Thursday, January 16, 2020
January 16, 2020: Spring Semester Previews: English Studies Capstone
[As of next week my sabbatical is officially done and I’m back to full-time teaching. So this week I’ll share some previews for my Spring 2020 classes, focusing on new readings I’m adding this semester and leading up to some updates on book talks and projects. I’d love to hear what you’re up to as well!]
On the first novel I’ll ever teach in hardcover, and why I’m doing so.
In my English Studies Capstone course, we read one text for each of our department’s four “tracks” (the concentrations that our English Studies Majors can choose). For the Literature track text, I’ve moved over the years through Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and, last spring, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, our 2018-2019 Fitchburg State University Community Read book. I really love Ng’s novel and would have been more than happy to teach it again this time around, but wanted to challenge myself to use something new, both literally (ie, released recently) and pedagogically (ie, something I have never taught before, in a class that I’ve had the chance to teach nearly once a year for many years now). I debated between many possibilities, including all those highlighted in this October blog series on Recent Reads, before eventually settling on Monique Truong’s The Sweetest Fruits—a book that is not just new, it was published so recently that it is still only available in hardcover, which makes this the first time I’ve ever taught a book for which there was not yet a paperback edition.
I didn’t make that decision lightly, as I am fully aware of the financial challenges facing our students (and all college students these days); that was one reason why I decided not to require any texts for my Writing II class, as I discussed in Tuesday’s post. But a Capstone course is different from First Year Writing in many ways, and many of those differences could be boiled down to this: Capstone represents one of the last times when these students will be able to be college students and English Majors in the most idealized ways. That doesn’t mean that such practical challenges and realities are absent, of course (and indeed I dedicate a significant percentage of my Capstone class to focusing on practical topics like resumes and cover letters, grad school applications and options, professional paths, and so on). But at the same time, it means this is a class—again, likely one of the last classes they’ll take as undergrads, and perhaps in their lives—where we can read a wonderful contemporary author and novel, share together in the experience of encountering literature and culture that’s both part of our world yet occupies and creates its own world as well. Truong’s novel is and does all those things beautifully, and I’m excited to share it with my Capstone students.
Last preview tomorrow,
PS. What’s on your Spring 2020 horizon?