English 103w. Advanced Old English: Wisdom Poetry

    Instructor: Kristen Carella
    Tuesdays & Thursdays, 3:00-4:15pm | Location: Boylston 103
    Course Website

    Old English poems love to recycle age-old wisdom in what are called “gnomic” verses.  Usually expressed in laconic language and embedded in various genres of poems, the meaning of these passages can be unclear: Soð bið swicolost could be translated as “Truth is complicated.” Their prevalence, however, suggests that the wisdom they conveyed was held in universal esteem.  This course will examine the structure, content, and context of gnomic verses from multiple angles.  In addition to our daily translations, we will pursue questions such as: What are the sources of these passages?  What ideological/religious beliefs do they reflect?  How do they function within the various literary genres where they occur?  What is the importance of these passages in Beowulf?  We will also compare Old Norse/Icelandic and Old Irish wisdom literature (in translation) as we attempt to understand this fascinating and challenging aspect of Old English literature. Prerequisite: one term of Old English or the equivalent.

    Note: English 102 is a prerequisite for English 103. Students who complete both English 102 and 103 with honors grades will fulfill the College language requirement and the English Department's Foreign Language Literature requirement.

    English 111. Epic: From Homer to Star Wars

    Instructor: Leah Whittington & Vidyan Ravinthiran
    Monday & Wednesday, 3:00-4:15pm | Location: Sever 107
    Course Website

    Epic is one of the most enduring and far-reaching forms of artistic expression. From the heroic poems of the ancient Near East to modern films of quest and adventure, epic speaks to the shared values and collective aspirations of cultures, peoples, and communities. But if it’s formal conventions and thematic interests endure, epic changes over time. In this course, you will study the historical and literary evolution of epic as it moves from oral verse into new genres and media, reading texts from the ancient Mediterranean alongside works of poetry, fiction, and cinema from early modern Britain, twentieth-century America, and the contemporary Global South. We will look at some texts in their entirety and others in extracts, focusing on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Derek Walcott’s Omeros, The Mahabharata (in prose and film versions), and George Lucas’ Star Wars, with detailed analysis of Gwendolyn Brooks’s American epics on Black life, Annie Allen and In the Mecca. If issues of identity, belonging, and community have always been explored in epic, what is the place of epic in a pluralist multi-culture? What are our contemporary epics today? 

    English 122iw. Imagining the World in Medieval and Renaissance Literature

    Instructor: Alan Niles
    Tuesday & Thursday, 1:30-2:45pm | Location: Sever 208
    Course Website

    How did writers and audiences imagine the world before modernity? This course offers an introduction to the first 1000 years of English literature (roughly 700-1700) and the shifting terms through which writers were able to imagine the world beyond their borders. We will encounter hardy seafarers, fantastical monsters, and real and imagined peoples at the margins of Europe and beyond. We will study the genres of travel narrative, romance, epic, drama, and lyric, and the different ways these forms registered global connections, ideas of race, and cultural and religious difference. We will pay particular attention to the accelerated pace of global

    encounters and connections starting in the Renaissance, and the ways that English literature was able (or not) to register new peoples and places, new forms of economic connectivity, and the violence of colonialism and empire.

    Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Arrivals" requirement for the Class of 2022.

    English 124sg. Sex, Gender, and Shakespeare

    Instructor: Alan Niles
    Tuesday & Thursday, 9:00-10:15am | Location: Sever 203
    Course Website

    This class is an introduction to Shakespeare’s writings and their representations of sex, gender, romance, love, and queerness. We will study poems about erotic and queer desire, plays that stage ideas about gender and gender fluidity, and film adaptations that bring modern perspectives to race and sexuality. Readings will include such plays as Twelfth NightRomeo and JulietA Midsummer Night’s DreamTitus AndronicusMacbeth, and Measure for Measure; Shakespeare’s Sonnets; and films by Derek Jarman, Baz Luhrmann, and Julie Taymor. Throughout our course, we will ask: how are the forms of gender identity and sexual expression we encounter in Shakespeare’s works familiar, or different? How might they challenge, inspire, or disturb us today?

    Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Shakespeare" requirement for the Class of 2022.

    English 151an. The Age of the Novel

    Instructor: Tara Menon
    Monday & Wednesday, 9:00-10:15am | Location: Sever 103
    Course Website

    What does the novel still have to offer? As newer genres—movies, television, Youtube, TikTok—compete for our attention, why do people still immerse themselves long works of prose fiction? And why do certain nineteenth-century British novels continue to captivate so many readers to this day? In this course, we will read five nineteenth-century novels by five authors that many consider to be the greatest writers that have ever lived: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit, George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. We will pay close attention to technique: how do these novels work? And we will also explore social and political themes: what are these novels about? At every stage, we will consider the unique capacities of narrative fiction: what can the novel do that other genres can’t? Implicitly and explicitly, this course will argue first, that these superlative nineteenth-century novels let us see the world (not only then but also now) in new ways, and second, that the novel is a tool for thinking that beats all others. Alongside these texts, we will watch film adaptations and read excerpts of contemporary criticism and fiction to better understand the enduring legacy of these canonical works.

    English 162bb. Broadway Bodies, or Representation of the Great White Way

    Instructor: Derek Miller
    Tuesday & Thursday, 10:30-11:45 am | Location: Emerson 101
    Course Website

    To many of its fans, Hamilton poses a problem. How can a show that presents so many talented artists of color still represent a white-washed American history? And how should we evaluate the show’s impact when sky-high ticket prices make it accessible primarily to a wealthy (read: white) audience? In its aspirational embrace of a multi-ethnic America and its failure fully to realize that promise itself, Hamilton embodies the paradox of Broadway.

    This course examines that paradox since World War II, particularly as it pertains to multiple aspects of identity including race, gender, sexuality, disability, and age. We will examine how shows such as South Pacific, with its famous anti-racist anthem, and M. Butterfly, which explores the intersections of Orientalism, gender, and sexuality, temper their inclusive representations to appeal to a wide commercial audience. Broadway is a particularly fertile ground for exploring these issues because theatrical performances always call attention to the performative nature of subjectivity: you are what you do. As we shall see, though, theatrical performatives, instead of affirming the subjects they represent, threaten to turn those subjects into mere theater.

    Our starting assumption is that many Broadway stake-holders genuinely desire broader representation in and for their work, but that the structure of the industry constrains how these shows challenge the status quo. By understanding those constraints, we will be able to critique and, perhaps, change what stories Broadway tells, who sees them, how they are marketed and, of course, “who tells your story.”

    English 173bl. The Black Lyric

    Instructor: Tracy K. Smith
    Thursday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: Sever 107
    Course Website

    African American poets have long embraced the private freedoms of the lyric poem—freedom to claim the authority of an uncontested first person “I”; freedom to wrangle language into new and startling forms; freedom to depart as needed from the strictures of linear reality. And yet, from its earliest iterations, African American poetry has also concerned itself with correcting and complicating the official narrative of Black life and Black subjectivity in America. This course will explore the means by which Black poets have innovated upon the lyric tradition to accommodate a sense of allegiance to a collective. In this tradition, the lyric poem has become a powerful tool with which to ponder the dynamics of self and other, intimate and political—and justice and injustice. Course readings will include work by seminal 20th Century American figures such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden and Lucille Clifton, as well as contemporary voices like Jericho Brown, Tyehimba Jess, Morgan Parker, Eve L. Ewing and others. We will also devote attention to lyric corollaries in film, music, visual art and performance. Students will be encouraged to respond to course themes and texts in both critical and creative form.

    Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Poets" requirement for the Class of 2022.

    English 178x. The American Novel: Dreiser to the Present

    Instructor: Philip Fisher
    Monday & Wednesday, 10:30-11:45am | Location: Sever 202
    Course Website

    A survey of the 20th-century novel, its forms, patterns of ideas, techniques, cultural context, rivalry with film and radio, short story, and fact.  Wharton, Age of Innocence; Cather, My Antonia; Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms and stories; Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury and stories;  Ellison, Invisible Man; Nabokov, Lolita; Robinson, Housekeeping; Salinger, Catcher in the Rye and stories; Ha Jin, Waiting; Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station. Stories by James, London, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gaitskill, Wallace, Beattie, Lahiri, and Ford.

    English 182bf. Black Science Fiction

    Instructor: Namwali Serpell
    Monday & Wednesday, 1:30-2:45pm | Location: Sever 203
    Course Website

    This course addresses two genres—black fiction and science fiction—at their point of intersection, which is sometimes called Afrofuturism. Our term “black fiction” includes texts that issue out of and speculate about the African-American experience. Our term “science fiction” comprises texts that speculate about alternative, cosmic, dystopian, utopian, and future worlds. Overlapping and mutually transforming concepts include: genetics, race, diaspora, miscegenation, double consciousness, technology, ecology, biology, language, history, futurity, space (inner and outer), and the alien. We will consider the short stories, novels, comics, film, television, and music of black science fiction.

    English 190ve. Voices of Environmental Justice

    Instructor: Sarah Dimick
    Monday & Wednesday, 3:00-4:15pm | Location: Sever 106
    Course Website

    This course considers the relationships between systems of human injustice and environmental issues—including industrial disasters, ocean acidification, and resource extraction. We examine environmental justice writing and artwork with a transnational, interconnected approach. For example, we ask how Imbolo Mbue’s depiction of pipeline spills in the fictional town of Kosawa connects to Native American resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline. We link a poem documenting silicosis in the lungs of West Virginian coal miners to a novel portraying the aftermath of the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal. We compare a nonfiction account of Kenyan women resisting deforestation and an iPhone app reclaiming public access along the Malibu coast. We explore questions of voice, genre, and narrative, cataloguing the strategies writers and artists use to reach a global audience. 

    Humanities 10b. A Humanities Colloquium: From Ralph Ellison to Homer

    Instructors: Jay Harris, Jill Lepore, Deidre Lynch, Leah Whittington, Jesse McCarthy, Wai-yee Li
    Tuesday, 10:30-11:45 am | Location: Boylston 110

    2,500 years of essential works, taught by six professors. Humanities 10b is open only to students who completed Humanities 10a in Fall 2021. Humanities 10b will likely include works by Ellison, Woolf, Douglass, Wollstonecraft, Cao Xueqin, Shakespeare, Virgil, Sophocles and Homer, as well as the Arabian Nights, The Federalist Papers and the Book of Job. One 75-minute lecture plus a 75-minute discussion seminar led by the professors every week. Students continue to receive instruction in critical writing one hour a week, in writing labs and individual conferences. Students also have opportunities to participate online or in person, depending on public health conditions, in a range of cultural experiences, ranging from plays and musical events to museum and library collections.

    Note: Humanities 10a and 10b will count as "Open Electives" for English concentrators. The course is open only to first-year students. Students who complete Humanities 10a meet the General Education distribution requirement for Arts & Humanities. Students who take both Humanities 10a and Humanities 10b fulfill the College Writing requirement. This is the only course outside of Expository Writing that satisfies the College Writing requirement. No auditors. The course may not be taken Pass/Fail.

    African and African American Studies 152y. 20th Century African American Literature

    Instructor: Glenda Carpio
    Wednesday, 9:45-11:45am | Location: Barker 230

    Close readings of major 20th-century writers in the context of cultural history. (I) From the Harlem Renaissance to the Federal Writers' Project: Alain Locke, Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, Jessie Fauset, George Schuyler, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright. (II) From World War II to the present: Ralph Ellison, Ann Petry, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, Charles Johnson, Rita Dove, Colson Whitehead, Paul Beatty.

    Note: This is the same course as English 195tw: 20th Century African American Literature (offered in Spring 2021) and should not be repeated for credit. 

    English 90b. James / Baldwin

    Instructor: Jesse McCarthy
    Monday, 9:45-11:45am | Location: Barker 269
    Course Website
    ​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 15 students

    At first glance Henry James and James Baldwin may seem worlds apart. Yet these two enormously influential writers share much in common. Both are New Yorkers; both spent a good deal of their lives as expatriates; both are celebrated for their queerness, a feature of their style as much as their sexuality. Both were serious, moralizing, and passionate observers of the ‘American Scene’; both writers are deeply committed to investigating and exploring the privacy of consciousness and the currency of experience. Henry James was James Baldwin’s favorite writer. Colm Tóibín has called Baldwin, “the Henry James of Harlem.” What attracted Baldwin to James across their vast racial and class differences? What lessons about the art of fiction can we learn by reading each in the light of the other? Not only the Jamesian influence on Baldwin—but what Baldwin allows us to see might be missing or muted in James. We will think very closely about the subject that deeply occupied both of them: America. And what America means from perspectives acquired from outside of America, looking back in. We will also investigate the expression and communication of sexuality, gender, race, class, money, politics and taste alongside assorted criticism, reviews, and other essays of interest. 

    English 90ls. Literacy Stories

    Instructor: Deidre Lynch
    Thursday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: Barker 018 
    Course Website
    ​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 15 students

    This course investigates literacy, literacy instruction, and literacy movements past and present, in theory and practice. Engaging with recent fictions and memoirs by authors such as Elena Ferrante and Ocean Vuong, with African-American slave narratives, laboring-class autobiographies, and other texts from the 19th century, and with materials from the history of alphabet books and children’s literature, “Literacy Stories” investigates the rich, ambivalent ways in which literature has depicted the literacy needed to consume it. Given under the auspices of the English Department and Harvard’s Mindich Program for Engaged Scholarship, “Literacy Stories” also involves collaborations with, and volunteer work for, various community organizations devoted to literacy advocacy and instruction.

    This class will give us the opportunity to reflect—something we’ll do in part by learning from our community partners about the many ways of relating to texts that flourish beyond campus—on the contradictory ways in which we value reading. We’ll consider, for example, the friction between solitary and social reading: how the pleasures of this activity lie sometimes with how it separates us from others and sometimes with how it connects us. We will be thinking about literacy’s long-standing association with individual self-determination and thinking about how that association is put into question whenever people’s reading matter gets weaponized as an instrument of their domination. Literacy, the literary and theoretical texts on the syllabus will alike remind us, has a politics. Learning to be literate often involves experiences of unequal power relations and exclusion. Reading with (rather than “to” or “at”) others is an ethical challenge—one that humanities concentrators especially ought to explore.

    The writing assignments you will do for “Literacy Stories” will join together academic analysis with personal narrative and social reflection. They will likely encompass regular short responses to the assigned texts, journal entries that reflect critically on what you have been learning from your volunteer work beyond Harvard, and interviews with literacy advocates and community organizers. The capstone project for the seminar will be a memoir—your own literacy story-- reflecting on your own memories of reading instruction and integrating those memories with your experiences in the community over the course of the semester.

    Note: this course can be credited toward the Graduate School Education’s secondary field in Educational Studies.

    ... Read more about English 90ls. Literacy Stories

    English 90lt. Theory Matters: Problems in Contemporary Literary and Cultural Theory

    Instructor: Homi Bhabha
    Tuesday, 12:00-2:00pm | Location: Barker 211
    Course Website
    ​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 15 students. 

    Why study literary theory? Is theory a conceptual framework or a tool-kit? Is theory a companion to literary study or is it crucial for literary interpretation? These are some of the questions I propose to address in this seminar which will address  literary and cultural problems that have been shaped by theoretical concerns and concepts. This course will not adopt a historical approach nor will it be a survey of “schools” of literary theory. The syllabus will focus on topics such as Power, Race, Identity, Sexuality, Environmentalism, Postcolonialism, Inequality, Poverty etc. etc.  and trace theoretical contributions that have been formative in shaping the diverse discourses around these issues. . Aesthetic, political and ethical approaches will be knotted together in our conversations. The seminar will be concerned with the relation between cultural form and cultural value. Literary texts will be used in conjunction with theoretical works.

    English 90lv. Consciousness from Austen to Woolf

    Instructor: James Wood
    Monday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: Sever 203
    Course Website
    ​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.

    A look at the complex ways in which writers represent their characters' thought in texts by Austen, Flaubert, James, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Giovanni Verga, and Woolf. More broadly, traces the development of stream-of-consciousness, from Austen's incipient mastery of free indirect style, through Flaubert's more sophisticated use of it, to Woolf's full-blown inner monologues, seeing this development as not merely a fact of English and American literature, but as a phenomenon of world literature and an element of our modernity.

    English 90wb. Women on Being, Belonging, and Constructing

    Instructor: Katie Daily
    Thursday, 9:45-11:45am | Location: Barker 018
    Course Website
    ​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 15 students

    The course aims to strengthen our understanding of the ways in which individuals creatively respond to immigration issues including diversity, equity, and justice in twenty-first century America. Through an intensive study of novels written by first- or second-generation American immigrant women, we will examine immigration’s evolution after the turn of the millennium and its relationships to power and inequity regarding questions of citizenship and belonging. Ericka Sánchez, Eristina Henríquez, Lisa Ko, Yaa Hyasi, Saher Alam, Shaila Abdullah, Chimamanda Ngozi, Adichie, Imbolo Mbue, Laila Lalami. 

    English Cnmj. Fiction Workshop: Forms and Styles

    Instructor: Meng Jin
    Wednesday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 211
    Course Website
    ​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

    What gives a fictional work life and meaning and originality? In this workshop, students will be exposed to and try on a wide range of forms and styles in fiction to discover what suits and excites them. We'll sample a variety of sensibilities, approaches, and aesthetic possibilities, reading writers working in various traditions -- from Toni Morrison to Ted Chiang to Grace Paley – exploring the many ways fiction can come alive by following what is mysterious and inimitable in each work. Students will read a writer (sometimes two) a week and write a creative response inspired by some element of the assigned reading, which we will workshop in an effort to discover and nurture the mysterious and inimitable in our own work. One or more of these responses will be developed into a longer, complete piece.

    Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of fiction, along with a letter describing why you'd like to join the workshop, what you hope to get out of it, your previous encounters with creative writing, and anything else you’d like to say about why or what you write. Please also tell me about one or two writers or books you love, and why.

    Apply via Submittable (deadline: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)... Read more about English Cnmj. Fiction Workshop: Forms and Styles

    English Cngs. Advanced Fiction: The Good Stuff

    Instructor: Meng Jin
    Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: Barker 218
    Course Website
    ​​​​​​​Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

    This course is a workshop in pleasure and delight. And wonder and joy and laughter, and rule-breaking, and everything that makes literature lively and alive and worthwhile. We will discover (or rediscover) what it means to truly read for pleasure, probing for all this good stuff in works by writers such as Natalia Ginzburg, Ross Gay, Deesha Philyaw, Shruti Swamy, Naomi Shihab Nye, and more—works that are not merely hedonistic or escapist, but attempt to maintain a modest humanism in spite of humanity’s sins, and to insist on cheerfulness and loving in the face of catastrophe and personal tragedy. We will try to cultivate these instincts in our own writing practice.

    This will be primarily a fiction workshop, though we will occasionally read some joyous and delightful poetry and nonfiction. Student writing will be workshopped as fiction, but we will conceive of fiction in the widest sense, as any prose work whose value is not derived from its basis in fact. This is an advanced workshop, intended for students with some creative writing experience, because the good stuff is hard, and because you will be expected to read and write deeply, and a lot.

    Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of fiction, along with a letter describing why you'd like to join the workshop, what you hope to get out of it, your previous encounters with creative writing, and anything else you’d like to say about why or what you write. Please also tell me about one or two writers or books you love, and why.

    Apply via Submittable (deadline: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)... Read more about English Cngs. Advanced Fiction: The Good Stuff

    English Csgj. Advanced Fiction Workshop: What's So Western About the Western Story?

    Instructor: Gish Jen
    Monday, 12:00-2:45pm | Location: Barker 211
    Course Website
    Enrollment: Limited to 12 students

    Is there an identifiably “Western” story? Where did it come from? Would some of our most celebrated authors survive an MFA program today? Are there alternative ways of thinking about fiction? And —most importantly—what can we take away from them? In the first half of each class we will discuss such matters, placing mainstream fictional tenets in cultural context via stories from Alice Munro to Leo Tolstoy to Zadie Smith. In the second half of class we will turn to student work, with each student given three opportunities to share a piece with the class.

    Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a sample story and an application letter explaining your interest in this course. 

    Apply via Submittable (deadline: Saturday, January 15 at 11:59pm ET)