Wednesday, January 14, 2015
January 14, 2015: Spring 2015 Previews: The Relevance of Major Authors
[With the start of a new semester comes all the new opportunities and possibilities provided by a fresh group of courses. In this week’s series I’ll highlight a few of those semester plans, among a couple other things on my Spring 2015 radar. I’d love to hear about your spring plans and goals in comments!]
On three examples of classic literature’s salience for contemporary students and life.
1) My 3000 (Junior)-level literature seminar Major Authors of the 20th Century starts with Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie (1900). As I wrote in this very early post, Dreiser’s novel resonates remarkably well with 21st century society, identity, and culture, and I have found that it helps students consider issues like consumerism and work, celebrity and identity, ethics and the American Dream. I look forward to seeing how this group of students responds to Carrie Meeber and her story and world!
2) The course’s second reading is another big novel, Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940). I would put Wright’s novel right alongside Chesnutt’s Marrow on the #FergusonSyllabus about which I wrote in Monday’s post; indeed, the novel’s second part, in which its protagonist Bigger Thomas is on the run from the police and being constantly defined by the Chicago media as a “black beast” and the like, echoes very potently some specific details of the Darren Wilson/Mike Brown situation (such as Wilson’s description of Brown as a “demon”). As with Chesnutt in my survey sections, I plan to foreground these relevances to our contemporary moment, so we can make them an overt part of our class conversations.
3) From there, the course turns to four weeks of poetic readings: two weeks each with the collected poems of Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Hughes’ poems offer a complementary, far more intimate (yet ultimately no less political) portrayal of African American identity and community than Native Son, one that can work well with Wright’s novel to help us continue those conversations. While many of Plath’s poems, from the satirical “The Applicant” to the long dramatic work “Three Women,” offer a potent way into talking about contemporary topics such as birth control and images of women’s sexuality, “leaning in” and debates over women’s opportunities and choices, and how culture and society impact our individual identities and perspectives.
All great arguments for literature’s relevance to our world and lives—and that’s just the first four of the course’s seven authors! Next preview tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Spring plans you’d share?