Book Suggestions for “American” Lit Syllabus (a terrible title…)


If you don’t follow me on Twitter, then you are unaware that I am attempting to teach a somewhat unusual American Lit survey in the fall.  Basically, I am not teaching the traditional American canon (i.e., the greats of U.S. literature).  Instead, my course will offer a broader interpretation of “American” to include works from U.S. writers and writers from the Americas at large — North, Central, South, and the Caribbean.  Essentially, this course will be designed to challenge the traditional canon in almost every way; even the U.S. texts I select will offer a challenge.  While I am familiar with a great deal of work from these regions/areas, there is always the possibility that I’ve missed something I should seriously consider for inclusion — hence, this post.

If you have a suggestion for a short story, play, or novel that is from one of these regions, please leave a comment.  I am also open to suggestions for U.S. works written by traditionally marginalized groups (Native Americans, people of color, etc.).

So suggest away!

P.S.:  Translations are more than welcome (and expected, considering the range I’ve selected).  As long as I can get it in English, it’s open game.

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 “Book Suggestions for “American” Lit Syllabus (a terrible title…)

  1. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie.

    There's SO much amazing writing by women in central America. I'll see if I can find my list (on my USB at work).

    This is a big task you've set yourself up for! Bravo for busting it out of the limited definition.

  2. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison: clear, accessible, and absolutely heartbreaking. Would also recommend Borges, Garcia-Marquez, and Century of Fire by Eduardo Galeano. Also Edwidge Danticat or Achy Obejas as Carribean/Carribean-American writers.

  3. @Tracie

    That Alexie book is a GREAT suggestion.

    Does it have to be written by an American? If not, Hey Norstradamus! by Douglas Coupland

    After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh

    The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

    The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

    Pafko at the Wall by Don DeLillo (novella)

    Watchmen by Alan Moore

  4. Anonymous: Thanks for the suggestions. Borges is already on the list. I hadn't thought of Danticat (though I do have other Caribbean writers on the list right now). I'm not familiar with Obejas or Galeano. Marquez is an obvious choice, but I have to be careful due to space limitations. I wonder if he's written any great short stories…

  5. Justin: I am explicitly ignoring the American canon. That means I will not put any Faulkner, Vonnegut, Hemingway, O'Connor, etc. etc. etc. in there.

    Beyond that, everything is open game. The only rule is that it must have been written somewhere in the Americas. Expatriates count. Americans do count, provided they are from traditionally marginalized groups (Native Americans, feminist writers, Harlem Renaissance stuff, etc.). DeLillo is probably out, since he's practically part of the canon now.


  6. I would suggest AngĂ©lica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial (available in English from Small Beer Press, translated by Ursula K. Le Guin, no less). If the whole novel is too long, note that it is structured as eleven free-standing, oral-style stories about different periods in this fictional empire's history, so one of them alone might fit on the syllabus? ("The Natural History of Ferrets" or "Portrait of the Empress" could be good candidates, for starters; although one of my favourites is "And the Streets Deserted", which might be the best counter-cultural example in there…)

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