Selected Courses

Spring 2019

English 52C: “Towards a More Perfect Union: Contemporary Fiction in the U.S.”   Peter Schmidt, Swarthmore College

For a list of authors on the syllabus, see below.  Here’s the course description:

This course will focus on contemporary U.S. fiction published since 1990 or so.  The reading list will feature global perspectives on the U.S. as well as new understandings of the U.S.’s past and present.  Some authors are U.S. natives or now live here; many are immigrants or from immigrant families; and others, such as Adichie and Hamid, live and work in several nations.

We’ll explore these novels’ formal inventiveness as well as their engagement with history, race, gender and sexuality, and a variety of other social issues, including multi-racial identities. Another key theme will be the role that contemporary fiction may play in pushing the U.S. away from its white supremacist roots.  Three of the readings will use the genre of “historical fiction” to reinterpret U.S. history, but all the texts question and rewrite the possibilities of personal, family, and national/transnational narratives. All also feature complex and compelling characters, both the heroes and their antagonists.

The reading load for this course, frankly, will be intense. Some of the novels are long. But these books are compelling and transformative, both for their readers and for the future of the U.S. They brilliantly embody what daring contemporary fiction can aspire to do.

A special feature of our course will be the celebration of Swarthmore alum Patricia Park, who will return to Swarthmore to read from and discuss her first novel. Entitled Re Jane, its heroine Jane Re is a mixed-race orphan on a quest to learn more about her family history. The novel is set in Queens, Brooklyn, and Korea, and is simultaneously a fun romantic comedy, a detective story, and a clever reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre plot.

Historical fiction (the return of the repressed, revised and reimagined):

  • Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
  • Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad
  • George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

On the contemporary family, race, gender, and sexuality:

  • Luis Alberto Urrea, House of Broken Angels
  • Justin Torres, We the Animals
  • Mary Gaitskill, The Mare

On relationships & family in the U.S. from a transnational perspective:

  • Luis Alberto Urrea (above), plus Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
  • Gish Jen, The Love Wife
  • Patricia Park, Re Jane
  • Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story
  • Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

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Fall 2018

English 009H:  Portraits of the Artist, a seminar for first-year students introducing them to literary and cultural studies at the college level.

English 71D:  The Short Story in the U.S., from Irving, Poe, and Hawthorne to contemporary writers.

For more details , see below.

English 009H, “Portraits of the Artist”

We will study a variety of works portraying artists in different cultures and contexts and media, seeking a critical understanding of the different ways in which artists in many different cultures have interacted with their societies. Here are some of the readings/viewings for Fall 2018:

  • Plato’s “Parable of the Cave”;
  • Scheherazade as story-teller (a brief Arabian Nights sampling, using a fine new translation in which this famous heroine is called Shadrazad);
  • Edwidge Danticat’s portrait of the artist in her essay “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work”;
  • An introduction to the art of Mary Lee Bendolph and the Gee’s Bend African American quilting tradition in Alabama (special materials arranged by the Department of Art and the List Gallery)
  • Mozart (as portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie Amadeus);
  • Two witty short plays by the comedian Steve Martin —Patter for the Floating Ladyand Picasso at the Lapin Agile;
  • The documentary Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, plus (for comparison/contrast) two pieces on the rise of Awkwafina
  • Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (2013);
  • Tony Kushner’s epic play Angels in America Parts I and II
  • Sandra Cisneros’ portrait of the artist as a young woman, “Little Miracles, Kept Promises”
  • Listen to and discuss the song “Breathe,” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award-winning musical In the Heights (2008). YouTube.
  • … and concluding with some awesome recent music videos by Donald Glover (Childish Gambino’s This Is America) and Janelle Monáe, Dirty Computer.

Also assigned are selected background and critical materials.

Considerable time will also be devoted to improving each student’s analytical writing and discussion skills. The class typically draws a wide variety of students, with potential natural science and social science majors definitely represented, as well as those leaning towards a major in the humanities.

Open only to first-year students. Writing course. 1 credit.

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English 71D: “The Short Story in the U.S.”

Course Description and assignments

“The Short Story in the U.S.” is an English Department “Gateway” Course. This course is open to all sophomores, juniors, and seniors and is intended to provide a solid introduction to the study of literature at the college-level. It is also an appropriate survey course for English majors and minors. The enrollment is currently capped at approximately 30 students. Class will be taught with a mixture of brief lectures and large-and small-group discussions.

Reading assignments will primarily be short stories, but will also include selected other relevant materials: see Secondary Sources listed below. The course will begin in the early 19th century with Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe, plus significant late 19th– and early to mid-20th-century authors (such as James, Chopin, Chesnutt, Twain, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Wright, Ellison, Baldwin, among many others). After fall break there will be a significant emphasis on post-World War II and contemporary authors, including important older and younger contemporary figures such as Eudora Welty, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin (whom Swarthmore will honor with a special event in late October), John Cheever, Samuel R. Delany, Octavia Butler, Bernard Malamut, Cynthia Ozick, Viet Nguyen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gish Jen, Sandra Cisneros, Cristina Henríquez, Jennifer Egan, and Kristen Roupenian’s notorious “Cat Person” story, among many others. Note also that our syllabus features published work by 1990s Swarthmore graduates Adam Haslett (You are Not a Stranger Here) and Jon Raymond (Livability).

Reading assignments will primarily be from Joyce Carol Oates’ The Oxford Anthology of American Short Stories, supplemented by pdfs posted on our 71D Moodle site, and the occasional link to a story or other info available online. Assignments will also draw from Chris Castellani’s The Art of Perspective, which focuses on the varied roles that narrators can play in literary fiction. Castellani is a Swarthmore alum and a published fiction writer; he also directs Boston’s famous Grub Street Center, one of the leading creative writing organizations in the U.S. https://grubstreet.org/about/

 

Primary Reading Assignments, plus paper due dates:

This color, when used below, signifies optional reading. Students may write on an “optional” text. I includes these extra materials because there were so many good stories I wanted to include on our syllabus, but there just wasn’t room!

This English 71D syllabus below is organized in two ways. First, reading assignments are listed chronologically, for each week of the semester. Second, after that the assigned stories (both required and optional reading) are grouped by theme. Consult this thematic version of our syllabus below when you are considering a topic for your final paper, stories for further reading, etc. THESE TWO VERSIONS OF OUR SYLLABUS ARE ALSO AVAILABLE ON OUR ENGLISH 71D MOODLE PAGE.

 

week 1 Sept 3, 5, 7 [Note: for this and the following weeks, the authors are listed in order we’ll read them—one per class unless otherwise noted. This week:

Monday: Intro to course, followed by discussion of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” in Oates anthology.

Wed.: discussion of Nathaniel Hawthorne story in Oates, plus Castellani, The Art of Perspective, Introduction and ch. 1 (Toward a Narrative Strategy);

Friday: Poe, Tell-Tale Heart, plus Castellani, ch. 3 (Try To See Things My Way, on first-person narration.)

Optional reading: Austin or Melville stories in Oates; Wharton’s The Journey in Oates (compare w/ Poe?)

 

week 2 Sept 10, 12, 14

Sarah Orne Jewett, A White Heron, plus Castellani, ch. 2 (Story[ies] of a Marriage), which defines a story’s plot as “a collision with the main character”

Mary Wilkins Freeman, Old Woman Magoun

Kate Chopin, La Belle Zoraïde (see online link to this story on Moodle)

Optional reading for week 2: the Chopin story in the Oates anthology

 

week 3 Sept 17, 19, 21

Sui Sin Far, In the Land of the Free (pdf on Moodle)

Mark Twain, The Million Pound Bank Note (online link on Moodle)

Joel Chandler Harris, 2 B’rer Rabbit tales about the “Tar Baby” (Word file on Moodle includes Prof. Schmidt’s introduction to these tales, followed by the stories themselves.)

Optional: Twain, Cannibalism in the Cars (in Oates)

 

week 4 Sept 24, 26, 28

James, Cather, Chesnutt. Allow extra time for reading the James story.

Optional: Gilman, Crane, London

 

week 5 Oct 1, 3, 5

Faulkner; Hemingway plus Carver; Fitzgerald [all in Oates]

SUNDAY, OCT. 7: PAPER #1 DUE, uploaded by 10pm to our Moodle page using the link provided. For guidelines for paper #1, see pp. 3-4 above.

Students may write on any author on our syllabus for paper #1.

Plan your work on this paper so that you can also complete before Monday’s class the required reading: the Williams story in Oates and Castellani, ch. 4.

 

week 6 Oct 8, 10, 12

For this week of writers focusing on working-class characters, we’ll merge early, middle, and late twentieth-century stories. To prepare, read Castellani, Art of Perspective, ch. 4 (The Position of Power). Stories assigned this week:

Monday: William Carlos Williams, The Girl With the Pimply Face (in Oates)

Wed.: Alice Childress: read 1-2 stories from the selections I’ve provided in her collection Like One of the Family (pdf on Moodle); plus Lucia Berlin, “A Manuel for Cleaning Women” and “Point of View” (pdf);

Friday: Díaz in Oates

Optional: Crane, Sherwood Anderson; London—all in Oates; and/or Adam Johnson’s very contemporary story “Nirvana,” from his collection Fortune Smiles (pdf)

 

Fall Break

 

week 7 Oct 22, 24, 26

Wright, Ellison, Baldwin [all in Oates]. Baldwin’s is one of the longer stories: allow extra time to read it.

Optional: Hughes, Toomer [both in Oates]; Bambara, The Lesson (pdf)

 

week 8   Oct 29, 31, Nov 2 [celebrating Halloween via 3 pairs of short tales using the “fantasy” and “horror” genres. Also, Swarthmore’s Ursula LeGuin memorial celebration will be this week, on Nov. 1 in the late afternoon, time and place tba. All fans of LeGuin should attend!]

Monday: Jackson, The Lottery (in Oates), plus LeGuin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (pdf)

Wed.: Bradbury, There Will Come Soft Rains in Oates plus John Cheever, The Swimmer pdf made

Friday: Samuel R. Delany, driftglass , plus Octavia Butler, Bloodchild   pdfs

Optional reading for this week: see next page.

Optional reading for week 8:

Twain in Oates [Cannibalism in the Cars: compare with Poe or Jackson?]; Lovecraft in Oates; Bradbury’s The Veldt read by Leonard Nimoy (!); Nalo Hopkinson, Precious; Arthur C. Clarke, The Sentinel pdf; Charles Yu, Third Class Superhero pdf

 

week 9 Nov 5, 7, 9

Welty, Where Is The Voice Coming From?

O’Connor, A Late Encounter With the Enemy

Peter Taylor, In the Miro District pdf. A long, rich story: allow enough time to read it well.

SUNDAY NOV. 11: PAPER #2 DUE, uploaded by10pm as a .docx file to Moodle. Follow the guidelines on pp. 3-4 above. 3-4pp. double-spaced using 12-point font.

 

week 10 Nov 12, 14, 16

Malamud, Ozick, Singer (The Boarder pdf)

Optional: Roth (in Oates); Bellow, A Silver Dish pdf

 

week 11 Nov 19, 21 (before Thanksgiving break)

Viet Nguyen, “The Americans,” from his recent collection The Refugees (pdf)

Jhumpa Lahiri, Heaven-Hell [Oates]. Attendance is required for this class; do not leave early for Thankgiving.

 

week 12 Nov 26, 28, 30 [Raymond, Haslett, and Reddi are all Swarthmore alumni]

Gish Jen: Who’s Irish? plus In the American Society, both from her 1999 collection Who’s Irish? 2 pdfs: allow extra reading time.

Adam Haslett, The Volunteer (pdf). This is a long story; allow extra reading time.

Jonathan Raymond, Train Choir (pdf). This is a long story; allow extra reading time.

Optional: Rishi Reddi (pdf); Andre Dubus, A Father’s Story (see DuBus, Collected Stories in McCabe/Gen Reserve; it’s the final story in Vol. II.)

 

week 13 Dec 3, 5, 7

Nicholasa Mohr’s “The English Lesson” plus Schmidt and Lecuona Lesson Plan (pdfs)

Sandra Cisneros, “Little Miracles Kept Promises” (pdf and Schmidt lesson plan);

Cristina Henríquez, “Everything Is Far From Here” (recent New Yorker pdf story), plus a recent Henríquez essay on refugees (link on Moodle).

Note also Díaz story included in week 6 readings.

Optional: Justin Torres, We the Animals, “We Wanted More” (pdf)

 

week 14   Dec 10 / last class

Jennifer Egan, “Emerald City” (pdf) plus

Kristen Roupenian, “Cat Person” (see link on Moodle), plus ONE of 2 brief articles on reimaging “consent” in romantic relationships (links on Moodle)

Optional reading for this week: Amy Hempel or Annie Proulx [both in Oates]; Karen Russell, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” pdf ; Lauren Groff, “Under the Wave” (link to New Yorker story and the author reading it)

 

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A THEME-BASED ORGANIZATION OF OUR English 71D SYLLABUS:

This is our syllabus re-organized by topic, with some new optional readings added. These are marvelous stories but the majority won’t fit into the syllabus. Their concerns intersect with and amplify selected topics from our syllabus, however, including race, gender, sexuality, fantasy, “coming of age,” formal experimentation with the narrator’s role, and other themes too. You’re welcome to browse the lists of topic(s) that interest you to find a story or two on which you’d like to write your final paper.

If you what to write on one or more of the optional extra stories you may do so, but only on one condition: that you first talk with me about your ideas.

Please note: the “categories” in which I’ve placed these stories below are for ease of reference and to guide your searching. None of the stories below simply “fits” within any simple or single label, however, and the stories named are NOT THE ONLY tales on our reading list that could be grouped under such provisional but useful topics.

All texts are in Oates anthology unless otherwise indicated. Pdfs and links etc. for stories will be posted on our course’s Moodle page.   Topics:

 

Masculinity

Crane, The Little Regiment [in Oates]

Faulkner, That Evening Son [in Oates]

Richard Wright (week 7)

Roth, Bellow (week 9 optional reading)

John Updike [in Oates]

Richard Ford [in Oates]

Peter Taylor (week 9)

Tobias Wolff, That Room (pdf and Lesson Plan); or Tobias Wolff, Hunters in the Snow [in Oates]

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried [in Oates]

Pinkney Benedict, Mercy [in Oates]

Viet Nguyen (week 11)

Jeffrey Ford [in Oates]

Kristen Roupenian and/or Jennifer Egan (Dec 10 reading)

Lauren Groff, “Under the Wave” (link to New Yorker story and LG reading it)

Carmen Machado, Difficult at Parties [make a pdf of Machado’s Difficult at Parties from Machado’s e-book in Tripod, Her Body and Other Parties]

Andre Dubus, A Father’s Story [see Vol. II of his Collected Stories, on General Reserve in McCabe]

 

Evolving representations of queer sexuality

James, The Middle Years (hints at this topic?)

Sherwood Anderson, Hands (pdf)

Edmund White, Give It Up For Billy, in Oates

Deborah Eisenberg, Some Other Better Otto (pdf)

Carmen Machado, Difficult at Parties [make a pdf of Machado’s Difficult at Parties from Machado’s e-book in Tripod, Her Body and Other Parties]

 

Life’s precariousness [note: Raymond, Haslett, and Reddi are Swarthmore grads]

John Austin, Peter Rugg The Missing Man (in Oates)

John Cheever, The Swimmer (in Oates)

James Salter, Dusk pdf

Jonathan Raymond, Train Choir pdf (week 12)

Adam Haslett, The Volunteer pdf (week 12)

Adam Johnson, Nirvana from Fortune Smiles (pdf)

Lauren Groff, “Under the Wave” (link to New Yorker story and LG reading it)

Jeffrey Ford (in Oates)

Rishi Reddy, Karma (pdf)

 

Science/fantasy; experimental fiction; satire

H.P. Lovecraft, Rats in the Walls [in Oates]

Arthur C. Clarke, The Sentinal (pdf)

Ray Bradbury, The Veldt, with Leonard Nimoy (!!) reading (pdf+link)

John Barth, Freeze-Frame (pdf)

Octavia Butler, Bloodchild (pdf)

Nalo Hopkinson, Precious from Skin Folk (pdf)

Charles Yu, Third Class Superhero (pdf)

Thomas Pynchon, The Chums of Chance and the time machine, excerpt from his novel Against the Day pdf. NOTE: this “story” is over 30+ pages but is brilliant, hilarious, and strange as only Pynchon can be.

Donald Barthelme [Oates]

George Saunders, “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” (pdf)

Karen Russell, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (pdf)

Jeffrey Ford, The Drowned Life [Oates]

Lorrie Moore, How to Become a Writer [Oates]

David Foster Wallace, Good People [in Oates]; Mr. Squishy [This latter story is long but deservedly famous: see The Best of McSweeney’s in McCabe, PS648.S5 B4644 2013]. As Oates admits, Good People is not that representative of the Wallace’s mature writing style and subjects.

Lydia Davis, Oral History With Hiccups [see The Best of McSweeney’s in McCabe, PS648.S5 B4644 2013]

 

Evolving Black identity

Langston Hughes [in Oates]

All the writers assigned and optional for week 7           (list continues next page)

Alice Walker—not in Oates; see “Everyday Use” pdf

Toni Cade Bambara, The Lesson (pdf)

 

Immigrants and Others Migrating and Changing American Identity

Washington Irving? (week 1)

Williams and Díaz (week 6)

Nguyen and Lahiri (week 11); Gish Jen’s 2 stories (week 12)

Mohr, Cisneros, Henríquez (week 13)

Ha Jin (Oates) [compare/contrast with Gish Jen’s 2 stories?, week 12]

Reddi, Karma (pdf)

Erdrich [in Oates]—though obviously Native American characters challenge the definition of America as a “Nation of Immigrants” ! — unless you consider that their ancestors migrated to this hemisphere thousands of years ago….

Torres, We Wanted More pdf

Paul Bowles, Jeffrey Ford? [in Oates]

 

Other optional short story authors to consider (not a complete list) include the following in Oates:

Updike, King, Banks, Boyle, Wallace, Hempel, Erdrich, Proulx, Oates, Richard Ford, Jeffrey Ford…