American Literature Syllabus: Suggestions Open!


For those that don’t know, the syllabus I had designed for an American Lit. survey course got rejected.  The reasoning behind that rejection makes sense, and I’ve been told point blank that if I want to teach that same course in the Spring (under a World Literature heading), it’ll happen.  But that means I’ve got to put together an entirely new syllabus.

As of this moment, I am thinking about framing this survey course with the loose theme of “American identity.”  I want to have as wide an exploration of this question as possible, both to show the breadth of such concerns within American lit and to avoid having too narrow of a focus (i.e., one segment of identity).  There are a number of novels, short stories, and plays I am considering for the syllabus, including some that I’ve taught before (such as Black No More by George Schuyler).  But I’d like to expand my focus.

This is where you come in.  Which novels, short stories, or plays would you suggest for a syllabus loosely concerned with “American identity”?  So long as the work is written by someone from the U.S. after 1900, it qualifies.  Genres are not relevant, though I always include a little science fiction (sometimes fantasy) in my syllabi (I’m currently thinking about teaching One for Sorrow by Christopher Barzak, for example).

So have at it!

(Note:  I am interested in canonical work as well as work by various ethnic or minority groups, including African Americans, Native Americans, LGBT folks, refugees (and related categories), women, and so on and so forth.  I deliberately write my syllabi to include a range of different groups to show my students that the “canon” is not really a representation of American literature as a whole and that these other literary “groups” are important.  Understand that I can’t fit everything in.  I feel bad about that every time I teach a survey course.  I want to cover every single group imaginable, but I can’t.  16 weeks just isn’t enough time 🙁 ).

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

8 thoughts on “American Literature Syllabus: Suggestions Open!

  1. I'd look up author Sherman Alexie for Native American identity tales. You can even point students to the film SMOKE SIGNALS that was based on his "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" a collection of interconnected short stories.

    Another few suggestions: THE BELL JAR by Plath. I've always considered the Illuminatus Trilogy as pretty hardcore Americana. The apocalyptic-satire novel LOVE IN THE RUINS by Walker Percy. And THE KILLER INSIDE ME I think is a perfect southern American novel that explores that core American pariing of tight knit communities and complete socoipathic narcissism.

    If only you could do whole graphic novel runs, there'd be PREACHER, too. Which may be written by a Brit, but it's still pretty spot on with its main Texan character.

    • Alexie is certainly on the list right now. I think I might teach Flight, though. It was on the other syllabus, too. I probably don't have time to show a film, though. Not a full film, anyway. 🙁

      The Bell Jar by Plath is probably one of those books they read in high school. I try to avoid those as much as possible (hard work, I know). I like exposing them to new stuff. But I'll keep it in mind just in case 🙂

      I definitely can't teach Preacher, though graphic novels or comics have not gone unnoticed. I would love to do something popular, like a DC or Marvel thing (or even something from an indie that has a long history), but I do think self-contained stuff is the better bet. That's something to think about…

  2. I love American History themes that reveals both the thinking of that time and the relationships between men and women. "Cold Mountain", comes to mind. Also a classic which I am sure you would not like but should be taught, "Grapes of Wrath", perhaps too canonical. This book is the American spirit struggling against nature and prejudice. The Oakies that went out to California were looked down on by the Californians. Yet they survived against many vicissitudes.

  3. American Born Chinese (graphic novel), The Joy Luck Club, Shooting Kabul, Monster, My Antonia, Lucy, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Life, Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker and A Gesture Life, Mukherjee’s Jasmine, Golden Gate, The House on Mango Street, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, Gish Jen’s Typical American, Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and China Men. Not sure if you're looking for the immigrant / culture conflict novel or the "American Dream" novel such as with The Great Gatsby? You already have Silko and Alexie and know Henry David Hwang

Leave a Reply