ENGL 3207W-001: American Literature Since the Mid-Twentieth Century

Instructor: Clare Eby

Prerequisite: ENGL 1010, 1011, or 2011; open to sophomores or higher

Concentrating on fiction that breaks new ground (particularly in terms of narrative form and structure), this class begins with two classics from shortly after the middle of the 20th century: Sylvia Plath’s vivid and disturbing The Bell Jar, an acid-sharp examination of the position of women in midcentury America; and Thomas Pynchon’s wacky, conspiratorial, postmodern quest narrative, The Crying of Lot 49. We then move on to Art Spiegelman’s holocaust narrative and autobiography Maus (the text that, more than any other, established the graphic novel as a serious art form). Next, we sample texts from the 21st century. We will read at least one book of stunningly interlocking short stories, such as Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, which experiments with narrative form to pose questions about how technology changes social interactions, and/or Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, brilliant tales about immigrant families that attend closely to generational differences. We will probably read Gary Shteyngart’s satirical dystopia, Super Sad True Love Story, and definitely read the heartbreaking, multigenerational saga of exile, Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. There will be seven or so books total, plus some secondary readings. Because this is an honors course, requirements will be equivalent to what I assign in advanced studies (the 4000-level capstones for English majors): one short paper (5-6 pp.); one research paper (10-12 pp), which will be broken down into several preliminary stages, including an annotated bibliography; and a twenty-minute presentation on a scholarly text. The class will be discussion-based (with discussion a significant portion of the final grade); there will also be frequent quizzes.