Monday, January 11, 2016
January 11, 2016: Spring 2016 Previews: Ethnic American Literature
[Next week brings a new semester, the last of my 11th year at Fitchburg State University. So this week brings a series of spring 2016 preview posts, this time focused on the texts we’ll be reading in my spring courses. I’d love to hear about your spring syllabi, and other spring plans, in comments!]
In my Ethnic American Literature course, I use readings in a different way than in any other class I teach: pairing two long readings and working with them simultaneously for three weeks (rather than the usual two for a longer work). Here’s an article in which I explain why I made that choice and how it works in practice! The pairings have evolved a bit with each iteration of the course, and here are the four units for Spring 2016:
1) Frederick Douglass’ Narrative (1845) and Richard Wright’s Black Boy (1945): My Ethnic Lit students produce for their individual work in the course not conventional papers but a multigenerational family timeline and history, and so we start our readings with two autobiographical works, as well as two that can help us analyze African American identities, histories, and writings across a century.
2) Mary Doyle Curran’s The Parish and the Hill (1948) and Michael Patrick MacDonald’s All Souls (1999): Another central goal of my Ethnic course is to remind my students that we’re all “ethnic”—when I came to FSU the course was unfortunately titled “Other Voices,” and there remains a sense (among scholars as well as students) that “ethnic literature” means literature by writers of color. This pairing of two Irish American works helps push beyond that concept, and toward conversations about ethnicity and race—among many other topics—as part of all identities.
3) Poems by Martín Espada and Excerpts from Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street (1984): By the end of Unit 2 the students have done a ton of reading, and so both to change things up and to allow for more close reading practice we spend the next unit working with much shorter texts: a dozen or so Espada poems and the first twenty or so of the short short stories that constitute Cisneros’ great book. The two authors also help us think about Latino American and immigrant identities and communities, among many other subjects.
4) Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989) and Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine (1984/1993): By the last unit we’re ready for more comparative analyses, as well as to model more overtly the project’s histories, and these multigenerational family novels (one of four Chinese American immigrant women and their daughters, and one of three generations in a pair of Chippewa Native American families) allow us to do both those things—and to enjoy two of the most talented American writers (“ethnic” or otherwise) of the last half-century.
Next spring preview tomorrow,
PS. What are you teaching/reading this spring? Other spring plans you’d share?