) Do people the world over love in the same way, or does romance mean different things in different cultures? What happens when love violates social norms? Is the “romance” genre an escape from real-world conflicts or a resolution of them? This course analyzes romantic narratives from across the world through the lens of feminist theories of sexuality, marriage, and romance. We will read heterosexual romances such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, alongside queer fiction such as Sarah Waters’ Fingersmiths and Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness. We will also pay attention to the Western romantic-comedy film, the telenovela, and the Bollywood spectacular.
Limited to 20 students. Not open to first-year students. Spring semester. Professor Shandilya.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
In Jenny Boully’s essay, “On the EEO Genre Sheet,” she writes, “I am sometimes called a poet, sometimes an essayist, sometimes a lyric essayist, sometimes a prose poet. My second book was published under the guise of fiction/poetry/essay. I find these categorizations odd: I’ve never felt anything but whole.” In this course we will read works by contemporary Asian-American authors that defy and/or exceed genre expectations and examine these texts’ relationship to wholeness and hybridity. This is not an introductory course on “Asian-American literature,” but a course that will interrogate the term “Asian-American,” both as a marker of identity and of literary genre. Central to the course will be class visits (virtual and in-person) from local and visiting authors we read. Readings may include works by Jenny Boully, Lily Hoang, Janice Lee, Mary-Kim Arnold, Julietta Singh.
Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Myint.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 369 and FAMS 369)
In the last decade, a wave of discourse on “world-making” has spread through diverse registers of contemporary culture, including popular media, activism, critical theory, and art criticism. In this course, we will survey a range of film scholarship that examines what it means to speak of “cinematic worlds,” and why cinema is so closely associated with world-making practices. Yet we will also ask whether cinema’s status as a world-making technology is a good thing, and whether we—as worldly inhabitants—should be working to preserve, reconstruct, or dismantle the world itself. We will explore these issues through weekly screenings of films from various genres (such as science-fiction, animation, experimental cinema, fantasy, and documentary). And we will also read and discuss critical texts from related fields that often feature in analyses of cinema’s worldliness (such as queer theory, Black studies, ecocriticism, and political theory), asking what lessons such disciplines hold for makers and viewers of film. Readings may include: Jennifer Fay, Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene (Oxford UP, 2018); Jennifer L. Feeley and Sarah Ann Wells, eds., Simultaneous Worlds: Global Science Fiction Cinema (U. Minnesota, 2015); Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt, Queer Cinema in the World (Duke UP, 2016); Tiffany Lethabo King, et al., Otherwise Worlds: Against Settler Colonialism and Anti-Blackness (Duke UP, 2020); and others.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Guilford.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
[Before 1800] What was magic in the early modern world? Why did it cause a crisis in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How did that crisis shape the literature of its time? We will follow competing ideas about magic as they ran like wildfire through the imagination of artists, playwrights, and preachers from medieval Germany through Renaissance England to Puritan Massachusetts. We will ask how magic in its apparently beneficial forms, such as alchemy and astrology, might relate to the supposedly malevolent practices of witchcraft, which yielded notorious trials and brutal executions on both sides of the Atlantic. Why did cultures balanced between religion and science become obsessed with magic? How did the fear and wonder that it evoked find its way into art? And what can literary figures of witches and sorcerers still tell us about our modern fantasies of self-empowerment and the counter-threat of demonic possession?
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 388 and FAMS 240.)
How do screenplays function? What are the elements that combine to engage audiences and convey a compelling story to readers? This course is designed to provide students with the skills necessary to analyze and create narrative feature film scripts, series, and shorts, with attention to mechanics and elegant design. Close readings of screenplays and films will seek to reveal how writers are able to grip an audience’s attention by building narrative questions, how plots are structured both within scenes and across an entire work, how resonant dialogue can effectively impart information and create subtext, and how characters relate to plot. Classes will combine textual analysis, writing instruction, and peer review. Students will complete several short scripts in preparation for a longer final screenplay (no more than ten pages), with extensive revision throughout the semester.
Preference will be given to FAMS majors and English majors concentrating in creative writing; seniors, then juniors, then sophomores. Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor E. Sanders.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 488 and FAMS 415) Moving image and audiovisual media frequently assume a fully able subject despite the infinite variety of human capacities and disabilities. This course will acquaint you with historical and contemporary interventions by disabled scholars, makers, and activists that reframe access as a fundamental principle of an inclusive media ecology, as well as an aesthetic, narrative, and formal challenge for media makers. Through reading, making, and doing, we will study the intersection of disability and media from a variety of perspectives and topics, including common disability tropes and metaphors; prosthetics and assistive technologies; audiovisual access features like captions and audio description; disability maker cultures; inclusive interface design; and crip modes of spectatorship and listenership. A persistent theme of our conversations and activities will be access, understood as a practical dilemma, a legal standard, and a political horizon. If we approach access as a guiding principle rather than an inconvenient afterthought or retrofit (think: captions added after a film has been completed, or a ramp added to an inaccessible building), how might that change the way we create, exhibit, distribute, and interpret moving image media?
Requisite: A 200-level Foundations Course in ENGL or FAMS; prior video production course highly recommended.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Rangan.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
[Before 1800] Although many people believe that they know themselves better than anyone else does, it is difficult to say exactly what a “self” is. Some people believe true selves only emerge in public or in relationships, while others believe that the true self is one we tend to keep private (or “to ourselves”). To try to define selfhood is to encounter a series of paradoxes. Even if we tend to praise those who are “self-aware,” for instance, it’s paradoxically not so good to be “self-conscious,” or too “sure-of-oneself.” How does the idea that we become different selves in different roles square with the theory of the self? In this class, we will think about this question historically, and read various theories of how selfhood emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and what literature had to do with this. A central theme will be the question of how autobiographical and faux-autobiographical literature works as a tool of self-discovery. We will consider how race, class, and gender affected the formation of selves in this period. We will also consider the question of how far the self is defined by the advent of other concepts that became central to the production of literature in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as character, privacy, identity, inwardness, and interiority. For instance, we will think about how changes to the architecture of both domestic space and city life led, in turn, to new ways of writing, and new spaces for inner life to flourish. Primary texts students will encounter in this class include (for example) the poetry of John Donne and John Milton, the diary of Samuel Pepys, the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and Mary Prince’s account of what it was like to be enslaved in the eighteenth century. No prior knowledge of early texts will be assumed.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Professor Worsley.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 420 and THDA 420) (Before 1800) Interpretations of William Shakespeare’s plays often align with and reinforce hegemonic conceptions of whiteness. Yet for over two centuries that alignment has been contested by theatre artists from the Black diaspora, from Native or Indigenous nations, and from the diverse communities of latinidad. This course centers what one First Nations playwright calls BIPOC “takeovers” of Shakespeare’s work. We will ask how these creative adaptations and translations engage histories of racial, cultural, and linguistic violence and loss, and how they weave new stories and experiences of resistance and healing. Topics to be explored include the utility of colonial texts for decolonial futures; the relation of land, language, and literature; the transformation of Euro-American theatre through non-Western artistic practice and ceremony; and the recent development of anti-racist initiatives that challenge and reinvent the study, staging, and teaching of Shakespeare’s plays. Scholars and creatives leading these past and future projects will join us in conversation, which will guide independent research and shape each student’s culminating work.
Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Bosman2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 422 and SWAG 422) Best known for her experiments with form and style in the modernist novel, Virginia Woolf was also deeply engaged with the literary and artistic currents of her time. This course addresses several of Woolf’s key texts alongside the work of lesser known women writers, both in the Bloomsbury Group and in overlapping activist circles. We will investigate how Woolf and her contemporaries grapple with issues such as the psychic and social damage wrought by the First World War; alternatives to conventional understandings of gender, sexuality, marriage, and domesticity; and the role of women in shaping new visions of a more equitable and just future. We will challenge notions of canonization in reading the work of Vera Brittain, Radclyffe Hall, Winifred Holtby, Katherine Mansfield, Jean Rhys, and Dorothy Sayers alongside Woolf's writings and those of the male modernists with whom she is often associated. In addition to weekly forum posts, two formal essays are required: a midterm paper (5-7 pages) involving close textual analysis of a primary source; and a final research paper (12-15 pages), with a draft to be revised in conjunction with a peer review workshop. Students will be encouraged to conduct research in local and digital archives.
Limited to 20 students. Spring semester. Visiting Professor L. Shapiro Sanders.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
(Offered as ENGL 484 and FAMS 424) Sometimes referred to as the “silver era” of US film production, the 1970s were a period of aesthetic, technological, and cultural transformation. New “auteurs” emerged as both mavericks and commercial success stories. Independence reigned supreme for some, while others helped to usher in the contemporary blockbuster. At the same time, scholarly study of film was steadily increasing, experimenting with new disciplinary methods, waging debates, and often distancing itself from popular critical writings. All told, such narratives of the era have meant that the 1970s looms large in our cultural imagination of film production. This course will trace film history to consider how narratives of the era have been written and how, in recent years, they have been written anew.
The first half of the course will explore several canonical works, while the second half of the course will consider films that have been recently excavated and/or remade. By intermixing popular critical writings (including reviews, interviews, and essays), academic writings of the era, and recent historical studies, we will consider historical and historiographical methods of film studies scholarship. Moreover, in our discussion of newly excavated or historically underrepresented cases–including works directed by women, examples of Blaxploitation cinema, and independent drama–we will explore how canons are both designed and remade, functioning as emblems of the time of their own critical production. Students will work with primary archival materials along with contemporaneous critical or theoretical models in order to develop their own historical narratives of 1970s film.
Requisite: Prior FAMS coursework or, alternatively, prior 200-level courses in ENGL. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Hastie.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
An advanced writing workshop devoted to the reading and writing of novellas. We will study such novellas as Samantha Lan Chang’s Hunger, Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life, and Danielle Evans’ The Office of Historical Corrections, in order to get a sense of the parameters and scope of this in-between form. Students will write up to ten pages per week with the aim of composing and revising a work of 70-80 pages by the end of the semester.
Requisite: A previous fiction-writing workshop. Admission with consent of the instructor. Limited to 12 students. Please consult the Creative Writing Center website for information on admission to this course. Fall semester. Professor Frank.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Can reading poetry change our understanding of our environment? How might the way we perceive nature be conditioned by the ways in which writers have imagined it? In turn, how might the way we perceive our own imaginations be conditioned by ideas about the natural world? Although “nature” might seem like a universal and unchanging concept, British Romantic writers did much to invent our modern ideas about it. Notions of perception, cognition, and the imagination changed alongside our ideas about nature. We will debate what impact this history has had on current environmental discourse, contemporary ethics, and the Green movement. Some critics have argued, for instance, that the Romantics’ reverence for nature is more destructive than it might at first seem. Might it be more environmentally responsible to get rid of the Romantic concept of “nature” altogether? This course gives students a thorough grounding in Romantic Poetry, the philosophy of aesthetics, and literary theory, while also giving them a chance to follow their own research interests in a final project.
The majority of this course will revolve around discussion in various formats, though there will be opportunities for visits to museums and archives in smaller groups. Since research and individual projects will be a central feature of this class, students will receive individual attention and feedback on their work. Students will also have a chance to engage with scholars working in this area.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Worsley.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Avant-garde poetry resists definition. In this class, we will explore poetry that defies convention, be it formal (exploding the poetic verse line), material (appearing outside of the conventional venues of the published, mass-produced book), or linguistic (using everyday language rather than poetic diction). We will read widely from a range of twentieth- and twenty-first century poets as well as important nineteenth-century forebears. The course will center on the movements and schools of avant-garde poetry in the Anglo-American tradition, such as modernism (Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein); the Harlem Renaissance (Langston Hughes); the Beat Poets (Allen Ginsburg, Diane di Prima); the New York School (Frank O’Hara); the Black Arts poets (Amiri Baraka, Harryette Mullen); the Black Mountain Poets (Robert Creeley, Charles Olsen); the Language Poets (Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein); and other contemporary poets (Nathaniel Mackey, Myung Mi Kim, M. NourbSe Philip). We will ask, how do these poets and movements challenge the aesthetic and poetic conventions of their time(s)? How do they expand or challenge the boundaries of poetic forms and subjects? What opportunities and constraints do avant-garde approaches offer to poets of color and/or women poets?
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Nelson.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Why, Rita Felski asks, are people “willing to drive five hundred miles to hear a band playing a certain song, or spend years in graduate school puzzling over a single novel?” Concepts like “cultural capital,” “the hegemonic media industry,” or “interpretive communities” do not fully explain “why it is this particular tune that plays over and over in our heads, why it is Virginia Woolf alone who becomes an object of obsession.” Something else has to be involved, a “rogue something,” in the words of Toni Morrison’s narrator in Jazz, that you “have to figure in before you can figure it out.” In this seminar, students will first explore the phenomenon of aesthetic valuation, then turn to a consideration of when, why, and for whom literary experiences are valuable, and finally embark on independent research projects in which each of them studies a single author in depth and experiments with ways of articulating (in a class presentation and in a final essay) the kinds of value that that author may be said to have.
Admission with consent of the instructor. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Sanborn.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 462 and FAMS 462.) In this integrated seminar, students will gain facility with key issues and debates in curatorial studies as well as hands-on experience with the process of curating a film and video program. In film and media studies, the term “curating” is often used to designate the activity of organizing film and video works for public exhibitions, whether these take shape as film festivals, shorts programs, gallery exhibitions, or screenings of other kinds. This course introduces students to the history, theory, and practice of this activity, examining scholarly discourse on the origins, aesthetics, and politics of film and video curating, and guiding students through the process of producing public screenings of audio-visual media. In the first half of the semester, students will conduct readings, view examples of curated film and video programs, discuss course material, and compose critical essays. In the second half, class time will be devoted to practical workshops in which students will conceive, plan, and produce curated programs of short films and videos for public exhibition.
Limited to 20 students. Fall semester. Professor Guilford.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 477 and FAMS 455)
Confession is arguably central to expressions of postmodern selfhood in TV talk shows, YouTube videos, tweets, and Facebook updates. It also informs the evidentiary logic of our civil apparatuses (legal, medical, humanitarian) and infuses the fabric of our diplomatic, familial, and intimate relations. Indeed, we might say that the confession is the preeminent practice through which we understand the “truth” of our selves.This course investigates the many meanings and itineraries of the confession. We will focus on the various institutional sites that have shaped confessional regimes of truth (such as the church, the school, the clinic, the prison, the courtroom), as well as the role of media forms (from autobiographical video to cinematic melodrama and reality television) in consolidating and challenging these regimes. Readings and assignments emphasize a twinned engagement with media and cultural theory. Topics include: narratives on coming-out, truth and reconciliation, hysteria, torture, the female orgasm, insanity defenses, and racial passing.
Requisite: At least one foundational course in FAMS or equivalent introductory film course, plus any one course in cultural studies/literary theory/gender studies/race and ethnicity studies. Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Rangan.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
(Offered as ENGL 489 and FAMS 470) This course examines classical Hollywood cinema of the 1930s-1950s, focusing on the parallel genres of melodrama and film noir. These genres shared a production context (the Hollywood studio system at its height), an emphasis on gender (for melodrama in the form of the “weepie” or woman’s film, and for film noir in its depiction of hard-boiled masculinity and the femme fatale), and an engagement with the pressing social and political issues of the era. In this course we will ask why these genres flourished during this period, how they resonated with contemporary audiences, and whether they transformed over time. Films to be screened will include All About Eve, Imitation of Life, Letter from an Unknown Woman, Kiss Me Deadly, The Maltese Falcon, Mildred Pierce, and Sunset Boulevard, alongside contemporary examples of modern melodrama and neo-noir and accompanied by readings in film history, theory, and criticism. Several short essays and a longer research project will be required.
Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor L. Sanders.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Independent reading courses.
Fall and spring semester. The Department.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
This is a non-required course for English majors who are currently working on a creative writing or hybrid thesis project. It is meant to offer guidance and a sense of community to these writers as they embark on what can feel like a formidable process. In this course, we will discuss and analyze examples of senior theses in various forms, and discuss issues peculiar to the task of planning, researching, and writing a project of this scope. We will read together to help writers identify models and understand the literary tradition(s) they are working in. We will also talk about the kinds of research that each project invites and requires, and about how to conduct and use that research.
Guided writing in class will play a key role in working through issues of technique, structure, and inspiration. Most important, this course offers students the chance to present and critique work-in-progress with a group of their peers.
Please note: This course does not replace ENGL-498, the Senior Tutorial, which covers students’ independent work under the tutelage of a thesis advisor.
Open to senior majors currently writing a creative or hybrid thesis. Limited to 18 students. Fall semester. Professor Myiint.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
This course introduces students to the basic concepts and methods of literary and critical theory, a body of work that explores and critiques modern assumptions about truth, culture, power, language, representation, subject-formation, and identity. Surveying a wide range of authors and approaches (postcolonial, gender studies and queer theory, critical race theory, psychoanalytic, etc.), students will grapple with complex theoretical texts, consider the place of theory in literary studies and in film, media, and cultural studies as well, and begin to imagine ways of putting theoretical ideas to work for themselves.
Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 18 students. Spring semester. Professor Bosman.2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
A double course. This form of the regular course in independent work for seniors will be approved only in exceptional circumstances.
Fall semester.2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022