Syllabi available upon request.
Why College? (spring 22, co-taught with Rachel Sagner Buurma)
Look past the brochures and the info sessions and ask: what is college in the early 21st Century, how did it get that way? Why do people go to college? Should they? Students in this course will examine the history of higher education, and study controversies over the economics, mission, and values of colleges and universities as they appear in curricula, admissions and financial aid policies, student life, and more. Students will develop an understanding of the behind-the-scenes operations of higher education institutions like Swarthmore through reading, seminar discussion, visits from experts, and independent research. A writing-focused seminar, we will read and compose in some of the genres in which we often encounter discussion and debates about education: the education memoir, the op ed, the book review, and the data-centered essay. We will pay special attention in this class to the theory and practice of revision; over the course of the semester you will develop a series of tools and strategies for revising your own work and for helping others revise.
Franklin & Marshall College:
Black on Campus (spring 20)
This course follows black writers, filmmakers, and artists who question what it is that the university actually does. The answers we will encounter are varied, but surprisingly, very few determine that the primary function of higher education is, in fact, education. Over the course of this semester, we will witness accounts of the university as a real-estate developer, a beacon of uplift, a site of assimilation or of revolution, and a plantation. The myriad black academic fictions we read will prompt us to consider how black writers recast a predominantly white genre (the campus novel), to engage a robust interdisciplinary scholarly discourse on the contemporary American university’s lingering entanglement with slavery and settler colonialism, and to glimpse the role of black protest and dissent in shaping American higher education. Writers discussed include W.E.B. Du Bois, Zadie Smith, John Edgar Wideman, Octavia Butler, and Fred Moten and Stefano Harney.
African American Literature II: From Reconstruction to the Present (spring 20)
Debates about the purpose, scope, and subject of black literature and culture have spanned the New Negro Renaissance, the Black Freedom Movement, the Black Arts Movement, and #BlackLivesMatter. Should black literary works establish distinctive forms or should they adhere to established Anglo-European forms? Is African American literature written for white readers or for readers of color? How can black literature be read through critical lenses largely shaped by predominantly white institutions? In what ways are black literature and the idea of black culture sutured to or separated from the material realities of anti-black racism? In this course, which considers literature written by black writers in the United States from Reconstruction to the present, we will probe important developments in the history of the United States and ask how black literary works have been received. Major figures include Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, and Octavia Butler.
Contemporary African American Literature: Black Radical Imaginations (fall 19, spring 20)
The scholar Cedric Robinson defines the imagination of the Black radical tradition as a “revolutionary consciousness that proceeded from the whole historical experience of Black people.” This course examines the omnibus ways that Black writers in the U.S. in the last twenty-five years have engaged the forces of anti-black racism, the effort to dismantle those forces, and, perhaps most importantly, ongoing Black social life. We will read novels, poetry, and essays, listen to pop music, and watch short films that examine a number of crucial social and political issues, including the over-policing of and disinvestment from Black communities, mass incarceration, and the public struggle over the meaning of national symbols, spaces, and statuary. These various struggles will be reflected via the radical imaginations of writers, thinkers, and artists, including Claudia Rankine, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Beyoncé Knowles, and Kendrick Lamar among others. We will work to interpret the full range of these radical strategies for understanding our present and attend to the freedom dreams they present.
African American Literature I: From the Middle Passage to the Civil War (fall 19)
This course examines the rich and varied literary production of black people in the United States from the Middle Passage to the Civil War. Specifically, we will focus on the ways that black creativity and formal organization has in the American frame always posed a challenge to extant definitions of humanity, liberty, and, literature. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, found room in his Notes on the State of Virginia to make a literary judgment of Phillis Wheatley, suggesting that her poetry was “below the dignity of criticism.” Students in the course will gain the critical acumen necessary to recognizing how Jefferson was wrong, while also acquiring expertise in the social, political, and aesthetic questions that animate the work of autobiographies, essays, poems, and novels by black writers. In addition, we will engage the scholarly literature that shows how eighteenth and nineteenth century texts by black writers such as Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, David Walker, and Sojourner Truth continue to shape our understanding of the historical dimensions of slavery, the contours and repercussions of racial capitalism, and black social life in the United States.
University of Southern Indiana:
Literary Criticism and Theory: The University and the Prison (spring 18)
In their essay, “The University and the Undercommons,” Fred Moten and Stefano Harney write, “The slogan on the left…‘universities, not jails,’ marks a choice that may not be possible. In other words, perhaps more universities promote more jails” (41). This course dwells on the impossibility of choosing between the collegiate and the carceral and in the process, invites students into the challenge of literary criticism and theory at present. In other words, we will survey literary criticism and theory by studying contemporary theorists who question the ways in which academic knowledge has been part of a colonial and carceral impulse. Reading and interpreting literature, critics argue, cannot be separated from ongoing shifts in the world political order, the development of racial capitalism, and the related devaluation of human lives that do not conform to what Sylvia Wynter calls “Man.” Most of our readings will be drawn from contemporary critical sources, but since these readings demand a reconsideration of long-held patterns of critical thought, students will also gain familiarity with historical efforts in interpretation, including New Critical, psychoanalytical, and Marxist approaches. To further hone these critical concerns, we will work through theorizations proposed in several literary texts about the entanglement of the university and the prison based on urban development activities some higher education institutions undertake and the borders around language and imagination constructed by certain ways of knowing the world. Finally, we will examine how the course readings ask us to imagine the world otherwise, even if such imaginings have been made to feel impossible. Requirements include two papers, a book review, ongoing written engagement with course readings, and a sincere desire to do justice to the material assigned.
Ethnic Literature in America (spring 18)
The literary scholar Ramón Saldívar makes plain the need for attending to the increasingly complex landscape of ethnic American literature. He argues that “the relationship between race and social justice, race and identity, and indeed, race and history requires [minority] writers to invent a new ‘imaginary’ for thinking about the nature of a just society and the role of race in its construction. It also requires the invention of new forms to represent it” (574). This course surveys literature by Native American, African American, Latinx, Chicanx, and Asian American writers in an effort to better understand the new literary forms developed to represent and describe a just society. Our inquiry will be organized with three linked themes: the dispossession of personhood, land, and citizenship; the threat to “speak American”; and the transnational perspectives founded through migration and diaspora. We also focus on developing a critical and intersectional means for interpreting these texts, meaning we will consider ethnicity and race intersect with gender, class, sexuality, and ability. Students will learn of the essential contributions that ethnic American writers make to contemporary debates about globalization, capitalism, and the environment.
African American Literature (fall 17)
This course will introduce students to a broad scope of texts written by black writers in or in proximity to the United States from the mid-eighteenth century to the present. In addition to gaining familiarity with a wide variety of essential texts, students will become familiar with historical debates about the purpose, scope, and subject of black literature. Should black literary works establish distinctive forms or should they write within established Anglo-European forms? Is African American literature written for white readers or for readers of color? How do we read black literature through critical lenses that have largely been shaped by predominantly white institutions? What does it mean that black literature had long been read as merely historical or as political documents and not as literature? As these questions indicate, we will gain familiarity with important developments in the history of the United States and racial capitalism, as well as the history of how black literary works have been received in criticism and in the academy. Our inquiry will also provide a historical account of how black writers have challenged and resisted what it has meant to be literary in an effort to imagine alternative worlds for the United States and for the African Diaspora.
Introduction to American Literary History (fall 17)
It has been a quarter of a century since Toni Morrison argued that what circulated as so-called knowledge among American literary scholars relied on a separation between a particular “Americanness” assumed to be the “preserve of white male views, genius, and power” and the writing of black people that generated “furtively radical impinging forces on the country’s literature.” Morrison’s argument came at the height of partisan turbulence over the role of literature in defining American political priorities, yet speaks with a refined pitch to our own present. This course introduces students to how the tension Morrison identifies – albeit expanded to include the writing of women, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinx and combinations thereof – shapes American literary history. To trace the contours of this historical development, we survey literature from the beginnings of the nation to the present. We will encounter resistance to as well as experimentation with various literary forms including poetry, the short story, the novel, the essay, and the autobiography. This will require students to hone their ability to read literature with multiple methods and to consider literature’s relationship to social, political, and everyday life in the United States. Evaluations include exams, essays, and weekly reading responses.
Rhetoric and Composition II: Literacy and the World; The Politics of Education (fall 17, spring 18)
This is the second of two courses in the critical arts of reading, writing, reflection, and discussion, emphasizing the responsibilities of written inquiry and structured reasoning. As we learn the critical arts of reading, writing, and reflection our specific section will focus on the education system itself. We will think critically about what it means to write in, for, and about the university.
Alternative Futures (spring 17)
[a writing-intensive course that explored the alternative futures–both near and far–imagined by writers, filmmakers, and theorists in works that reflect the gravity and absurdity of what is to come. Works assigned included, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue, Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, and the television show Black Mirror]
American Literature and the Return of Nationalism (fall 16)
[a survey of a national literature and, with the developments in nationalism under which it was taught, particular attention given to how American Literature contributes to and challenges definitions of the nation from the Civil War to World War II. Writers include Harriet Jacobs, Herman Melville, W.E.B. Du Bois, Djuna Barnes, and Gwendolyn Brooks.]
Racism in American Literature (fall 16)
[a writing-intensive course that challenged the persistent idea that the source and solution of racism is solely affective and individual. Texts by Angela Davis, Ta-Nahesi Coates, James Baldwin, Ida B. Wells, Claudia Rankine and Fred Moten among others.]
The Real American Dilemma: Forms of Antiracism in American Literature and Culture (spring 16)
[a writing-intensive course that investigated how literature and cultural theory draws attention to the limits of certain forms of anti-racism.]
Writers, Readers, Texts, Publics: An Introduction to Literary Criticism (spring 16, fall 15)
[a writing-intensive course that introduced students to the methods and philosophical underpinnings of literary criticism.]
American Literature: The American Renaissance to the New Negro Renaissance (fall 15)
[an American Literature survey driven by the tensions and appropriations between the so-called American Renaissance and the New Negro Renaissance.]
Writing in the University (spring 14)
[a composition course organized around the crises of the contemporary university.]
The Modern South? The Southern Modern? (spring 13, fall 12)
[a writing-intensive course that considered the notion of the U.S. and global South as “backward” as constitutive of that which is not. Texts included Ward’s Salvage the Bones, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and Glissant’s Faulkner, Mississippi.]
Programming the Person: Technology and Identity in Literature (spring 12, fall 11)
[a writing-intensive course that examined literature about how technology configures the limits of the human. Texts included, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Schuyler’s Black No More, and Spielberg’s Minority Report.]