Syllabus Woes: That American Lit Class I’m Teaching


If you don’t follow me on Twitter, then you don’t know that I’ve been putting together a syllabus for a Survey in American Literature course for Summer B (the second 6-week chunk of the University of Florida’s summer “semester”).  Picking texts has been difficult because the course is so short; showing students some of the movements, forms, and styles of American literature without overloading the course with too much reading is a daunting task.  The sad truth is that many books in the last thirty years that I would love to teach are simply too long to justify teaching them in a 6-week course.

So far, I’m semi-firm on the following works:

“Sestina: Altaforte” by Ezra Pound (1909)
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1929)
“Gerontion” by T. S. Eliot (1920)
“The End of the World” by Archibald Macleish (1926)
“In Distrust of Merits” by Marianne Moore (1944)
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (1966)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)

I’m considering the following:
Urinetown (text) by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis (2001)
“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison (1967)
“They’re Made of Meat” by Terry Bisson (1991)
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959)
Ubik by Philip K. Dick (1969)
“Fates Worse Than Death” by Kurt Vonnegut (1982)
“Dutchman” by Amirir Baraka (1960)
“Almost Browne” by Gerald Vizenor (1991)
“Entropy” by Thomas Pynchon (1984)
“Neo HooDoo Manifesto” by Ishmael Reed (1972)
“Holy the Firm” by Annie Dillard (1994)

I’m trying for a mix of poetry, short stories, and novels (with a play).  Long novels are basically out, though, since I can’t justify devoting time to anything significantly over 250 pages.

There is also another problem here:  while there are a few women writers in the poetry and short fiction genres, most of my selections are by men.  To be fair, most of the works I’m interested in are from the 1920s to the 1960s, which means that a great deal of those works we might call “classic” are by men, but this still leaves me feeling uncomfortable.  Who am I missing other than Toni Morrison (who I can’t stand)?  I must admit that outside of the SF/F genres, I am ignorant of female writers of significant works of fiction in the U.S.

So, that’s where I’m at right now.  If you have suggestions of books you love, whether SF/F or not, feel free to leave a comment.

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 “Syllabus Woes: That American Lit Class I’m Teaching

  1. For a six week course, I think you already have too many works. I mean, to do a single Pynchon novel in 6 weeks time would be a sprint, but to do it alongside other, equally complex and engrossing work is going to be a challenge

  2. My English professor has dropped the name of Flannery O'Connor before, and Joyce Carol Oates seems like an important name as well. Couldn't tell you what to pick of their works though. Virginia Woolf is considered one of the greatest exponents of modernist lit male or female. Her short stories are really amazing.

  3. There's Zora Neale Hurston. She's best known for Their Eyes Were Watching God but I think I preferred Dust Tracks on a Road, her autobiography. She did some short stories too, which I haven't read. I'm not a huge fan, but she's an interesting character and historically significant (how many black women got their novels published in the 30s?).

    Poetry-wise, I like Audre Lorde, Marge Piercy, and Adrienne Rich, among others. I also read Piercy's novel He, She and It, which is pretty good (and science fiction!), but a bit long for your purposes.

  4. KATHERINE ANNE PORTER (way underrated, though critically acclaimed and influenced many other writers)–Read her short novels Old Mortality, Noon Wine, and Pale Horse, Pale Rider (these three novels are grouped together under the title Pale Horse, Pale Rider)

    Several writers of Indian Captivity Narratives were female.

    Edith Wharton (House of Mirth is okay)

    Willa Cather (known for: Death Comes For the Archbishop, My Antonia, O Pioneers!)

    Flannery O'Connor has a really good short story called "A Good Man is Hard to Find)

    Virginia Woolf is British and her fiction is vapid and almost so "writerly" it's unreadable (just think endless overwritten description, no characters, no plot). Her essay "A Room of One's Own" is actually pretty engaging.

    Ursula K. LeGuin if you can do some genre fic.



  5. Thanks for the recommendations and what not, folks!

    Adam: The Crying of Lot 49 is about 150 pages, which makes it doable at least on a cursory level. The course requires about 1200 pages of reading for the full 6 weeks, though, so I'm trying to meet that minimum count.

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