Gianna G Craig
Introduces American culture through a careful reading of a variety of representative texts in their historical contexts.
This course serves as an introduction to American literature and culture. However, rather than treating “American literature” as a defined and stable concept, we will explore the contradictions and contestations that are at work when we speak of American literature as an organizing framework. In order to do this we will investigate the following questions: What is “American” about “classic” examples of American literature? What roles do historical, social, political, and economic factors play in producing and critiquing the concept of American literature? Conversely, what roles does literature play in producing and critiquing the nation? Ultimately, these questions will help us consider how literature participates in and problematizes American culture specifically and national cultures broadly. The responses we develop in relation to these questions will be situated in our reading and discussion of a broad survey of texts including literary narratives, historical essays, cultural documents, and secondary sources from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. As we engage the above questions we will also consider how the reading list for this class reinforces and resists the assumptions and logics that underpin the various definitions of American literature that we are exploring. In other words, how does our reading list respond to the questions listed above regarding the definition of American literature? How do these texts—read both separately and collectively—define “America”? What does it mean to read these particular texts in the context of an American literature survey course at the university? Assessment will be based on a combination of in-class participation, short homework assignments, group presentations, an essay-question mid-term, and a final paper. Short readings for the class will be made available via course reserve or course pack. In addition to these short readings the following texts will be required: • Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) • Crane, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1893) • Larsen, Quicksand (1928) • Silko, Ceremony (1977) • Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
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