Mission and Curriculum

Mission

The Department of Literary Arts and Studies provides an education in literary and media studies and creative writing that is historically and culturally diverse and representative of the main forms of critical inquiry in the discipline. Our curriculum offers the possibility for focused study in various areas/fields of literature and writing, including: American and British literatures, critical theory, ecocriticism and environmental cultures, film studies, gender and sexuality, global literatures, poetry and poetics, postcolonial literatures and cultures, race and ethnicity. By focusing on the interaction of literature, writing, art, and design, our courses invite students to make connections between literary studies and studio practice. Our small class sizes, discussion-based pedagogical methods, and reading- and writing-intensive courses position students as active participants in the practice of literary studies.

The Department provides a rich curriculum in literary studies that stresses the fundamental interrelation not only of writing and reading, but also creative and critical approaches and processes. By exposing students to a range of textual modes, literary cultures and histories, and critical approaches our courses teach students to read closely and analytically; to think critically; to develop a clear, effective and individual writing voice; and to become conversant with methods of interpretation, research, and literary analysis in order to engage a wide variety of cultural artifacts both formally and from a range of critical, historical and cultural perspectives. More particularly, our curriculum aims to promote understanding of the relationship between literary cultures and other forms, especially visual forms, of cultural production; and to promote diversity and global awareness by exposing students to a range of cultures – past and present, local and global, mainstream and marginalized — through their literatures. Our rich, diverse curriculum thus provides students with a solid foundation from which to engage in contemporary culture in an informed and responsible way — as critics, creative writers, performers, artists and designers.

Our courses are small in size (they typically range from 15 to 25 students), reading and writing intensive, and discussion based. Students are therefore required to be active and engaged thinkers and writers; over the course of the semester they will repeatedly partake in vigorous debate and interact closely with their instructors and peers. Our courses employ various formats and pedagogies so as to allow students to hone a range of skills and forms of knowledge. Most of our electives, which are capped at 25 students, combine lecture and discussion formats and aim to provide students with a broad and synthetic understanding of a particular period, genre, movement or issue in literary study. Our seminars (capped at 15 and limited to sophomore and above) are designed for focused, in-depth study of a particular topic or issue and require significant independent inquiry, research, and writing. Students develop their discussion skills, present their work to the class, and put together a 25-page researched written project over the course of the semester. Our writing workshops (also capped at 15 students) are devoted to creating, critiquing and revising student work. All work produced is workshopped and critiqued by both the instructor and the students, who are required to read and write on a weekly basis and produce a revised portfolio at the end of the semester.

Students may choose to focus their literary study by investigating particular themes or issues in depth or by creating a sustained dialogue with their major course of study. The Department offers selections of courses in a number of areas that lend themselves to this kind of focus: British and American Literature; World and Comparative Literatures; Post-colonial Literatures and Cultures; Literary and Visual Cultures and Interdisciplinary Courses; Film: Narrative, Theory, Genre; Poetry + PoeticsEnvironmental Literature and Eco-Criticism; Self and Identity: Gender, Sexuality, Race and Ethnicity; Critical Theory; Drama, Theatre, Performance; and Writing Workshops.

Students who wish to focus their Liberal Arts study in Literary Arts and Studies may opt to take a Concentration.

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Overview of Department Curriculum

Required Courses:

E101 Literature Seminar: Design in Words is required for graduation for all undergraduates, including transfers. There are no waivers for E101 except for transfer students who have taken an equivalent college course.

E101 is an introduction to literary study that helps students develop the skills necessary for college-level reading, writing, research and critical thinking. Through exposure to a variety of literary forms and genres, historical periods and critical approaches, students are taught how to read closely, argue effectively and develop a strong writing voice. The course is reading and writing intensive and organized around weekly assignments.

British and American Literature

Built around a two-part survey sequence – E211 & E212 British Literature I & II and E251& E252 American Literature I & II – our British and American Literature courses allow students to study the development of these literary and cultural traditions, while at the same time focus on particular periods and literary movements. Courses include: E208 Canterbury Tales; E 231 19th Century British Women’s Novelists; E719 Seminar: Shakespeare/History/Play; E 291Secret Selves: The Fiction of Jewett, Cather, and Wharton; E272 Italy and the American Literary Imagination.

Featured Course: LAS-C221 Blake and Hogarth

William Hogarth was a painter and engraver whose satirical serial works helped shape the English novel. William Blake illustrated the writings of others and published his own poems and satires in ‘illuminated books’ uniting visual and verbal art. Students will read challenging poetry and critical literature, and must be prepared to do independently conceived research in art history, history, material culture, and/or literary criticism and to present the fruits of these investigations to the class.

World Literatures/Comparative Literatures/Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures

These courses allow students to examine common literary/cultural movements and thematic and stylistic links across national cultures and ethnicities (staple courses include E310 Narratives From Around the World, E207 Medieval Literatures, E338 Magical Realism and the South, and E255 The Jewish Narrative,) as well as to study in depth the specificities of particular national and ethnic literary and film cultures (for example, E373 Italian Literature and Film and E398 Chinese Cinema).

Featured Course: E701 SEM: Family Narratives

Tolstoy’s famous opening sentence of Anna Karenina reminds us that families provide a lot of good material for fiction and film narratives. “All happy families resemble one another,” he writes, “but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This seminar will look at unhappy and happy families alike and will consider alternative or surrogate family structures and definitions of home. Contemporary writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, Michael Cunningham, Philip Roth, Chang-Rae Lee, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Jeffrey Eugenides, just to name a few, take us inside homes where identities are formed and where they clash. We will also study family portraiture in film to extend our understanding of the subject’s narrative possibilities.

Postcolonial

Included in our World Literatures selection of courses is a sub-curriculum in Postcolonial Literatures and Cultures, which examines the writing produced by people in or from regions that have escaped the yoke of colonialism, including Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian Subcontinent, and Latin America. E301 & E302 Postcolonial Literature I & II are offered on a regular basis, along with a range of related offerings, including E312 Irish Literature, E330 The Literatures of Africa, and E784 Seminar: Suffera No More – Caribbean Politics and Literature.

Featured Course: E786 SEM: “Eating the way back home”: Food, Literature, and Identity

In “The Wretched of the Earth” (1961), Frantz Fanon writes, “The relations of man with matter, with the world outside, and with history are in the colonial period simply relations with food.” Fanon recognizes that for the colonized subject existence itself is so threatened that every bit of food one can gain access to is, as he writes, “a victory felt as a triumph for life.” The foods people choose to eat and the ways they prepare those foods speak volumes about their relationship to the land and reflect their history. Postcolonial storytellers, writers, and filmmakers use food and foodways as markers of independence, as symbols of cultural colonization, and as signs of continued deprivations. Through foodways one can glimpse famines, invasions, and historical access to trade networks, and food itself can even serve as a vehicle for communication. Since these stories are not constructed in a vacuum, they also can reveal something about what food means in specific historical moments, in specific places, and for specific populations. This course will look at the roles food and foodways play in a series of narratives from formerly colonized spaces. Writers we will read may include Chris Abani, Bessie Head, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Literary and Visual Cultures and Interdisciplinary Courses

Our curriculum recognizes that developments in the visual arts and design are always part of broader literary and cultural movements and offers a range of courses that directly address this interrelation of literature, popular culture, art and design: courses such as C221 Blake and Hogarth and E287 Divas 101: The African American Tradition are offered on a regular basis. We also regularly offer interdisciplinary courses that are co-taught with faculty in studio departments: such courses include E749 Savage Iconographies: Art, Race and Public Space from Roger Williams to Barack Obama (co-taught with Sculpture); E517 Fleshing: Adornment and Gendering the Human Body (co-taught with Jewelry); and E334 Narrative Flows: Waters of Faith, Identity and Sustenance in the Bengal (co-taught with Landscape Architecture), a course that “focuses on one of the world’s great megacities and the third largest city in India – Kolkata (Calcutta) – at the western edge of the Bengal Delta, and asks how we should honor, conserve and wisely use this vital natural resource when creating sustainable urban lifestyles for the 21st Century.”

Featured Course: E722 SEM: Illustrating Dante’s Comedy (co-taught with Illustration)

The verb to illustrate means at its root to shed light upon something, and has a definition that encompasses both the practices of pictorial representation and the intellectual exercise required to understand a long, philosophical poem. (Indeed, the OED notes an old but perhaps equally relevant use of the term to mean the clearing of the head!) all things considered, “The Comedy of Dante Alighieri,” “Florentine by Birth but Not in Character” (b. 1265, d. 1321) can be understood as an exercise in illustration as it imagines the full spectrum of human experience, scored between the “blind prison” of “Inferno” and the “eternal light” of “Paradiso.” This course brings together intensive study of Dante’s “Comedy” and the practice of series-book illustration so that students might gain a greater understanding of what it means to be truly invested in both the study of literature and the creation of sequential, pictorial narrative.

Film

The most substantial offerings in the Literary and Visual Cultures and Interdisciplinary Courses area of our curriculum are in Film, including a range of courses in Film Narrative, Theory, Genre. Our regular offerings include, E151 Analysis of Film Narrative and E386 Politics and Film; courses on a variety of film cultures, including Chinese, African and Italian; and genre courses ranging from neo-realism and the western to noir.

Featured Course: E726 SEM: Bollywood & Beyond: Introduction to Indian Popular Cinema

Starting off as a tongue-in-cheek, derivative expression used in the media, today “Bollywood” is increasingly becoming the dominant global description for the prolific Hindi language film industry based in Bombay (recently renamed Mumbai). This course provides a critical introduction to the cultural, social and political significance of this cinema with particular emphasis on recent films that have contributed to the emergence of the “Bollywood” phenomenon and its impact on national and global popular culture. The cinematic imagination and practices of “Bollywood” will be discussed in relation to ideas of nationalism, religion, gender and sexuality, urbanization and development, globalization and diaspora etc.

Poetry + Poetics
Francesca Capone, "Poem Weaving," 2012

Francesca Capone, “Poem Weaving,” 2012

Poetry is substantially represented throughout the curriculum, especially in British, European, African-American, and post-colonial literatures.  The Beginning and Advanced Poetry Writing Workshops always include a wide range of key texts, contemporary and canonical, American and international, in the English language and in translation.  The Department also offers a set of courses in hybrid traditions, including Visual Poetry, Sound Poetry , and Material Poetics, in which students survey the tradition, examine classic examples, and compose new works.  Courses in Contemporary Poetry and Digital Poetics similarly combine studio and Humanities methodologies, while focusing specifically on 21st century work.

Featured Course: E240 Sound Poetry: History, Poetics, Composition, Performance

This course aims to introduce students to the theory and practice of 21st and 20th century Sound Poetry, primarily in the English language tradition.  Students will engage with canonical and contemporary examples, write a conference paper on a practitioner/area of practice/problem of choice and compose and perform new work, individually and/or collaboratively.  Concepts considered may include line, silence, noise, meter, rhyme, repetition, assonance, rhythm, tone, volume, authority, articulation, audience, listening, harmony, dissonance.  We may also consider relationships and tensions between the aural and visual in poetry between poetry and language, poetry and silence, language and sound, listening and reading, the eye and the ear and the multi-dimensional opportunities of performance, live or digital.00

Anetta Urmey, “News Silence for 3.22” (Sound Poetry, Spring 2013)

Environmental Literature and Eco-Criticism

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The challenge of sustainability, the shifting terrain between nature/culture and technology, and the interrelations between environmental and social justice are all critical questions that shape current debates across the fine arts, design and the liberal arts. Our curriculum offers students the opportunity to study these issues from a variety of perspectives. Courses such as E320 Contemporary Ecological Fictions, E280 Narrating Evolution, E503 Theories of Nature/Culture and E715 SEM: Green Cultural Studies: Film are offered on a regular basis.

Featured Course: E321 Representing Unrepresentable Environments: Global Warming

One of the key questions environmental humanities scholars consider is how written, visual, and material tests register attitudes and anxieties about contemporary environmental issues. In this course we will examine poetry, fiction, non-fiction, photographs, and films that focus on climate change. Scientific research on anthropogenic climate change points to a real, material ecological crisis. Some empirical aspects of climate change are statistically quantifiable and relatively easy to present. Other aspects of climate change – for instance, the anxiety it provokes — may be much more difficult to represent. Thus, as literary critic Richard Kerridge argues, on the top of the real, material ecological crisis we are also beset by “a cultural crisis, a crisis of representation.” The difficulty of representing large-scale and long-term environmental issues constitutes one of the primary challenges for poets, novelist, journalists, memoirists, photographers, and filmmakers concerned about climate change. A second and related challenge for these cultural workers is how to make their audiences care about the effects of climate change. Some questions this class will consider include: How do we define climate change? How do cultural texts represent the anxieties, uncertainties, and feelings that accompany climate change? What narratives about climate change are enabled or foreclosed by different genres? What material effects might different climate change narratives produce?

Self and Identity: Gender and Sexuality/Race and Ethnicity

How do we conceive of the self? How do literary texts shape these conceptions (see, for example, E771 SEM: Novels that Long to be You)? How do the categories of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality shape our social relations and who we are? How have these categories of identity changed over the centuries and how do literary texts reflect these changes? What literary and cultural texts are associated with marginalized identities, and how do these texts call into question existing stereotypes and power dynamics? Our curriculum provides students with the opportunity to explore these questions by offering courses on race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality and related literary traditions from a variety of different theoretical and historical perspectives. E253 Introduction to African American Literature, E285 Ethnicity and Literature in America, E515 The Nth Race: Introduction to Transraciality (a course that examines the intersection of theories or race and gender) and E289 Thingamijigirl: Objects, Human, Femininity (a course that examines the long-standing connection between femininity and “things”) are all regular offerings.

Featured Course: E748 SEM: Captivity and Race in America

From the first Puritan narrative of Indian captivity to today’s accounts of alien abduction, Americans seem haunted by the threat posed by “strange,” racially foreign beings from “out there.” We will examine narratives that focus on racial identity and its relation to what it means to be American. Issues to be considered include: 1) the centrality of space – the oppositions between wilderness and home, North and South – in the definition of American identity and nation 2) the centrality of gender, race, and ethnicity in transitions form the “wilderness” of captivity to the safety of home. The course focuses on a range of different genres and locates their relation to cultural and political production. Authors to be considered include: Mary Rowlandson, John Marrant, Olaudah Equiano, James Fenimore Cooper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and John Mack.

Critical Theory

Built around a two-semester sequence offered every year – E502 Contemporary Critical Theory (Fall semester) and E501 From Literary to Cultural Studies (Spring semester) – our offerings in critical theory expose students to the main questions and forms of inquiry and criticism that shape current cultural debate.

Featured Course: E501 Contemporary Critical Theory

This course will provide students with a foundation in the major movements, debates, and thinkers of twentieth-and twenty-first century critical theory. We will begin from both Marxist and psychoanalytic engagements with semiotics, visuality, mass media, sexuality, and representation. Proceeding though structuralism and post-structuralism, we will examine the important contemporary debates about the individual’s relationship to identity, aesthetics, power, history, technology, and the lived environment taking place in recent feminism, queer and postcolonial theory, and eco-criticism. Critics will include Marx, Freud, Lacan, Foucault, Benjamin, Lukacs, Adorno, Barthes, Derrida, Althusser, Crary, Baudrillard, Butler, Harraway, Said, Chow, and Zizeck.

Drama, Theatre, Performance

Our electives in this area include courses that survey major dramatic conventions and theatrical movements (E355 Modern Drama, E288 African American Drama, and E743 SEM: Shakespeare/History/Play for example), as well as courses that critically examine forms of performance and their political and cultural resonances (E357 Theatre, Performance, Politics and E704 SEM: Performance or Performativity).

Featured Course: E375 performancecraft

Why is it that the elaborate and expensive videography of Matthew Barney is named “art” while the equally expensive and elaborate videography of Mariah Carey is only “performance?” How much of such categorization is about a pure assessment of the artistic end product, and how much more is about the social-cultural baggage (gender, race, socio-economic class) that underwrites the process of performance-making? This course will probe the dys/functional marriage between “performance” and “art” through the conceptual tool of “craft.” While we will of course consider the history of performance art, this is not a survey course. Rather, using speech-act theory of performativity as groundwork, we will theorize and finesse the creative process by which the human body becomes a compelling medium of object-making.

Writing Workshops

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Our sequence of Beginning and Advanced Creative Writing Workshops form the core of our Writing Workshop curriculum: E411 E421 Beginning Poetry Writing Workshop, E421 Advanced Poetry Workshop, E412 Beginning Fiction Writing Workshop, & E422 Advanced Fiction Writing.  Each workshop sequence is offered annually, usually in consecutive semesters.  We also regularly offer workshops in the following: E401 Creative Writing: A Cross-Genre Studio; E415 Journalism Workshop; E419 Writing For Digital Media; and E424 Uses of the Autobiographical.

Featured Course:  E412  Beginning Fiction Writing Workshop

The workshop is a gift to the writer, who usually writes alone, without the benefit of a reaction from his or her readers. Once you have tried your hand at one story this semester, your second will be workshopped by your peers. In preparation for your writing, you will read the work of numerous published authors as well as essays on the craft, and will write frequent generative exercises. We will approach published and student work with the same goal in mind: to discover in ourselves what we wish to write and how to go about writing it. In the workshop, we will also support this process in others. At the semester’s end, you will submit a portfolio of your work, including select exercises and a revised version of one of your stories.