“Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change”

(Audre Lourde)

What politics, what hierarchies and preconceptions is the notion of the masterwork steeped in? How can we introduce students to the textual cultures that have shaped the world we inhabit without reverting to a monolithic canon of “masters” who will inadvertently turn out to be male, white, and dead? Working with 2nd and 3rd year BA students from a range of disciplines in the humanities at UTA, this course asks not only why literature matters but also how, by what figurations and forces, it has been mattering since the European invasion of today’s US in the 16th century.

The course therefore, has two main aims: it is an introduction to critical close reading, empowering students to reflect on their own reading practices by becoming responsive to the figurative dimension and contextual embeddedness of literature. These texts are a mode of thinking, but this challenges us not only to zoom into the text, but outwards as well. The key questions of the course broaden students’ perspectives and spark debates on matters such as these: How do differences in gender, in ethnicity, in social power, and in historical circumstances affect literary imagination and style? Where and how do we see minority or marginalized voices challenging or complicating the prevailing aesthetic values of their own time and the literary legacy they inherit? In terms of style, structure, and imaginative possibilities, how do these works extend or resist the idea of an American literary tradition?

Course readings include:

  • Writing the Self : Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and Zitkala Ša
  • Gender and American Poetics: from John Smith and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s male perceptions to Emily Dickinson, H.D. and Kate Chopin
  • Marginality and Inclusion: Frederick Douglass, Leslie Marmon Silko, Toni Morrison and selected texts by Jean Toomer and Zora Neale Hurston
  • American Persuasion and Polemic: Henry David Thoreau and W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Writing the Future: Philip K. Dick, Don DeLillo and “Bladerunner”
  • Stretching Genres: Graphic Narratives