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ENG 255

Topics in Literary Studies

While refining students' general analytical and interpretive skills, this course offers intensive examination of specific issues in literature and culture, often those at the center of current critical interest. Recent sections have focused on The Gangster Film, Memoir and Sexuality, Quest for the Grail, and Native American Literature. Students may only count one ENG 255 that is a cross-listed Modern Language course toward the major or minor.

Distribution Area Prerequisites Credits
Arts and Humanities 1 course

Fall Semester information

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay

255A: Topics: Global Science Fiction

In this course we will study the neglected traditions of science fiction outside the US tradition. Although the US has been the primary and most influential producer of works of science fiction, major works have been produced in other countries. As globalization extends to more and more societies, science fiction has become one of its major artforms. In this course we will study works from Europe, Russia, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. We will focus on the science- fiction traditions and the social-historical contexts in which they emerged.


Vanessa Dickerson

255B: Topics: Readings in the Black Diaspora

AFST/BLST 240, Readings in the Literature of the Black Diaspora, provides students with the skills to understand the black experience through literary works by black writers from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Writing in AFST/BLST 240 consists mainly of analytical papers and revisions of some of those papers. It may also include response papers, in-class writing assignments, journal entries, as well as final examinations that require short answers and short essays.


Vanessa Dickerson

255C: Topics: The Short Form

We live in an age of short form communication--of texting, of Twitter, and Facebook, so now seems an especially appropriate time to revisit the idea of the short form. Note that while this course may briefly consider flash or sudden fiction, the course's main focus will be on the more traditional short story, short poem, short play, short novel, short film, epigram, and quotation. Centering mainly in the works of American literature from Edgar Allan Poe to George Saunders, the course will address questions about the nature, the effectiveness, the value, and the appeal of brevity.


Angela Flury

255D: Topics in Lit Studies: Spy Fiction

The course traces the development of modern spy fiction up to the present. Although there are precursors of the genre in the 19th century and spying is by no means only a recent phenomenon, the modern spy novel is very much entangled in the political, historical, economic, and social developments of the 20th century--especially with regard to imperialism, World War I, World War II, the Cold War and global capitalism. We will study stylistic and thematic particularities of this largely eurocentric genre (complex plotting, polyglottery, the import of surveillance, the spectacular, etc.), the spy novel's place within the history of the novel (for example, its designation as popular fiction--or so-called genre fiction), the genre's construction of a culture of masculinity, and its infringements on, and appropriations of, other genres (like detective fiction). As this is a W-course, our goal is to develop a sophisticated awareness about all matters of writing, including style, audience, genre, voice, language, writing strategies, editing, etc. To that end, you will write frequently and experiment with your writing.


Joseph Heithaus

255E: Topics in Lit Studies: Poetry and the Difficult World

This class will examine poetry from around the world written about and for extreme circumstances. It will examine how poetry can witness tragedy, but also somehow provide perspective and even comfort. Poetry can also do the work of making us uncomfortable about circumstances we might otherwise ignore: racism, sexism, climate change, poverty, and war. Students will write four or five papers and contribute weekly to various documents we will share.

Poets we will read include Adonis, Mahmoud Darwish, Paul Celan, Anna Akhmatova, Tarfia Faizullah, Miklos Radnoti, Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Bei Dao, Wislawa Szymborska, Claudia Rankine, Kofi Awoonor, and many others. We will also, when available, listen to poems in their original languages.


Karin Wimbley

255F: Topics in Lit Studies: African-American Film

Reading African American cinema as a pivotal archive in African American cultural production, this course explores the diverse black aesthetic traditions that African American film has and continues to develop, explore, and shape. Specifically, we will track how African American films produced, written, and/or directed by African Americans are situated in larger debates about the politics of race and representation. Beginning with African American modernism and black cultural politics, we will look at the emergence of African American cinema in the 1910s through to the early 21st century. Films we will investigate include works by Oscar Micheaux, Mario van Peebles, Charles Burnett, Spike Lee, Cheryl Dunye, , and Julie Dash, to name a few.


Ghassan Nasr

255G: Topics in Lit Studies: Art of Translation

The Art of Translation course is a workshop in literary translation. Mainly, students work on translations of poems or short prose pieces. Workshop participants approach a translation by doing a very close reading of the source poem or prose piece in the source language and/or in available English translation(s), identifying its deep meanings, its poetic and aesthetic elements, and its overall literary impact, then they recast it in English. Students find out very quickly that this kind of translation is a form of creative writing in its own right. In essence, they learn how to write--and read--as poets and creative writers.

While students are expected to do a close and rigorous study of texts in the source language, the ultimate goal of the course is for students to produce translations that stand as English poems or poetic prose passages in their own right. Throughout the semester, students continue to engage in a close, nuanced study of the meaning, sense, and literary, cultural and historical contexts of the poems or prose passages in their source languages, but they render those poems in a natural English idiom with all the proper attention given to tone, diction, language register, rhythm, cadence, and the various elements that constitute poetic language. Evaluation will be based heavily on the documentation (through a student portfolio) of the process leading up to a final translation, and not solely on the final translations themselves. The portfolio documentation will show the progression of the translation through its various revisions and through short reflections by the translator on the evolution of his/her work. Portfolios will be collected 2-3 times during the semester. Evaluation is based mainly on the portfolios and student engagement in the in-class workshop discussions.

In a translation workshop such as the one offered, there will always be students (and instructor) who are not versed in the source language of the translated work being discussed. So with each translation, the translator presents a "trot", a very literal, almost word-for-word translation of the original poem, together with his/her translation and any other available English translations. Students without a knowledge of the source language offer their critique of the translated work primarily as a stand-alone English poem, but they also comment on the fidelity of the translation to the original by comparing to other translations and to the trot. They also engage in a discussion with the translator based on his/her articulation of the issues and challenges encountered.

There are several options for students without prior knowledge of another language. They could translate 'vertically' (across historical time periods) within the same language, English. An example would be translating portions of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales from Middle English or Beowulf from Old English, into Modern English. Another option is to re-translate a work based on existing English translations, and perhaps a very rudimentary knowledge of the source language. Yet a third option is for a student to work in collaboration with another student who has a native or near native knowledge of the source language, where the former assumes the role of writer and the latter the role of source language and culture expert.

With prior consent of the instructor, a student may choose to translate from genres other than poetry or fiction. In the past, students have translated film dialogue (subtitling, dubbing) and song (lyrics put to music).


Spring Semester information

Beth Benedix

255A: Topics in Lit Studies: Modern Jewish Writers

This class treats a range of modern and contemporary Jewish writers (European, American, and Israeli). Through writers such as Freud, Kafka, David Grossman, Dara Horn, Philip Roth, and Larry David, we will explore elements of Jewish identity, culture, history, theology and humor. Is there such a thing as a distinctly Jewish imagination? A distinctly Jewish aesthetic?


Deborah Geis

255B: Topics:African American Women Playwrights

Many readers may be familiar with groundbreakers like Lorraine Hansberry, whose Raisin in the Sun has become part of the canon of Civil Rights era reading. But in the 1970s, African American women playwrights like Adrienne Kennedy and Ntozake Shange were doing experiments with language and theatricality that had never been seen before. And from the 1980s into the present, we continue to witness important works by writers like Anna Deavere Smith, Suzan-Lori Parks (the first African American woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize in Drama), Lynn Nottage, and many others.

This course focuses primarily on works by these more recent playwrights, with specific attention to ways that race/racism and gender/sexuality-- as well as social class and professional marginalization--have affected their work and become integral to their plays. This is a course that will require active participation; since it is also a "W" class, students will do a variety of writing exercises and more formal papers.


Ghassan Nasr

255C: Topics in Lit Studies: Arab Refugees, Immigrants and Exiles in Literature and Film

In this course we will study literature and film on themes relating to Arab refugees, immigrants and exiles. We will explore narratives of estrangement, alienation and redemption resulting from migrations within and across Arab borders. We will sample literature and films from a variety of historical periods and settings, ranging from the literature of the Palestinian diaspora and the Lebanese civil war, leading up to the more current upheavals in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world and North Africa. Among the authors we will select from are Ghassan Kanafani, Mahmoud Darwish, Sahar Khalifeh, Hanan al-Shaykh, Naguib Mahfouz and Ghada Samman. We will also read short stories from Arab American authors (Dinarzad's Children) and select from films set in Arab immigrant communities around the world--mostly in Europe and the Americas--such as Le Grand Voyage, Zozo, Amreeka, Incendies, and The Visitor. All literature and film will be in English.


Andrea Sununu

255D: Topics: Seeker, Poet, Lover, Friend

Drawing inspiration from Eudora Welty's aphorism "all serious daring starts from within," this course will analyze poetry, fiction, and drama while asking questions about the directions that even a "sheltered life" can take. Core poems will include the fourteenth-century poem Pearl, seventeenth-century poems of love and friendship by John Donne and Katherine Philips respectively, T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, and Mary Jo Salter's "Elegies for Etsuko." We will also read Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Austen's Persuasion, Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and some contemporary fiction: Toni Morrison's Sula; Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger; Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams; and Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth. Four of your five papers will be analytical in focus; your penultimate paper will consist of a creative letter or monologue that incorporates research on secondary sources into your explication of poems by Donne, Philips, or Eliot.


Karin Wimbley

255E: Topics:Graphic Novel: Autobiography, Biography, and Memoir: Traversing the Boundaries of Self

From graphic journalism to memoir, autobiofictionalography to tragicomic, this course investigates how the lines between autobiography, biography, and memoir become blurred within the graphic novel. Because this blurring problematizes traditional literary conventions and our understanding of historical narratives, we will explore how the process of self-fashioning in this brand of graphic storytelling (re)creates new cultural circuits of knowledge in the politics of identity formation. Lastly, we will develop visual literacy skills to better interrogate the characteristics and tropes operative in these graphic narratives.


CJ Gomolka

255F: Topics in Lit Studies: Identity Matters: Introduction to Transgender Studies

In this course, students will engage in a variety of theoretical material on Transgender issues as well as literary texts and media from both the Francophone and Anglophone worlds. We will explore the common themes of Transgender studies and trans narrative--namely, the body, corporeal authority and agency in the public and private sphere, questions of transformation, mutilation, and perfection, among others. In addition, we will explore notions of community, consumerism, heteronormative models of time, space, sexuality, gender, and language and how Transgender Studies has responded to these structures. Ultimately, this course will invite students to consider how the foundational concerns of Transgender Studies enhance as well as frustrate their own understanding of gender, sex, sexuality, race, class, and language.