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Turning on the Word: Post-1960 U.S. Literature

ENGL 074.401
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

In an interview with Maya Angelou, the poet Amiri Baraka says that the rhythms of contemporary life exist long before writers try to translate them to the written page: “The word is the last thing to emerge.” This course will address how revolutionary formal changes in U.S. literature written after 1960 articulate major shifts in how we think about race, ethnicity, and gender. We will explore such questions as: What political work is contemporary U.S. literature doing? What is the relationship between new literary forms and changing notions of American identity? What do these works have to teach us about urban renewal, the digital revolution, war in the television era, or the blurring of fact and fiction? Is the word catching up with transgressive countercultures, or does it emerge at the same time? We will read novels and poems that span major literary movements (the Beats, Black Arts, spoken word, digital lit), with an emphasis on contemporary shifts in African American, Asian American, Latino/a, and queer literature. Assigned readings may include novels such as Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, Toni Morrison’s Sula, Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters, Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina, Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Samuel Delany’s Dark Reflections; poems by Amiri Baraka, Sandra Cisneros, Ursula Rucker, and Claudia Rankine; and selections from fan fiction, literary mashups, and cybertexts. Students can expect a midterm and final exam, as well as two five-page essays and regular responses to course materials using a collaborative blog and Twitter feed.