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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Jonathan E Murr
BIS 371
Bothell Campus

Twentieth-Century American Literature

Examination of significant writers and literary developments within twentieth-century American culture and society. Addresses issues surrounding the formation of an American literary canon. Stresses themes and methods for advanced literary interpretation within American Studies.

Class description

Beyond National Belonging

“American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it." - James Baldwin

In 2005, when images of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina saturated the world's popular media, it seemed to many observers that the supposedly “exceptional” nature of the US—and its promises of freedom, democratic inclusion, equality, mobility and prosperity—had been revealed to be decisively false. Looking back from the “time of Katrina,” this course will turn to Twentieth-Century US American literatures and cultures that have helped to produce and powerfully challenge claims about the nation and its exceptional nature—its supposed break from the rest of the world in its path of progress. In examining together, through literary texts, US nationalism and different forms of belonging produced in and in tension with the nation, we will develop a working knowledge and vocabulary for the study of American literary cultures in relation to other cultural and political contexts.

We will focus in particular on the ways that race, class, gender and sexuality and other forms of difference have shaped and continue to shape the basic life chances and sense of belonging of those living as citizens, subjects or captives of the US—and the ways that literary and cultural texts and “cultural workers” have imagined and helped to enact other possibilities and futures. This will mean reading literary texts (and their formal and aesthetic concerns) as always in dialogue with different publics, political ideologies, and social movements, and it will mean understanding literature as an important site for creating and contesting forms of belonging.

Our course texts will include three novels (Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty, and Sula by Toni Morrison) and selections from among the following: short stories by Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin, Jhumpa Lahiri and Octavia Butler; poems by Langston Hughes, Robert Lowell, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, Gwendolyn Brooks, Wallace Stevens, Joy Harjo, Suheir Hammad, and Blue Scholars; and critical texts by Catherine Belsey, Etienne Balibar, Benedict Anderson, Anne McClintock, and Lisa Lowe. Evaluation will be based on active daily participation, in-class quizzes and writing assignments, two take-home examinations, one author introduction presentation, and one self-recorded (audio or visual) “philosophical tantrum.”

This class is probably not for you if… . . . attendance isn’t your strong suit. . . . you don’t care for discussion or group work. . . . you have no interest in reflecting critically and openly on the difficult political questions this course raises.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Jonathan E Murr
Date: 10/23/2013