I believe literature, like all the arts, exists in multiple spheres. Literary texts are at once historical artifacts, rhetorical documents, artistic installations, and conversations between the reader, writer, and the world itself. As such, I build courses that require students to pursue inquiry through multiple lenses–encouraging students to consider the significance of a text while also giving them room to seek meaning and follow their own fascination.
In practice, my courses typically move chronologically, acknowledging the historical, political, aesthetic, and personal elements a text contains. The course foundations are close-reading and critical inquiry, but these are textured and problematized by considering a text’s participation in both its literary tradition and its contemporary cultural conversation, as well as what a text can teach readers about the human experience today. Such an inquiry must be interdisciplinary and multi-faceted. For example, before reading Harlem Renaissance writers such as Langston Hughes or Sterling Brown, my students read Alain Locke’s essay, “The New Negro,” and discuss race in the 1920s cultural milieu, from Lothrop Stoddard to W.E.B. Dubois. In class, then, we also listen to early blues recordings by Robert Johnson and Son House to help provide context for the aesthetic moves Hughes and Brown have chosen, and how these are both in dialog with and opposition to the moves of other Modernist poets. Finally, I challenge the students to consider the ways in which these writers engage otherness differently than other outsiders – such as Whitman’s treatment of sexuality, Mina Loy’s early feminist writing, or Steinbeck’s class politics. In informal and formal writing assignments, students consider the lasting impact of the Harlem Renaissance on African-American literature, pop- and counterculture literature, representation and identity politics, and the development of American poetry.
Ultimately, we cover the material of a literary moment, but more importantly my students begin to learn how to ask questions that will texture and complicate their study in any field. It is my belief that this approach cultivates intellectual curiosity in students, while helping to nourish the vital balance between academic rigor and original thought.
Introduction to Poetry (15 week semester)
History of Poetry (10 week quarter)
Reading Poetry (10 week quarter)