This course, taught in small groups and required for concentrators, introduces theories, interpretive frameworks, and central questions about literature and literary media. What do we do when we read? What is an author? What do we mean by “literature” itself? How might we compare and evaluate interpretations? How do the historical, social, cultural, and legal frameworks around a text shape its meanings and its effects? Combining major critical and theoretical writings with primary works, the course investigates how literary production and interpretation are informed by philosophical and aesthetic traditions, gender and sexuality, race and ethnicity, national and post-colonial identities, and the material forms in which literature circulates, from parchment books to the internet. Students will also practice fundamental literary research methods through close engagement with Harvard libraries.
Note: English 97 is one of the required Common Courses for English concentrators in the Classes of 2023, 2024, and 2025 and is open to sophomores and first-years planning to concentrate in English. Enrollment priority exceptions may be made for people changing concentrations or presenting other notable reasons.
Enrollment: Each section is limited to 27 students
This foundational course for English concentrators examines literary form and genre. We explore some of the many kinds of literature as they have changed over time, along with the shapes and forms that writers create, critics describe, and readers learn to recognize. The body of the course looks to the great literary types, or modes, such as epic, tragedy, and lyric, as well as to the workings of literary style in moments of historical change, producing the transformation, recycling, and sometimes the mocking of past forms. While each version of English 20 includes a different array of genres and texts from multiple periods, those texts will always include five major works from across literary history: Beowulf (epic), King Lear (tragedy), Persuasion (comic novel), The Souls of Black Folk (essays; expository prose), and Elizabeth Bishop’s poems (lyric). The course integrates creative writing with critical attention: assignments will take creative as well as expository and analytical forms.
Note: English 20 is one of the required Common Courses for English concentrators and Secondaries in the Classes of 2023, 2024, and 2025 and is a limited enrollment course which will prioritize sophomores and first-years; juniors and seniors who want to take it as an elective will be considered for any remaining spots. Enrollment priority exceptions may be made for people changing concentrations or presenting other notable reasons
Instructor: Derek Miller Wednesday, 12:00-2:00pm | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
This course explores the history of dramatic writing in the US and Europe through the study of every play ever written. Of course, we cannot actually study all those plays—that’s the point. Our explorations of plays (or any other type of art or literature) necessarily include a small fragment of all plays. What does it mean that we learn cultural history this way? That we study drama and yet know nothing at all of most dramatic writing? How, as people invested in the theater and its history, should we think about such astounding ignorance? And what is the relationship between those plays we do see, act in, or read, and the vastly larger number of plays we will never encounter?
This seminar puts theatrical texts in perspective by focusing on the relationship between the exemplary texts that we anthologize and study and the forgotten archive of everything else. We will approach this problem by comparing a set of exemplary texts to lists of plays, considering the relationship between the examples and the lists, and then extrapolating to hypothesize what we can and cannot truly know about the plays we have not read. In short, this course explores the limits of our knowledge of cultural history. We seek not to answer questions definitively, or even really to produce a set of viable hypotheses, so much as to understand better those things we do not and can not know about theater. We will learn, in other words, what we can never learn.
Instructor: Susan Faludi Thursday, 3:00-5:45pm | Location: TBA Enrollment: Limited to 12 students
This is a workshop class where students will learn the art of literary longform journalism and compose stories that take on questions of gender, feminism, sexuality and power, while simultaneously exploring how the media represents gender and learning the history of women in journalism. No profession has been as important to feminists in challenging society than journalism--even as journalism has been historically resistant to a feminist vision. Students will master the fundaments of great reporting and writing—interviewing, structure, voice, style, and ethics—while crafting their own magazine-style stories that grapple with ground-level gender dramas.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a writing sample of about 1,000 words in any genre that showcases your creative abilities, along with a note about why you want to take the class and what your writing interests are. If you have previous journalism/literary writing experience, please include that, too.
Instructor: Ju Yon Kim Tuesday & Thursday, 12-1:15pm | Location: TBA
This course will examine horror—defined expansively to include the uncanny, the abject, the monstrous, and the ghostly—in American literature, considering its formal and aesthetic implications and its relationship to major cultural and social issues. What are the methods and theories that critics have used to study horror in literature? How and to what effect have works of American literature used horror to reflect on contemporary social concerns or to depict historical events? We will explore a range of literary works from the nineteenth century to the present next to critical and theoretical studies of horror and the Gothic.
Note: This course satisfies the English Concentration "Migrations" requirement for the Class of 2022 and was formerly offered as English 60a. Migrations: American Horrors.
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.
Please note that these courses will be offered on Zoom and will meet remotely for the Spring 2022 semester.
Enrollment: Each section is limited to 12 students
Open by application to both undergraduates and graduates. Class lasts 3 hours and includes the study of poetic practice in conjunction with the discussion of student work.
Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a portfolio including a letter of interest, ten poems, and a list of classes (taken at Harvard or elsewhere) that seem to have bearing on your enterprise.
Instructor: Peter Sacks Wednesday, 3:00-5:00pm | Location: Online Enrollment: Limited to 15 students
Please note that this course will be offered on Zoom and will meet remotely for the Spring 2022 semester.
This course will study selected poems of Marianne Moore, Gwendolyn Brooks, Elizabeth Bishop, Lorine Neidecker, Robyn Schiff, Natalie Diaz, Tracy K. Smith, Cathy Park Hong, Layli Long Soldier, and others.
What makes a successful work of personal narrative? What lifts mere experience into shapely art? In this workshop, students will study—partly through reading iconic and experimental essayists, mainly through the submission of their own writing—the art of the personal essay. We will explore elements of the craft such as the construction of a trustworthy narrator, varieties of structure and the fashioning of a satisfying conclusion. Readings include work by writers such as Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, James Baldwin and David Foster Wallace. Writing assignments include several short essays, one longer essay and an extensive revision.