Teaching, for me, is a form of research. I think about writing a syllabus for a course—whether it’s a course for first-year students who might never take another literature course or an upper-level advanced seminar for literature majors—as an act of scholarship–and, thus, as the intellectual property of its maker (or makers). In the same way that scholarly writing continues and develops conversations, so too with a syllabus: a course syllabus represents one way to organize a conversation around a set of ideas.
The Global Women
What does it mean to be a “woman writer?” This course will explore and examine that phrase, which has for centuries been used as cause for marginalization and silencing. As we explore what women’s writing from around the world might tell us about the relationships between gender, authority, and creativity, we will also examine what this writing reveals about structures of power, mobility, and tradition. Do we assume, for instance, that there is some essential “female” way of writing, shared by women across time and geography? Drawing on both literary and critical materials, we will also consider the complexities of literary tradition(s) and the ways in which writers have represented the intersections of gender, race, class, nation, and sexuality. Writers to be considered in this course may include Virginia Woolf, Sor Juana, Mary Wollstonecraft, Lady Murasaki, Toni Morrison, Gloria Anzaldua, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, as well as a variety of theoretical materials focusing on gender, sexuality, and power.
Myth, Magic, and Representations of Childhood
Using some of the classics of children’s literature from countries around the world, including novels from the unbelievably popular Harry Potter series, students will examine the ways in which children’s literature offers insight into contemporary culture, particularly concerns about power and politics. Course readings will include fairy tales and myths from around the world, as well as writings from theorists and philosophers who have used these “children’s stories” to analyze and explain aspects of the human experience. Focusing on questions of genre, influence, and intertextuality, students will explore how—or if—“children’s literature” ultimately offers a more cosmopolitan perspective than literature intended solely for adults. Through multiple writing assignments, students will strengthen their abilities to build a literary argument and through ongoing class presentations, students will develop their abilities to speak in front of an audience. Writing to be considered includes His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, Akata Witch, Alif the Unseen, and a variety of theoretical materials.
Our Monsters, Ourselves
This class investigates some of the abiding aspects of human experience through an examination of literary work, as well as other modes of creative expression. We will concern ourselves with the following questions: What is art, and why do people produce it? What makes art a distinctive cultural form and practice? How do the definitions and functions of making and using art change across time and place? What does art allow us to do? How does art allow us to know about the world, at both our contemporary moment and the moment of artistic production?
We will examine work from the past two hundred years as a way to consider the profound transformations that have occurred during this tumultuous period. Some of the issues we will consider have to do with very basic questions: What does it mean to be human—and who do we include in our definitions of “human?” What is the relationship of people to their landscape and environment? What is the relationship of technology to cultural production? How do gender and sexuality define or liberate us? And, ultimately, does the writer have an obligation to address any of these issues in her work? As a guide to our explorations, we will look at the ways in which monsters and the monstrous illuminate particular cultural moments and reflect on whether the monsters of two centuries ago shed light on our own cultural preoccupations. Work to be considered may include Maus, Dracula, Frankenstein in Baghdad, Seasons of Migration to the North, No No Boy, Wide Sargasso Sea, “Pan’s Labryinth,” and “District 9.”
Dystopias and Utopias
We all think about wanting to live in the perfect world, but what happens when definitions of “perfect” conflict with one another? In this course, we will explore the ways that writers and artists have wrestled with the question of “utopia” and—perhaps more frequently—with utopia’s failure. Can we ever hope to attain that perfect world, if even imagined worlds cannot sustain that vision? And if the creation of a utopia necessitates the sacrifice of something essential, who determines what is “essential,” and how? We will first examine some classic texts that try to posit a “utopia” and ask ourselves if utopian ideals look the same across cultures: is there a universal ideal of utopia? And then, conversely, do all failed utopias share a common vocabulary? As we think about these questions, we will consider the ways in which these texts explore the increasingly fraught relationship between humanity and technology, between the community and the individual, and in many instances, between male and female. Drawing on written and cinematic texts from around the world, this course will consider whether any attempt at utopia is doomed, given the human proclivity for violence and xenophobia. also consider why, in recent years, dystopian worlds have become a mainstay of pop culture, in film, television, and literature. Work to be considered may include Thomas More’s Utopia, selections from Al-Farabi and Plato, Herland, Oryx and Crake, “Snowpiercer,” “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind,” The Queue, Parable of the Sower, and Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s Utopia as well as various theoretical and critical texts.
Problems and Methods in Literary Studies
This course introduces issues central to both literary studies and literary production at the present moment. It takes as a governing principle the idea that literary study and practice inform and enrich one another. The course will foster an understanding not only of theoretical and methodological concepts but also an understanding of critical practice, poetics, and poiesis, or art-making. Through a range of readings and a variety of assignments and experiments, both analytical and practical, students will explore key theoretical, critical, and creative traditions that inform contemporary writing and literary studies, including issues of language, form, media, technique, translation, interpretation, and discipline. The course aims to prepare students for their capstone projects; it is strongly suggested, although not required, that students take the course in their junior year. Work to be considered includes writings from Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Amir Mufti, Claudia Rankine, Inger Christensen, Caroline Levine, M NourbeSe Philips, Kamila Shamsie, and others.
Advanced Creative Writing: Nonfiction Essay
“The personal is political”: Popularized by feminist activists in the 1970s, this phrase suggested that mundane experience – domestic work, reproduction, childcare, as well as gendered education and socialization processes – were deeply implicated in larger systems of political power. Narrating those experiences, calling them into question, was a political act that stood to reorder society. In the decades since, the notion has become commonplace. But how do writers – of any gender or other identity category – most effectively discuss and describe the political implications of their subjective experiences? What forms and platforms are most appropriate, and for which audiences or ends? In this workshop, students read a range of classic and recent works of personal writing (Woolf, Orwell, Baldwin, Adichie, Coates, and others) and develop their own voices as they grapple with the politics of individual experience. Group discussions and peer workshops will be supplemented by individual conferences with the professor. We will read essays from a variety of writers, including Porochista Khakpour, Hanif Abdurraqib, Alexander Chee, Cathy Park Hong, James Baldwin, Esme Weijun Wang, Jaswinder Bolina, Chang-Rae Lee, George Orwell, Rebecca Solnit, and others.