Beyond American Lit
November 14, 2011 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Help me think of topics for a college literature course!

I have the opportunity to propose some courses in my department. I'd like some help in brainstorming topics. I realize that MeFi, for all its amazingness, can't know all my details. I'm not looking for a perfect fit, but I'm interested in hearing what courses other people would find interesting. Details:

1. This would be for a 2000-level (non-required, elective) class in the Department of English. It needs to have a theme. Previous themes have been things like: "Hypocrites, Believers, and the Damned," "Romantic Women," "Lies! False Documents and Literary Hoaxes."
2. I can propose both a semester course and a summer course.
3. The courses should reflect my research interests. These are, broadly: contemporary world lit, contemporary American lit, trauma, childhood, adolescence, citizenship, identity.
4. I am a PhD candidate in a fairly large R1 school. Our undergraduate curriculum is pretty basic (American and British lit), and there aren't a lot of courses that offer world lit or multicultural viewpoints.
5. I have taught in the undergrad classroom for almost ten years.
posted by mrfuga0 to Education (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by empath at 10:09 PM on November 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Coming of age in literature? I took a film class focused around that subject once and it was pretty enjoyable.
posted by lilac girl at 10:26 PM on November 14, 2011

Twentieth-century Irish lit offers a lot of interesting opportunities to ponder the intersections of trauma, identity, and citizenship. (And with Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man you can add childhood/adolescence to the mix.)
posted by scody at 10:29 PM on November 14, 2011

Unreliable narrators?

posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:42 PM on November 14, 2011

Self-writing seems like an obvious fit: insert some not-really clever title ("Who Am I?"), crib themes from Foucault, and revisit your favorite contemporary quasi-autobiographical stuff, whether it's multicultural, experimental, or just riveting realism.

"Violence, terror, and trauma: global perspectives" would also be fairly rich in literary non-fiction options that are vaguely on point for you.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:46 PM on November 14, 2011

Children's Literature and Myth/Fable/Fairytale Making?
posted by fuzzysoft at 10:47 PM on November 14, 2011

I took Detective Fiction of the Americas as a college senior and it taught me a lot more than I thought about South America. Come for Raymond Chandler, stay for Roberto Bolaño.
posted by troublesome at 10:47 PM on November 14, 2011

* “13 Ways of Looking at a Swear Word”
* “1984 Plus Some”
*”Return to Rhyme and Reason” – accessible modern poetry.
* “Aliens and Allegories”
* Alternate histories
* Androgyny
* “Angels and Devils (or Demons?)”
* “Apocalypse Now” or “The End is Nigh” – such as 2012, Mayan calendar, zombie apocalypse, rapture, climate change, possible waning U.S. power.
* Creative nonfiction
* “Cross Words (and Crossed Swords?)”
* “CSI: Cultural Scene Investigation”
* Current oral literature? – such as speeches, talk radio, sermons, TV talk shows, podcasts, audiobooks, SNL.
* “Digiterature” – About effects of the digital age on literature (and maybe literacy and culture and vice versa?). This topic is ripe.
* “Disaster: Before and After” – such as comparing literature before and after 9/11 and Katrina, and other incidents elsewhere.
* “Doubleplusgood, Collateral Damage and Ethnic Cleansing”
* “Every Unhappy Family is Unhappy in Its Own Way”
* Experimental poetry
* “Explosion of the Nuclear Family”
* Fan fiction
* “FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt"
* Graphic novels
* Graphic nonfiction
* “Icons and Idols”
* “I Feel, Therefore …”
* “If You Could See What I Hear” – on disabled people.
* “Inside, Outside” – such as pairing biographies and autobiographies about the same person, or works about a place written by a native and non-native.
* “In the Year 2020”
* “Law & Order” – in general, not the show.
* “Lies My President Told Me”
* “Love and Lust”
* “Nothing New Under the Sun” – about sequels, series and such.
* “Make It Stick” – related to the non-literature book.
* Manga and the like
* “None of the Above” – on multiracialism or “outsiderism.”
* “Profiler” – Students acts as criminal profilers of characters.
* “Rights, Wrongs and Responsibilities”
* Rites of passage
* Slam poetry
* Sports
* “Still Waiting for Flying Cars”
* Superheroes
* “Text Meets Art”
* “Tipping Points”
* “Victims and Villains”
* Urban legends
* “Waking Up From the American Dream” – such as the recession, becoming aware of politics.
posted by maurreen at 11:58 PM on November 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I took a course once that had the theme "war in literature". That would probably allow you to bring in issues relating to citizenship, trauma, and maybe adolescence.
posted by lollusc at 12:41 AM on November 15, 2011

"A stranger in the village"
posted by knile at 1:15 AM on November 15, 2011

I once took an English class that focused on rebellion. I'm not sure, but I imagine that's a pretty commonly used theme. Still, I thought it worked well.
posted by seriousmoonlight at 1:59 AM on November 15, 2011

Literature and Work--how work is presented in books, old and new. It's surprisingly complex and sparse subject, and few do it well.
posted by vecchio at 2:45 AM on November 15, 2011

My favorite classes back when I studied world literature were usually ones that focused on one author. I have very fond memories of a class on Tolstoy, for instance, and another in which all we did was to read Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, so a class on a single book is possible, if the book is meaty enough. I took one class where we read four love poets from different parts of the world and approached their work from a myriad of different angles.

Other than that, here are the themes of some other classes that I enjoyed.

Romantic literature
Horror in literature
Film adaptation
Literature and evil
posted by Kattullus at 2:54 AM on November 15, 2011

Graphic novels were already mentioned once upthread, but I wanted to add that you could particularly focus on issues of trauma, identity, and coming of age with the rich memiors that are out there by Marjane Satrapi, Joe Sacco, Alison Bechdel, others.
posted by lillygog at 4:51 AM on November 15, 2011

Post-colonial literature? You could read everything from Frantz Fanon to Ngugi Wa Thiong'o to Chimamanda Adichie. I don't know much about post-colonial Indian literature written in English, but I'm sure there is some.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:03 AM on November 15, 2011

Would this course be next fall? There's probably a good literature course that could be designed around elections.
posted by naturalog at 5:39 AM on November 15, 2011

Immigrants/immigration stories. New Americans, something like that. Something about living between two cultures, the contrast between the Mareican dream and reality.

Works and authors that come to mind:
Namesake by Lahiri
Dinaw Mengistu, 1st or 2nd novel
Cisneros or Cristina Garcia or Julia Alvarez

There are a lot more, of course.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:53 AM on November 15, 2011

Would need a catchier course title, but... mental illness? Could potentially include works that focus on identity/sense of self, memories, trauma, unreliable storytellers, insanity, depression, etc.

I'd sure sign up!
posted by ghostbikes at 6:55 AM on November 15, 2011

Innocence-Experience Deathmatch: William Blake vs. Children's Literature
posted by willpie at 7:22 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Love and Death.

The thesis of Denis de Rougemont's Love in the Western World is pretty interesting, even if it has been overtaken by the criticism.
posted by gauche at 7:22 AM on November 15, 2011

Tricksters and Conmen
Unhappily Married Women
Crime and Punishment
Unreliable Narrators
Insanity in Literature
Deals with the Devil--Faust and Co.
Murderous Lovers
Golems and Robots--The History of Playing God
Prophesy and The Inevitability of Fate
Heroism in Literature

One of the most interesting Lit class I took was a class called "Retellings," where we read original works and then works, well, retelling them. Beowulf/Grendel, Mrs. Dalloway/The Hours, etc. If you did something like that with fairy tales or myth, you could do some really interesting cross culture/ time period discussions. Look at all the various incarnations of Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, etc.

A cross media class might also be interesting. I did something like that with my freshman students, where they picked a theme and followed it through history and across different cultures and media forms (they had to do a myth/folktale, a literary work, and then choose three out of popular literature, television, movies, video games, graphic novels, etc. They really seemed to enjoy it.

If you happen to be interested in any of these topics, I have lists of works I'd be happy to send you.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 8:12 AM on November 15, 2011

Stories within Stories.
posted by empath at 8:56 AM on November 15, 2011

With your research interests, I'd suggest something on New International or Post-Colonial Fiction - including some authors from South Africa or India. You could also compare it to the experience of immigrants in the US or African-American/Native-American experiences. All of those

The classes I took on those had books like (these are the non-American ones):
Artist of the Floating World - Japan
Age of Iron and Disgrace (Coetzee) - South Africa
Nervous Conditions - Zimbabwe
Smell of Apples or Embrace (Mark Behr) - South Africa
Things Fall Apart - Nigeria
Fasting, Feasting (Anita Desai) - India
God of Small Things - India
Fantasia - Algeria
Thousand Splendid Suns - Afghanistan (author is Afghani/American but the book is set in Afghanistan)

"American" experience for non-whites:
The Namesake (Indian guy searching for his identity)
Kite Runner (Afghani)
No-No Boy (Japanese after WWII and internment)
Beloved (African-American)

I can find more for you if this is at all helpful (memail me or respond in thread). It sounds like we have similar thematic research interests. Either way, let us know what you decide! I'm excited for you!
posted by guster4lovers at 9:27 AM on November 15, 2011

"Patriots and Expatriates"
posted by maurreen at 10:43 AM on November 15, 2011

One of my favorite classes in undergrad was "Literature of the Vietnam War." I signed up for the class originally because it was one of the few that actually fit into my schedule. I had never really read fiction/nonfiction of this sort before the class, and was not expecting to really enjoy it - but it was great.

Alternately, you could generalize this topic to "Literature of Wartime," or "Literature of [insert conflict here]." For any major conflict, you will be able to find pieces that express a wide range of feelings (support, outrage, apathy, confusion, ...) from a variety of voices that are written for different audiences and purposes. You could also incorporate a variety of media, if you wanted to take that route. It would be able to pretty easily mold the course to fit your department needs, and it seems like this topic would also fit your current interests as well. Good luck!
posted by genekelly'srollerskates at 1:14 PM on November 15, 2011

What about something tied to current events? The apocalypse is big now (since the world is ending in 2012 and all) and you could look at "end of the world" scenarios across literature, ranging from Revelations to Shelley's Last Man to Cormac McCarthy's The Road to Oryx and Crake and even to popular literature like The Stand and World War Z. Tying into your interests, what's more traumatic to the human psyche than all civilization vanishing because of nuclear war/the rapture/the rise of the planet of the apes/zombies/aliens/whatever? You could even look at YA fiction like The Hunger Games trilogy to cover the adolescence/childhood/citizenship angle.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:56 PM on November 15, 2011

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