Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pondering . . .

Hey now. Just a quick query to all you well-read folks out there: I just leapt at the opportunity to teach a "Topics in Literature" course next semester. With a scant 48 hours' notice, I drafted a course description, got it approved by our chair, and sent it off to the registrar. Now I'm faced with the predicament of finding and selecting appropriate texts, and I hope that some of you have some suggestions.

The course is English 215, and the only prerequisite is composition, so it's not a full-on literature seminar, but rather an introduction to reading, thinking about and writing about literature. The course may be tailored as I like, and I chose to focus on "working class literature": poems, prose, and a couple of plays that exemplify what we mean when we think of the working class.

I'm wondering (a) what texts (poems, prose, plays) come to mind for you? Some examples spring immediately to mind: Alice Walker's "Everyday Use," Susan Glaspell's Trifles, poems by Lucille Clifton, B.H. Fairchild, Richard Blanco. But I've only just started to think about the readings. I don't even know if there's a textbook out there that would fit in with this kind of introductory literature course. We'll write a couple of short essays, and we'll explore a few critical strategies (reader-response, political, new historical criticism). We'll talk about the basic elements of fiction vs. poetry, fiction vs. nonfiction, and so on. I'll spend a good chunk of my winter break putting this course together, but I need to order books very soon.

Any thoughts?

9 comments:

Karen J. Weyant said...

Hi Ron --

I teach a course at JCC titled Writing About Literature that sounds a lot like the course you are describing. I use a book titled Literature: A Portable Anthology that has some good stuff...including Trifles (a play my students love). It's Bedford/St. Martins and if you look at their website, you will find other books that may help.

kayteau said...

OK, probably showing my dyke roots here a bit, but what about Dorothy Allison?

Hope you're well.

Christopher Hennessy said...

Because he died recently I immediately thought of Studs Terkel, WORKING, lots more I'm sure.

I wonder if James Wright's Ohio poems would be worth a look. Martin's Ferry feels like working class, though I'm not sure if that's what you're looking for.

I also have a book called Adversaria by a guy who worked in a steel mill. Amazing stuff. I can send it to you, if you like.

Ron said...

These are all good ideas! Karen: I'll see if I can get my hands on that textbook. I also plan to phone our textbook reps--maybe Friday--things are so nuts around here of late. . . Kay: yes, Dorothy Allison is an excellent suggestion. Christopher: you're thinking of Timothy Russell--I have that book, and the chapbook that came out earlier, In Lacrimae. I don't know if Adversaria is still in print from TriQuarterly but I could look them up. Some years ago, when I'd play records (vinyl) on a turntable, I had the musical soundtrack to WORKING--great songs, actually (and yes I can still sing a few of them). Thanks, all.

Benjamin said...

Apologies if these are obvious choices: some Phil Levine . . . ("What Work Is") . . . CK WIlliams ("Sanctity") . . . one might read "Leach Gatherer" (Resolution and Independence) to talk about how it is a problematic aestheticizing of the working class . . . . A less known book that might have some good poems is Corrinne Clegg Hales' "Seperate Escapes," which has a lot of poems about growing up in working class 1950s Utah or Nevada (I forget which). Some interesting poems about getting out of a poor town--about finding a middle-class life. Sounds like a great class.

Karen J. Weyant said...

Don't know why I didn't think of this earlier, but Oxford University Press recently published American Working Class Literature edited by Nicholas Coles and Janet Zandy. It's a good read ---

Ron said...

Karen! [bearhug] I just requested a copy of the anthology through the library. Hoping to get it by the end of the week. It looks promising! I can supplement the main text with other "faves."
Thanks for this lead--

Kristin said...

Marge Piercy has spent much of her writing life exploring issues of class and gender. If your students will read a novel, her book "Braided Lives" (1982)is one of the best explorations of class in the 1950's, 60's, and 70's. Her essay "Through the Cracks: Growing up in the Fifties" covers some of the same territory (I found it in Piercy's "Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt," one of the Poets on Poetry series out of the U of Michigan).

Many of her poems would fit your theme. A good poetry volume of hers with which to start your search would be "What Are Big Girls Made of?" (1997).

She's got a very comprehensive web site at www.margepiercy.com.

RJGibson said...

Ron: Not sure if you're still looking but what about Jim Daniels?