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Native American Literature

ENGL 082.401
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 5: 19th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

We are living in the midst of the greatest moment in Native American literary history, when masterpieces of poetry, short stories, novels, and film are being produced at an unprecedented pace.  This class will focus on the works of writers like Leslie Marmon Silko, N. Scott Momday, Sherman Alexie, Joy Harjo, and other contemporary masters.  Some of the questions that will be discussed include: Why is this movement, often called the Native American Renaissance, occurring at this particular moment in history?  How do these works of contemporary literature teach us to look backwards and see the origins of American literary history in an entirely new light?  Why were Indians left out of American literary history, for the most part, until 1969 when the Native American Renaissance began and how have these contemporary indigenous writers helped change the cultural memory of “America.”


Students will be asked to write three 5-7 page essays and a number of one page reflections on the assigned reading.  The goals of this class are: 1) to learn to see literature from an American Indian perspective, in which ancestral spirits speak and the “ancient” past becomes part of the living present; 2) to write more effectively by using a variety of media including film, photographs, indigenous artifacts, video, and living storytellers (a Cherokee storyteller whose family survived the Trail of Tears will be a guest lecturer); 3) to appreciate the wonderful sense of humor and sense of tradition that enliven these contemporary masterpieces of American literary history.