CoursesCourses for the American Literature & Culture Major

The Department of English offers a wide variety of courses at the general and advanced levels. Courses are divided into the following sections:

0-99 Lower Division Courses (Freshman, Sophomore)
100-199
Upper Division Courses (Junior, Senior)
200 & above
Graduate Courses

Spring 2020

The course distribution reflected on this page applies to American Literature and Culture majors whose declared major term is Fall 2018 or later. If you declared the American Literature and Culture major prior to Fall 2018, please consult with a Department of English undergraduate advisor when selecting major courses.

Lower Division Courses in English (Freshman, Sophomore)

Please note that these courses are intended as preparation for the major in American Literature and Culture. Limited space may be available for students wishing to take these courses for GE or Diversity credit.

Introduction to American Cultures

English 11 / Prof. Goyal

Exploration of question of what is meant by America, and hence what is meant by American Culture and American Studies. Addresses concepts of origins (real or imagined beginnings of cultural formations), identities (narratives of people and places), and media (creative process as manifest in aesthetic forms, artistic movements, and information systems).

 

This course is a required preparatory course for the major in American Literature and Culture.

American Sex

Topics in American Culture
English 87 / Prof. Looby

In American Sex we will learn literary, cultural, and historical research methods via an interdisciplinary exploration of episodes in the long history of American sex. From the scandalous “bad book affair” in Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards’s congregation (1744) to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s sex scandal (1790s) and on through the nineteenth century, what counted as “sex” constantly changed. We will study novels and stories by Charles Brockden Brown, Bret Harte, Julia Ward Howe, Sarah Orne Jewett, Herman Melville, Margaret Sweat, and Theodore Winthrop. We will study notorious marble sculptures by Hiram Powers (The Greek Slave, 1843) and Harriet Hosmer (Zenobia in Chains, 1859) as well as a scandalous painting by Thomas Eakins (Swimming, 1885). In each case, we will ask: What are the best archival resources for this inquiry? What are the best theoretical approaches? What historical information do we need? A gateway course for the ALC major, American Sex will combine rich primary materials with active reflection on interdisciplinary research methods.

 

This course is a required preparatory course for the major in American Literature and Culture and enrollment will be restricted during first pass to American Literature and Culture majors only. If you plan to major in American Literature and Culture and are not yet declared, contact the English undergraduate advising offices for assistance during your enrollment pass.

Upper Division Writing, Research, and Practicum Opportunities

Please note that these courses do not satisfy any ALC major requirements; however, they are valuable opportunities for upper-division credit that ALC students may wish to explore.

If you declared the ALC major prior to Fall 2018, certain courses listed here may be applied as major electives. Contact the English undergraduate advising office for more information.

Public Readers, Public Writers: Writing about Books for a 21st-Century Audience

English 110C / Prof. Stephan

In this course, students will learn the art and craft of the book review with a focus on the what, why, and how of literary criticism for a general (rather than for a specifically academic) 21st-century audience. We will look at reviews of literary texts from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, including a case study of a 20th-century novel (Nella Larsen’s Passing) and its contemporary critical reception. We will examine the recent developments in literary and cultural criticism that have led to the emergence of internet publications dedicated to those forms, including sites like Public Books and the Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as the ways in which national and global periodicals have successfully adapted their book review sections to reach a wider internet-based audience. Finally, we will examine the ways in which contemporary book reviews encompass other forms of culture, especially visual and digital culture. Students will compile a portfolio of criticism and other writing culminating in a final pair of reviews of recent works. 

This course is eligible for credit on the Professional Writing Minor.

Writing in the English Major: The Pre-Professional Portfolio

English 110P / Prof. Cunningham

Although a degree from the English Department (whether in American Literature and Culture or English) is a professional degree, the world outside of UCLA is not always aware of this. English 110P aims to help you make your professional skills evident to potential employers and/or admissions committees. In this course, you’ll reflect on analytical and argumentative writing you’ve already done, and you’ll get a taste of some of the writing in various professions to which you might adapt your abilities.  Initially the course focuses on written self-reflection about your individual skills, then it turns to samples of writing for such audiences as business, non-profit, legal, and global workplaces, and public writing for nonacademic settings. We’ll practice identifying the purposes and conventions of writing in these different communities and adapting your writing to each of them. At the end of the course, each of you will have a writing portfolio that includes a sample resume and cover letter(s) and that demonstrates the ways you can transition your writing from the conventions and interests of the English majors to professional and educational contexts after graduation.  Please be aware that this course is writing intensive.

This course is eligible for credit on the Professional Writing Minor.

Westwind Journal

Undergraduate Practicum in English
English M192.1 / Prof. Wilson

This course is for the staff of Westwind, UCLA’s Journal for the Arts. If you are interested in joining the Westwind staff, please familiarize yourself with the journal at www.westwind.ucla.edu, and come to the first Spring meeting on Tuesday, March 31, 2020!

UCLAPoem

Undergraduate Practicum in English
English M192.2 / Prof. Wilson

This course is for for students in UCLAPoem, which creates and sponsors poetry readings, events, and activities throughout the year, as well as plans and directs an annual UCLAPoetry Festival every spring quarter.  If you’re interested in poetry (or just curious about it), come to the first Spring meeting on Thursday, April 2, 2020!

Upper Division Courses in English

Courses that meet the American Literature and Culture major requirement for pre-1848 material are marked with an asterisk.

ORIGINS – Beginnings, Events, and Trajectories

Eugene O’Neill

Individual Authors
English 139.2 / Prof. Stefans

Eugene O’Neill is the first great figure of American theater and still one of the most influential. Inspired by European developments in theater, notably Realism, he was among the first to use American vernacular in plays, many of which focused on characters on the fringes of society. Early plays include the controversial “Emperor Jones” and the absurdist tragedy “The Hairy Ape.” Later plays such as “Long Day’s Journey into Night” exemplify O’Neill’s great ability to uncover the dark turmoils, generations deep, underlying family dynamics. Several of his plays were made into successful films, including “Anna Christie,” “Desire Under the Elms” and “The Iceman Cometh.” He won four Pulitzer Prizes (one posthumously in 1957) and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936. In this course, we will study a selection of O’Neill’s plays, plays by writers who influenced or were influenced by him, and some films based on his plays or which clearly demonstrate his influence such as Paul Thomas Anderon’s Magnolia which co-starred Jason Robards, an actor who first became famous for his work in O’Neill’s plays. We will also do some scene work — that is, approach the plays like actors and directors — to gain a better understanding of how the language of the plays translates into a theater experience.

American Literature, 1776 to 1832**

English 166B / Prof. Silva

This course is a survey of American literatures and cultures from the period generally known as the early republic—that is, the age of revolutions to the British abolition of slavery (ca. 1776–1838). Most of the texts on the syllabus were written in the early United States, but the course itself is not meant to be a nationalist literary history of the US. Instead, we will consider how our readings reflect the complicated interactions between the colonies, nations, and peoples that made up the Atlantic world, and how they began to frame the language of nation and community that is familiar to us today. Topics include republican citizenship, enlightenment and rationalism, slavery and emancipation, gender and representation, as well as fiction and narrative form. By the end of the semester, students will be reading across a broad range of genres, and will be able to identify the various literary strategies that writers used to support or criticize the dominant cultures and ideologies of their day.**This course qualifies as a pre-1848 course

American Literature, 1832 to 1865

English 166C / Prof. Salway

Historical survey of American literatures from Jacksonian era to end of Civil War, including emergent tradition of American Romanticism, augmented and challenged by genres of popular protest urging application of democratic ideals to questions of race, gender, and social equality.

American Poetry to 1900

English 167A / Prof. Cohen

This course will survey the history of American poetry from the Puritan era to the end of the nineteenth century. We will read the poetry of authors like Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and others, and we will study the poetry of major events and movements, like the poetry of antislavery and the poetry of the Civil War. Class meetings will focus on close reading and interpretation, the study of genres, meter, and formal devices, as well as the formats and methods through which poets wrote and published their poetry. We will devote time to learning different ways to read poems and write about them, including formal essays but also including other forms of engagement with the material. Students will have the opportunity to create final projects based on original library research, as well as creative writing.

American Literature, 1865 to 1900

English 170A / Prof. Dimuro

The course focuses primarily upon narrative fiction of various kinds, including the short story, novella, and the novel written in the volatile years between the Era of Reconstruction and the onset of modern urban civilization at the turn of the twentieth century. Authors to be considered may include Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, Sarah Orne Jewett, Stephen Crane, Henry James, Charles W. Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, and Theodore Dreiser among others. Topics of discussion include narrative techniques, the question of race and gender, the relationship between historical and fictional narrative, the economic dimension of human value, and the continuities and disruptions of literary traditions. Requirements include two or three papers and a comprehensive final examination.

IDENTITIES – Places, Communities, and Environments

Aesthetics, Performance, and Black Social Life

English M104E / Prof. McMillan
Topics in African American Literature and Culture

This interdisciplinary course will examine post-1990s black diasporic artistic production. It seeks to ask, what themes and aesthetic techniques unite contemporary works by black writers, artists, and performers? By examining contemporary concerns in disparate poetry, essays, film, performance art, and contemporary art produced from the mid-1990s to the present moment, this course seek to unearth different rubrics for examining black artistic praxis and the textures of everyday life. Topics include: black feminist epistemologies, intercultural performance, the Los Angeles Riots, black art & white museums, and black queer life. Possible writers include Danez Smith, Saidiya Hartman, Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt, Christina Sharpe, and Damon Young while possible artists and performers examined include Kara Walker, Anna Deavere Smith, EJ Hill, Solange, and Coco Fusco.

Natural Narratives: Environmental Literature and Culture

Literature and the Environment
English 118E / Prof. Hall

What is nature? What does it mean to be natural or unnatural? How do literary and cultural works shape how we think about nature, and how have our ideas about nature and its value changed over the last two centuries? To answer these questions, we will read, watch, and discuss a wide array of primary materials – including novels, a play, poetry, animated and documentary films, and life writing – and study foundational environmental humanities scholarship, as well as recent public writing related to some of our primary texts. Although we will read works now considered canonical in the study of literature and the environment, we will also engage with texts that fall outside this canon, and discuss the process of canon formation and exclusion. Throughout the course, we will explore the many different environmental discourses that emerge in the texts we study, and consider the role literature and culture play in shaping how we think – and tell stories – about environmental issues, both old and new.

Fulfills an upper-division requirement for the Literature and the Environment minor.

 

Not open to students who took English 118E with Professor Hall in Fall 2019.

Henry James

Individual Authors
English 139.1 / Prof. Dimuro

The career of Henry James is unique in its scope, experimentation, technical brilliance, and psychological depth. Along with Mark Twain and William Dean Howells, James was among the most important American novelists to emerge during the so-called “age of realism,” and the one whose influential works still fascinate and challenge readers. Although he also wrote many book reviews, plays, travel literature, literary criticism, prefaces for his collected works, and several volumes of autobiography, this course focuses on James’s prose fiction. Henry James launched his career with the international popularity of Daisy Miller and his first full-length masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady.  We will also read his satire of the feminist movement called The Bostonians, his examination of greed in The Spoils of Poynton, and a number of stories including “The Pupil” and “The Beast in the Jungle.” As we make our way through James’s later phase, we will read a number of his “Prefaces,” as well as The Ambassadors, which was James’s own favorite novel among his works. Two papers, exercises, and a final examination.

Eugene O’Neill

Individual Authors
English 139.2 / Prof. Stefans

Eugene O’Neill is the first great figure of American theater and still one of the most influential. Inspired by European developments in theater, notably Realism, he was among the first to use American vernacular in plays, many of which focused on characters on the fringes of society. Early plays include the controversial “Emperor Jones” and the absurdist tragedy “The Hairy Ape.” Later plays such as “Long Day’s Journey into Night” exemplify O’Neill’s great ability to uncover the dark turmoils, generations deep, underlying family dynamics. Several of his plays were made into successful films, including “Anna Christie,” “Desire Under the Elms” and “The Iceman Cometh.” He won four Pulitzer Prizes (one posthumously in 1957) and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936. In this course, we will study a selection of O’Neill’s plays, plays by writers who influenced or were influenced by him, and some films based on his plays or which clearly demonstrate his influence such as Paul Thomas Anderon’s Magnolia which co-starred Jason Robards, an actor who first became famous for his work in O’Neill’s plays. We will also do some scene work — that is, approach the plays like actors and directors — to gain a better understanding of how the language of the plays translates into a theater experience.

American Poetry since 1945

English 173B / Prof. Yenser

This survey of American poetry since World War II will feature work by Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, Sylvia Plath, and contemporary poets including Ishion Hutchinson and Vijay Seshadri.  The last two will read at the Hammer Museum during the spring term.  Requirements will include attendance at those two readings, a midterm examination, and two papers.  Class sessions will incorporate lecture and discussion.

 

Africa in U.S. Literature and Culture, 1945 to Present

American Fiction Since 1945
English 174B / Prof. Solomon

In this course, we’ll examine the significance of Africa in U.S. literature and culture, from 1945 to the present. Lectures and classroom discussions will focus on the imaginative role that African settings have played for American audiences, reflecting the geopolitical realities of the 20th and 21st century, and filtered through a range of artistic movements. Reading will include Paul Bowles’ post-WWII modernist novel The Sheltering Sky, Nnedi Okafor’s postapocalyptic fantasy novel Who Fears Death, and Yaa Gyasi’s historical epic Homegoing; we’ll supplement our reading with some examination of images from television and film (including Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Alex Haley’s Roots, and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther).

Writing the Resistance: Aesthetics, Politics and Political Aesthetics in U.S. Film and Fiction, 1970s – present

Interdisciplinary Studies of American Culture
English 177.1 / Prof. Solomon

This course will explore expressions of resistance in U.S. texts produced in the wake of the counter-culture movements of the 1960s. We will examine contemporary works of literature, film, music, and visual art that challenge prevailing notions of American Empire in the post-Cold War period, and which seek to (re)focus attention upon the persistent structural imbalances that gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movements, the Environmental Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the LGBTQ Rights Movement.

Not open to students who took English 177.2 with Professor Solomon in Spring 2019.

Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Interdisciplinary Studies of American Culture
English 177.2 / Prof. Grossman

This course will explore in as much depth as possible Mark Twain’s extraordinary 1889 satirical historical novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. As his novel’s title announces, we will be reading a tale about the transmigration of a nineteenth-century Yankee back to mythic medieval times. Twain mixes up genres as well as the times here. Forms of romance, including queer ones, slave narratives, adventure stories, political and economic satire, dystopian science-fiction, and especially the historical novel: we will discuss all kinds of writing turning topsy-turvy right through to one of the strangest and most horrific endings in all of literature, often seen as foretelling the genocidal horrors of the twentieth century. Especially important for your teacher will be historicizing and theorizing the depiction of industrial, standardized objects in literature. Because Twain’s novel obsessively imagines how nineteenth-century machine-produced industrial goods would re-stage sixth-century human relations and how a nineteenth-century Yankee would experience a pre-industrialized world, we will also rivet our eyes on the duel between the handicraft and machine-made durables. Please understand in advance that there is a heavy reading and writing load in this class. Lively class participation is expected.

L.A. Noir

Interdisciplinary Studies of American Culture
English 177.3 / Prof. Zirulnik

This course will introduce students to the genre of film noir through fiction and films set in and around the city of Los Angeles, focusing on how these works of literature and visual culture represent and re-imagine the city from one generation to another. We will begin by watching classic noirs alongside the hard-boiled detective novels on which they were based (e.g. The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity). We will then see the genre’s classic period come to an apocalyptic end in Kiss Me Deadly before exploring some of its more contemporary iterations, e.g. neo-noir (Chinatown, Devil in a Blue Dress, Mullholland Dr.) and tech-noir (Bladerunner). We will examine both the formal history of the genre—its distinct stylistic features as these develop throughout the latter half of the 20th century—and its broader social contexts.

Note that this course has a film-screening component, scheduled as a discussion after lecture on Tuesdays. Attendance at screenings is required during weeks in which films are assigned, and these will last for the run-time of each film. Expect around 7 screenings, lasting from 1.5 – 2.5 hours.

MEDIA – Aesthetics, Genres, and Technologies

Eugene O’Neill

Individual Authors
English 139.2 / Prof. Stefans

Eugene O’Neill is the first great figure of American theater and still one of the most influential. Inspired by European developments in theater, notably Realism, he was among the first to use American vernacular in plays, many of which focused on characters on the fringes of society. Early plays include the controversial “Emperor Jones” and the absurdist tragedy “The Hairy Ape.” Later plays such as “Long Day’s Journey into Night” exemplify O’Neill’s great ability to uncover the dark turmoils, generations deep, underlying family dynamics. Several of his plays were made into successful films, including “Anna Christie,” “Desire Under the Elms” and “The Iceman Cometh.” He won four Pulitzer Prizes (one posthumously in 1957) and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936. In this course, we will study a selection of O’Neill’s plays, plays by writers who influenced or were influenced by him, and some films based on his plays or which clearly demonstrate his influence such as Paul Thomas Anderon’s Magnolia which co-starred Jason Robards, an actor who first became famous for his work in O’Neill’s plays. We will also do some scene work — that is, approach the plays like actors and directors — to gain a better understanding of how the language of the plays translates into a theater experience.

American Poetry to 1900

English 167A / Prof. Cohen

This course will survey the history of American poetry from the Puritan era to the end of the nineteenth century. We will read the poetry of authors like Anne Bradstreet, Phillis Wheatley, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe and others, and we will study the poetry of major events and movements, like the poetry of antislavery and the poetry of the Civil War. Class meetings will focus on close reading and interpretation, the study of genres, meter, and formal devices, as well as the formats and methods through which poets wrote and published their poetry. We will devote time to learning different ways to read poems and write about them, including formal essays but also including other forms of engagement with the material. Students will have the opportunity to create final projects based on original library research, as well as creative writing.

American Literature, 1865 to 1900

English 170A / Prof. Dimuro

The course focuses primarily upon narrative fiction of various kinds, including the short story, novella, and the novel written in the volatile years between the Era of Reconstruction and the onset of modern urban civilization at the turn of the twentieth century. Authors to be considered may include Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, Sarah Orne Jewett, Stephen Crane, Henry James, Charles W. Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, and Theodore Dreiser among others. Topics of discussion include narrative techniques, the question of race and gender, the relationship between historical and fictional narrative, the economic dimension of human value, and the continuities and disruptions of literary traditions. Requirements include two or three papers and a comprehensive final examination.

American Poetry since 1945

English 173B / Prof. Yenser

This survey of American poetry since World War II will feature work by Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, Sylvia Plath, and contemporary poets including Ishion Hutchinson and Vijay Seshadri.  The last two will read at the Hammer Museum during the spring term.  Requirements will include attendance at those two readings, a midterm examination, and two papers.  Class sessions will incorporate lecture and discussion.

 

Africa in U.S. Literature and Culture, 1945 to Present

American Fiction Since 1945
English 174B / Prof. Solomon

In this course, we’ll examine the significance of Africa in U.S. literature and culture, from 1945 to the present. Lectures and classroom discussions will focus on the imaginative role that African settings have played for American audiences, reflecting the geopolitical realities of the 20th and 21st century, and filtered through a range of artistic movements. Reading will include Paul Bowles’ post-WWII modernist novel The Sheltering Sky, Nnedi Okafor’s postapocalyptic fantasy novel Who Fears Death, and Yaa Gyasi’s historical epic Homegoing; we’ll supplement our reading with some examination of images from television and film (including Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Alex Haley’s Roots, and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther).

Writing the Resistance: Aesthetics, Politics and Political Aesthetics in U.S. Film and Fiction, 1970s – present

Interdisciplinary Studies of American Culture
English 177.1 / Prof. Solomon

This course will explore expressions of resistance in U.S. texts produced in the wake of the counter-culture movements of the 1960s. We will examine contemporary works of literature, film, music, and visual art that challenge prevailing notions of American Empire in the post-Cold War period, and which seek to (re)focus attention upon the persistent structural imbalances that gave rise to the Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movements, the Environmental Movement, the Women’s Movement, and the LGBTQ Rights Movement.

Not open to students who took English 177.2 with Professor Solomon in Spring 2019.

Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

Interdisciplinary Studies of American Culture
English 177.2 / Prof. Grossman

This course will explore in as much depth as possible Mark Twain’s extraordinary 1889 satirical historical novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. As his novel’s title announces, we will be reading a tale about the transmigration of a nineteenth-century Yankee back to mythic medieval times. Twain mixes up genres as well as the times here. Forms of romance, including queer ones, slave narratives, adventure stories, political and economic satire, dystopian science-fiction, and especially the historical novel: we will discuss all kinds of writing turning topsy-turvy right through to one of the strangest and most horrific endings in all of literature, often seen as foretelling the genocidal horrors of the twentieth century. Especially important for your teacher will be historicizing and theorizing the depiction of industrial, standardized objects in literature. Because Twain’s novel obsessively imagines how nineteenth-century machine-produced industrial goods would re-stage sixth-century human relations and how a nineteenth-century Yankee would experience a pre-industrialized world, we will also rivet our eyes on the duel between the handicraft and machine-made durables. Please understand in advance that there is a heavy reading and writing load in this class. Lively class participation is expected.

L.A. Noir

Interdisciplinary Studies of American Culture
English 177.3 / Prof. Zirulnik

This course will introduce students to the genre of film noir through fiction and films set in and around the city of Los Angeles, focusing on how these works of literature and visual culture represent and re-imagine the city from one generation to another. We will begin by watching classic noirs alongside the hard-boiled detective novels on which they were based (e.g. The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity). We will then see the genre’s classic period come to an apocalyptic end in Kiss Me Deadly before exploring some of its more contemporary iterations, e.g. neo-noir (Chinatown, Devil in a Blue Dress, Mullholland Dr.) and tech-noir (Bladerunner). We will examine both the formal history of the genre—its distinct stylistic features as these develop throughout the latter half of the 20th century—and its broader social contexts.

Note that this course has a film-screening component, scheduled as a discussion after lecture on Tuesdays. Attendance at screenings is required during weeks in which films are assigned, and these will last for the run-time of each film. Expect around 7 screenings, lasting from 1.5 – 2.5 hours.

 

Senior/Capstone Seminars

Hawthorne and Melville: The Short Fiction

Topics in Colonial American Literature
English 183B / Prof. Colacurcio

Before Hawthorne blitz-wrote his three “American Romances” (1850—52), he published almost 100 tales and sketches, in two separate periods, at Salem (1825-37) and then, after his first political job, at Concord, 1842-45: are there over-riding thematic concerns? What’s the same, what’s different, earlier and later?  Melville, on the other hand, had published no fewer than seven novels before hostile reviews, financial pressures, and (perhaps) the example of Hawthorne turned him to the magazines: from “Bartleby the Scrivener” (1853) to “The Piazza” (1856), he wrote eighteen pieces of shorter fiction, which run to about 350 pages in one modern edition.  Are they in any sense “Hawthornean”?  More importantly, are any of them as important as the flawed yet magnificent Moby-Dick?  “Bartleby” and “Benito Cereno” are famous, but what about the rest?  Might they be worth, some day, a seminar in their own right?

  

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

The Woke Nineteenth Century in U.S. Literature

Capstone Seminar
English 184.6 / Prof. Salway

In 2017, the Oxford English Dictionary expanded its definition of woke to include the modern adjective, meaning “alert to injustice in society, especially racism.” The very next year, Sam Sanders, writing for NPR, proclaimed the term “dead,” attributing its untimely demise to a common mishearing of the Erykah Badu song that popularized it. Sanders suggested that when Badu’s refrain, “I’d stay woke,” was widely mistaken for “I stay woke,” the meaning of woke changed, too: a term that, in the African American vernacular, had implied “a constant state of striving, course-correcting growth” was transformed into a fashionable label, a “static and performative” catchword of white activism that trivialized and fetishized black advocacy. As Georgia Anne Muldrow, who wrote the song for Badu, recently observed, “Most people who are woke ain’t calling themselves woke. Most people who are woke are agonizing inside. They’re too busy being depressed to call themselves woke.”

 

In this capstone seminar, we will use the inadvertent rebranding of wokeness as a jumping-off point for exploring the complex, delicate interactions between social justice movements in the United States and the lives of those for whom they advocate. At the heart of this inquiry are important questions about the role of the individual in relation to the collective. For example, how do we know if we are “alert to injustice,” and how might we detect that awareness in others? What “moves” us to speak for others or to act on their behalf, and how do we define ourselves in relation to political movements? What do we as individuals stand to lose or gain by identifying with a cause, and are we responsible for the consequences of our representations? To engage with these questions, we will turn to the long nineteenth century in U.S. literary history (1790-1920), a period characterized by unprecedented conflict, a widespread fascination with the power of enthusiasm, and the rise of social advocacy as an unwritten responsibility of good citizenship. Our aims will be to engage with culturally specific ideas of identity, sincerity, and performance, and to produce independent criticism on the evolving role of the individual in American life.

 

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

The “Bad” Kids: A New Generation in Asian American Writing

Capstone Seminar
English 184.3 / Prof. Wang

This seminar delineates and interrogates the idea of a homogeneous “Asian American Experience” by way of texts that challenge, subvert, or simply chuck that model minority myth out the window. Readings will highlight the recent explosion of contemporary Asian American voices, writers who are introducing new perspectives, styles and subject matters to the English language literary canon. We will analyze and discuss notions of “bad” and “bad kids” in the works of Asian American writers who portray themes that include but are not limited to: race, ethnicity, boredom, sexuality, mental health, religious marginalization, and rebellion.We will also look at issues of class, family, love, and friendship as portrayed by second-generation, first-generation, and one-point-five generation immigrant writers. How do their voices differ and what stylistic and thematic similarities are shared?  The course covers work by Ling Ma, Mira Jacobs, Yanyi, Cathy Park Hong, Jia Tolentino, Chia Chia Lin, and others.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.

Representing Chicanx Life

Topics in Chicana/o or Latina/o Literature
English M191B / Prof. Perez-Torres

This class examines literary and cultural texts to consider the various ways that Chicanx thought has engaged issues of representation. The problem of political and cultural representation for Chicanx communities has been a long-standing one. Chicanx activism was driven by a lack of representation and the need to articulate a collective identity so as to achieve social and political equity. The Chicanx writers we study in this class wrestle with a central question: how to represent a Chicanx self in literary texts when that sense of self in a social and historical setting seems constantly under threat? We will consider some of the conditions that make Chicanx and Latinx life feel precarious, and study cultural representation as a politically and socially engaged act of self-definition. We will pursue a careful method of rigorous textual analysis and logical argumentation. The goal is to generate clear, effective analytical thought about the literary and critical texts we read. The goals of the class will be: 1) to express oneself in a clear and organized way; 2) to analyze literary material critically; and, 3) to generate original ideas from a synthesis of different critical thoughts and analyses.

Enrollment in this seminar will be restricted to American Literature and Culture majors during first pass, and will open up to English majors during second pass.