Fall Term

Course Information

Lecture Courses

English 10. Literature Today

Instructors: Kelly Rich & Teju Cole
Day & Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:30-2:45pm
Course Website
All literature was contemporary at some point, but the literature that is contemporary now provides special opportunities for enjoying, questioning, and understanding the world. Literature Today focuses on works written since 2000—since most of you were born. It explores how writers from around the world speak to and from their personal and cultural situations, addressing current problems of economic inequality, technological change, structural prejudice, and divisive politics. We will encounter a range of genres, media, and histories to study contemporary literature as a living, evolving system. The course uniquely blends literary study and creative writing—students will analyze literature and make literature. The conviction that these practices are complementary will inform our approach to readings and course assignments.

Note: English 10 is one of the required Common Courses for the Classes of 2023 and 2024. The course is designed as a “gateway” course for first and second year students, but it is open to all undergraduates.

English 20. Literary Forms

Instructors: Stephanie Burt & Vidyan Ravinthiran
Day & Time for Section 1 (Burt): Tuesdays & Thursdays 12-1:15pm                                
Day & Time for Section 2 (Ravinthiran): Mondays & Wednesdays 1:30-2:45pm 

Enrollment: Each offering is limited to 27 students.

Course Website (Burt)
Course Website (Ravinthiran)

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 the Classes of 2023 and 2024 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.

English 101. Whose English? The Diverse History of the English Language

Instructor: Daniel Donoghue
Day & Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 12-1:15pm 
Course Website
From its obscure origins, over its long history, and with today’s global reach, the English language has meant many things to the people who use it. It also prompts many questions. Why is pronunciation at odds with spelling? What happened to "thou"? What did Shakespeare sound like? How do we know? Why the love/hate relationship with grammar scolds? What about the future of English as a world language? Knowing the fascinating backstory of the language will give you more confidence as a writer; it also sharpens your skills as a reader as you see things you never noticed before. A final promise: geeking out will equip you to win countless arguments with friends, roommates, and family.

English 101b. The Bible and the Arts

Instructor: Gordon Teskey
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 4:30-5:45pm 
Course Website
An introduction to the Bible, which William Blake called 'the great code of art.' The course gives an overview of the biblical writings, of the religions that arose from them, and the arts they inspired: church music, architecture, painting, and poetry. Attention will be given especially to English poetry, from the Old English Genesis to Spenser, Milton, Hopkins, Eliot, Jones, and popular songs. Even for non-religious authors, the Bible is a rich source of images and spiritual energy. Students may create art projects in response to their chosen parts of the Bible.

English 102c. Introduction to Old English: Inside the Early Medieval English Classroom

Instructor: Joseph Shack
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 9-10:15am 
Course Website
This course serves as an introduction to Old English, the language spoken and written by the inhabitants of early medieval England from the fifth century until around 1100. Although many of its linguistic features are recognizable in Modern English, Old English must be learned as a foreign language. The first half of the course focuses on learning the grammar of Old English. We begin translating short texts in the third week, before progressing to more complex prose and poetry as the semester continues. Our readings will consist of “classroom” texts used for the education of medieval clergymen and monks: Æflric’sColloquy, an early dramatic text that facilitated language learning by means of a fictional dialogue; scientific texts explaining the workings of the natural world; wisdom poetry that sought to catalogue how members of society ought to act; riddles that offered playful intellectual exercises their audience. Alongside translation, some time will be devoted to discussion organized around our translations and a few select readings to familiarize students with early medieval England and its social, intellectual, and political contexts.

English 141. When Novels Were New

Instructor: Deidre Lynch
Day & Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:30-2:45pm
Course Website
What was it like to read and write a novel at a moment before that term named a stable category and before the genre’s conventions were established? How did it feel to be a writer or reader in an era when the novel was (as some authors put it in the middle of the eighteenth century) “a new species” or “a new province” of writing?  

This class is devoted to the remarkable record of literary experimentation that forms the history of the early novel. As we study works by Aphra Behn, Mme de Lafayette, Daniel Defoe, Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen, we’ll attend particularly to questions of genre and genre hierarchy, fictionality and realism. To investigate what was novel about novels, we will ponder, for instance, how novels differ from epics or histories or the news in newspapers. That pondering will give us rich new insights into the formal devices that empowered this new kind of fiction as it claimed--unlike its predecessors in the narrative line-- to tell the truth: a claim that would eventually, by the time of Jane Austen, underwrite the novel’s emergence as the crucial genre of modern times. At the same time, we will also investigate what this emergence can tell us about modernity itself--about love, sex, and marriage, consumer capitalism, race, and empire.  We’ll cap our reading by pairing Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with an extraordinary novel in letters from 1808 (only recently rediscovered, and anonymously published), The Woman of Colour: A Tale.    

English 165. Proust, Joyce, Woolf: Aestheticism and Modernism

Instructor: Philip Fisher
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 12-1:15pm 
Course Website
Topics include: modernism; aesthetic experience; the life of art; the city; and novelistic form; the moment and memory within temporal experiences. Joyce, Dubliners and Ulysses; Proust, Swann's Way; and Within a Budding Grove; Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse; Kawabata, Snow Country. Writings of Pater, Simmel, T.S. Eliot, and sections from The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon.

English 175pl. American Protest Literature: Paine & Wheatley to the Present

Instructor: John Stauffer
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 1:30-2:45pm 
Course Website
Examines the rich tradition of "protest literature" in the United States. The focus is on civil rights; gender & women's rights; labor; and environmentalism.  We explore how expressions of dissent have functioned as powerful "voices" of individuals and movements, and as aesthetic, political, and performative texts in specific contexts.  And we examine how historical forms of dissent have shaped today's protests.  Readings range from fiction, photography, and video to speeches, essays, poetry, and music. 

English 177pm. Broadway, 1940–Present

Instructor: Derek  Miller
Day & Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:30-11:45am
Course Website
Cultural education usually occurs piecemeal: a novel from this period, a poem from that. Cultural works are not, however, truly isolated from each other, but rather appear as artifacts of cultural systems. This course uses cultural works to understand a single cultural system: Broadway since 1940. Comparative analyses of musical and non-musical plays will illuminate how Broadway has changed over the past seventy-five years. We will attend to economic, social, technological, and other transformations in how Broadway makes, markets, and measures its shows. Through our explorations of some of those shows, we will grasp the system’s effects on major dramaturgical strategies including approaches to plot, characterization, and staging. The course thus simultaneously surveys major works of the commercial American theater, narrates a history of Broadway since 1940, and models how to think about the relationship between that history of the Broadway system and the works it produces.

Gen Ed 1034. Texts in Transition

Instructors: Ann Blair & Leah Whittington
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 3-4:15pm

We live in a moment of “crisis” around regimes of preservation and loss. As our communication becomes ever more digital— and, therefore, simultaneously more ephemeral and more durable—the attitudes and tools we have for preserving our culture have come to seem less apt than they may have seemed as recently as a generation ago. This course examines how texts have been transmitted from the past to the present, and how we can plan for their survival into the future. We will examine what makes texts durable by considering especially the media by which they are transmitted, the changing cultural attitudes toward their content, and the institutions by which they are preserved. The European Renaissance will provide a central case study. During this period scholars became aware of the loss of ancient texts and strove to recover and restore them insofar as possible. These interests prompted new developments in scholarly conservation techniques which we still value today (philology, libraries, and museums) but also the creation and transmission of new errors, ranging from well-intentioned but overzealous corrections and “improvements” to outright forgeries. What can the Renaissance teach us about how to engage productively with these problems, both as the source of our current attitudes toward preservation and loss, and as a case study of another culture dealing with anxiety over preservation and loss? Ultimately, we hope that students will be able to think productively about how to preserve from the past and the present for the future, while recognizing that all preservation inherently involves some kind of transformation.

Gen Ed 1153. Shakespeare's Timeliness

Instructor: Marjorie Garber
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 10:30-11:45am 

The First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays was published in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death. A memorial poem by Ben Jonson, included in the book, described Shakespeare, famously, as “not of an age, but for all time.” This course will argue that the works of Shakespeare—like all great works of literature—are both “of an age” and “for all time.” 

What we often call “timelessness” in literature and art is in fact more accurately described as multiple timeliness: the way a work can speak to its moment, whether the moment is that of its conception, its production, or its reception. The plays of Shakespeare, whether they are comedies, histories, tragedies, or romances, have their lives in at least three time periods: the time and place in which they are written (Shakespeare’s England during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James), the time and place in which they are set (medieval Scotland in Macbeth, ancient Rome in Julius Caesar), and the time and place in which they are produced, seen, or read (“now,” whether that means nineteenth century England, twenty-first century Cambridge MA, or global Shakespeare today). 

Over the centuries since the plays were written, Shakespeare’s plays have almost uncannily connected with developments in social and political history and in human character. It is not an exaggeration to say that in some cases Shakespearean characters, scenes, and phrases, have influenced the way subsequent ages have thought about people and politics, and even how they have acted, or reacted, to historical events. Like the eyes in a portrait that are described as following the viewer around the room, the plays of Shakespeare seem always to be trained upon the audience, no matter what the time or place.

This course will discuss Shakespeare’s multiple timeliness and the effect of “timelessness” that is generated by it—and, by extension and analogy (including some analogies within the plays) the way “timeliness” and “timelessness” intersect in the production and consumption of works of art.

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Gen Ed 1165. Superheroes and Power

Instructor: Stephanie Burt
Day & Time: TBD

What’s a hero? What’s a superhero? Who gets to be one, and who decides? Why are superheroes so popular now? What do their stories tell us—casual viewers and devoted readers, fans and non-fans and aspiring writers-- about how power works, about its social, emotional, material and economic dimensions, and about how we represent power in art? This course looks at superheroes, famous and infamous, old and new, in comics, on TV, in movies and novels and poems, as ways to answer questions about how power operates in our society and in others: power and violence, power and persuasion, power and social cohesion, power and disability, power and the sources of the self. You’ll read great and not-so-great superhero and superhero-adjacent stories from Gilgamesh to Wolverine, Wonder Woman to Ms. Marvel by way of John Milton. You’ll learn how to see the shape of a story, how to consider form style, technique in comics and other media. You’ll learn how to look at markets, at states and at the law, at fan communities and fan cultures, at the kinds of power stories and characters exercise in the real world. You’ll discover thinkers from politics, psychology, literary studies, and religion, among them Hannah Arendt, Max Weber, and Rosmarie Garland-Thomson, with something to say about power. You might even create some superheroes yourself. This course will show you not just how to read a set of very complicated, often underrated, influential modern stories, but how to think about power in public, in fiction, and in everyday life: who decides how others live, who decides what’s normal, who gets to make, and who gets to break, the rules.

Gen Ed 1167. Climate Crossroads

Instructors: James G. Anderson & James Engell
Day & Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:30-2:45pm 

What one thing is changing everything in your lifetime—and for generations to come? It’s changing what you eat; it’s changing buildings you live in; and it’s changing politics, the arts, and finance. The change is accelerating. This course reveals fundamental alterations that climate disruption is bringing to multiple human activities and natural phenomena.

The course represents a crossroads in two senses. First, it’s a crossroads of disciplines. Climate change affects science, society, culture, government policy, biodiversity, and environmental justice. To understand it is inherently interdisciplinary and requires standing at the crossroads of several approaches. Second, humanity itself is at a new crossroads. Because global climate is shifting rapidly, this prompts new views of humans in geologic time, as well as new thinking in economics, law, finance, and science. 

Climate change isn’t just “global warming.” It’s an alteration of conditions on Earth to which all creatures and societies are adjusting. What is the science of climate change? Why can’t understanding and dealing with climate change be confined to science?

Through materials and assignments that address quantitative understanding and qualitative judgment, you’ll learn why it’s unwise to seal the interrelated issues of climate change in separate disciplines; conversely, why it’s necessary to use separate disciplines to acquire the knowledge and applications needed to formulate policy and actions. You’ll learn about climate adaptation (adjusting to changing climate), mitigation (reducing the speed and severity of climate change), and resilience (e.g., recovering from extreme weather events). You’ll discover how careers in many different areas increasingly involve thinking about climate.

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Gen Ed 1172. Poetry in America: Writing America 1620-1850

Instructor: Elisa New
Day & Time: TBD 

This General Education course will contemplate art's formative role in the development of civilizations by allowing students to trace the gradual development of America's self-conception through the lens of its poetry.

“[P]oetry was all written before time was,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay "The Poet." When Emerson wrote these words in 1844, nearly 75 years after the Revolution, he feared America had not yet found its "seers," “sayers,” and "namers"--its poets. But Emerson's quest for "the poet" in fact applied to all those makers--essayists, orators, painters, architects, composers--whose creativity gives a culture its characteristic look and sound, its special vernacular and values. It was, in Emerson’s conception, the poet's--the artist's--integrity on which civilizations depend: a culture's attitude to its citizens and its non-citizens; the use or misuse of its natural resources; the treatment of its laborers; the standards of its schools; the meanings it assigned marriage, death, masculinity, femininity; its ideas of the spiritual, the beautiful, the entertaining--all these would be, Emerson believed, encoded in its art. What a nation's poets wrote was, finally, what that nation would become.

Students in Writing America will read, discuss, and debate poems written for these high civilizational stakes, and they’ll explore the diverse functions poetry played in a wide variety of print venues (from newspapers and women’s magazines, to funeral programs, to farmers’ almanacs). The syllabus covers major poets from the colonial period through 1850 (including Bradstreet, Taylor, Wigglesworth, Wheatley, Freneau, Poe, Emerson, Longfellow); through these poets, students will be able to follow the emerging role of the “author” and “the arts” within American culture. But much of their study will be focused on poetry whose aims were not purely, or even primarily, literary. Beginning with the first book published in North America (The Bay Psalm Book, printed in our very own Harvard Square), they’ll read jeremiads and funeral elegies sanctioning transfers of political power, as well as political ditties of the 1770's urging patriots to give up imported luxuries like tea and silk. They’ll read selections from partisan satires and epics of the Revolution, mock-epics celebrating indigenous foods like cornmeal mush, and poetry celebrating the beauties--and exploitable resources--of the American landscape. They’ll pay close attention to how the demonization--and romanticization--of indigenous peoples in popular verse rendered native Americans figuratively extinct, even while poetry enabled some African Americans and women to achieve not only visibility, but celebrity. Writing in America students will come to understand how poetry helped Americans embrace the virtues of labor and middle class life, and how it supported emerging ideals of literacy and cultivated, and fed, robust mass cultural appetites. Throughout the semester, students will connect poetry's relationship to music, oratory, painting, statecraft, homiletics, and other expressive genres, considering throughout the role art plays not only in reflecting but in shaping distinctive cultures.... Read more about Gen Ed 1172. Poetry in America: Writing America 1620-1850

Humanities 10a: A Humanities Colloquium: From Homer to Valeria Luiselli

Instructors: Stephen Greenblatt, David Atherton, Glenda Carpio, Jay Harris, Deidre Lynch, & Mark Schiefsky
Day & Time: Tuesdays 10:30-11:45am 

2,500 years of essential works, taught by six professors. Humanities 10a includes works by Homer, Plato, Sappho, Sophocles, Augustine, Murasaki, Shakespeare, Saikaku, Equiano, Mary Shelley, Dickinson, Walcott, Morrison and Luiselli. One 75-minute lecture plus a 75-minute discussion seminar led by the professors every week. Students will receive instruction in critical writing one hour a week, in writing labs and individual conferences. Students also have opportunities to participate online in a range of cultural experiences, ranging from plays and musical events to museum and library collections.

Undergraduate Seminars

English 90bd. Boredom

Instructor: Elizabeth Phillips
Day & Time: Tuesday & Thursday  10:30-11:45am 
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.

What is boredom? In many ways, it has likely never been more deeply felt, culturally contentious, and all-consuming than it is right now. But this feeling has a long and rich history in literature, drama, philosophy, and science. This interdisciplinary seminar will explore plays and novels by authors like Baudelaire, Beckett, Chekhov, Flaubert, Huysmans, Wallace, Warhol, and Wilson, as well as theoretical readings, psychological studies, performance art, and reality television. We will ask: how is the emotion of boredom destructive and/or generative? How might its effects and moral resonance change across lines of gender, race, and class? How does boredom transform or become magnified in spaces like schools, theaters, trench warfare, arctic winter, or solitary confinement? Assignments and projects may include papers, creative writing, music and dance, and/or social experiments.

English 90cp. Contemporary American Plays

Instructor: Derek Miller
Day & Time: Thursday 3-5pm
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.

This course examines recent scripted theater by American playwrights. Readings focus on work by historically underrepresented writers, including the wave of award-winning plays by Black writers such as Jackie Sibblies Drury, Michael R. Jackson, Aleshea Harris, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Jeremy O. Harris, and others. We will consider the shape of the American theater, its response and resistance to contemporary social and political movements, and the pandemic's effects on the present and future of American theater.

English 90hb. Five Shakespeare Plays

Instructor: Marc Shell
Day & Time: Wednesday 3-5pm
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.

Five Shakespearean Pieces: The seminar will focus on five plays (Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Henry V, The Tempest, and Merchant of Venice) with special attention to staging, literariness, and location.

English 90lv. Consciousness from Austen to Woolf

Instructor: James Wood
Day & Time: Monday 3-5pm 
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 90pr. Performing Criticism

Instructor: David Levine
Day & Time: Wednesday 3-5:45pm 
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.

What makes “Great Criticism?” Analytic clarity? A surfeit of objectivity? Dedication to art and artists? Or is great criticism more like great art, relying on a strong point of view and deep personal investment? This course tests the latter view, by treating works of criticism as dramatic monologues to be analyzed, invested with desire, and performed. We will use techniques of script analysis to pay closer attention to how arguments are constructed, and acting techniques to listen closely for the ways that criticism is always, to quote Nietzsche, “the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography.” This course will range through the history of English criticism from Philip Sidney to Zadie Smith. Students will also learn basic techniques of script analysis, acting, and public speech, and apply these techniques to works of criticism, culminating in a final recorded performance of an essay-as-monologue.  

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English 90rj. Race and Jurisprudence

Instructor: Louis Menand
Day & Time: Tuesday 9:45-11:45am 
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.

How has the American judicial system dealt with racial discrimination, racial segregation, racial exclusion, and systemic or institutional racism? Has the design of the American legal system made it easier or harder to remedy cases of racial inequality and injustice? What should we expect from the courts in the future?

We study cases involving Americans of African and of Asian ancestry, beginning with Dred Scott and ending with the Harvard College admissions case. Visitors include Drew Faust, Mae Ngai, Richard Pildes, and William Lee and Felicia Ellsworth, the trial lawyers in the Harvard College case.

The primary readings are legal documents: the Constitution, judicial opinions, and the statutes judges interpret. We’ll analyze the opinions in order to understand the legal logic that led to their outcomes. We will see, by doing this, how courts are constrained by the system that was designed by the Constitution’s framers and by the traditions of the common law. We will also consider the historical context in which these cases were decided. Two papers and class participation required. 

English 90sm. Speculative Modes: Fiction, Technology, Justice

Instructor: Janet Zong York
Day & Time: Tuesday 3-5pm
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.

How do fiction and technology's intersections fuel modes of speculation: the imagining of how things in the world could be? We investigate how different imaginative works question and reinvent our relationships to technology; inspire reflection and action; and ask what alternatives exist to practices that appear inevitable or structures that seem entrenched. Fiction allows us to explore how the design and impact of ubiquitous surveillance, data collection, and artificial intelligence reinforce tacit ideas about power, identity, ethics, labor, and the nature of reality itself. We read short stories, essays, TV episodes, graphic narratives, digital media, datasets, and journalism, in addition to perspectives from studies of design, human-computer interaction, and society and technology. Ursula LeGuin, Ken Liu, N.K. Jemisin, Ted Chiang, Black Mirror, Octavia Butler, Kelly Link, among others. We aim to gain insight into technical processes and cultural narratives, developing our own critical models and projects for speculation.

English 90ts. Why We Tell Their Stories

Instructor: Katie Daily
Day & Time: Wednesday 9:45-11:45am 
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 15 students.

In this course, we explore how immigration issues are depicted on film as a way to advance political agendas. We will consider films as textual ways to read political debates surrounding the processing and treatment of immigrants in contemporary America. We’ll begin by examining post-9/11 documentary films and the US government’s own cinema products. From there, we’ll transition to dramas to examine imaginative representations of real-life concerns. Across the semester, we consider who owns narratives and how particular themes (i.e. detention, border crossings, and racial profiling) are imagined on film, working to become visual scholars who can dissect political and social justice conversations.   

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Common Ground Courses

English 40. Arrivals: British Literature, 700-1700

Instructor: Daniel Donoghue
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 1:30-2:45pm
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 27 students.

An introduction to major works in English literature from Beowulf through the seventeenth century, the course will explore various ways that new literatures are created in response to cultural forces that shape poets, genres, and group identity. We will hone close reading skills, introduce rhetorical tropes, and develop techniques of critical writing.

English 58. Poets: Keats Isn't Dead: How We Live Romanticism

Instructor: Vidyan Ravinthiran
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 12-1:15pm 
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 27 students.

Our thoughts and feelings about identity, self-expression, and the power of the imagination draw on the British Romantic poetry of the Long Eighteenth Century--whether we've read any or not. Focusing on John Keats (his key poems, and his key ideas, about 'negative capability', the 'camelion poet', and so on), this course makes unconventional connections into the twentieth, and twenty-first century. Tracking issues of race, class, gender and sexuality, we'll bounce from Keats into war verse; African-American poetries; world/postcolonial writing; the literature of social class; feminist experimentalism; and constructions of masculinity. Concentrators will learn how to analyze poetry in both closed and open forms.

English 67C. Migrations: Imagined Climates: Writing in the Wake of Climate Change

Instructor: Sarah Dimick
Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 3-4:15pm 
Course Website

Enrollment: Limited to 27 students.

How do novelists and poets and essayists represent climate change? What kinds of futures do they project for our injured and shifting world? Through mysteries, spoken word poetry, science fiction, and other genres, this course confronts the representational challenges presented by planetary environmental crisis. Our focus is on the climate refugee and the myriad migrations and displacements of anthropogenic climate change. We also theorize how—and why—particular writers’ voices become central or peripheral within climate discourse. Authors may include Octavia Butler, Cherie Dimaline, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, Barbara Kingsolver, Nathaniel Rich, Elizabeth Rush, Juliana Spahr, and Emily St. John Mandel.

Undergraduate Tutorials

English 91R. Supervised Reading and Research

The Supervising Reading and Research tutorial is a type of student-driven independent study offering individual instruction in subjects of special interest that cannot be studied in regular courses. English 91r is supervised by a member of the English Department faculty.  It is a graded course and may not be taken more than twice, and only once for concentration credit. Students must submit a proposal and get approval from the faculty member with whom they wish to work.

Proposed syllabi and faculty approval must be submitted and verified by the English Department...

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English 98R. Junior Tutorial

Fall 2020 Junior Tutorials

Identity and the Medieval Author: Chaucer, the Gawain Poet, and Christine de Pizan (Rob Brown)

Passing for Oneself: Literature of Passing, Covering, and Becoming (Alex Creighton)

Literature and the Social Contract: Rights, Representation, Resistance (Isabel Duarte-Gray)

Comedy, Satire, and Laughter in 18th-Century Britain (Thomas Leonard-Roy)

Feminist Fictions (Tess McNulty)

Junior English Concentrators interested in enrolling in English 98r should be in touch with Lauren Bimmler.

English 99r. Senior Tutorial

Supervised individual tutorial in an independent scholarly or critical subject.

Students on the honors thesis track will register for English 99r in both the fall and spring terms. 

Creative Writing Workshops

English CFF. From Fact to Fiction: Finding & Shaping a Story: Workshop

Instructor: Claire Messud
Day & Time: Wednesday 3-5:45pm 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website
In this course, we will explore the evolution of a story from a factual anecdote or incident to a fictional creation. The aims of the semester are to learn to listen to someone else’s story in interviews, and to endeavor to find, from there, the necessary bones for a fictional narrative. What is most urgent? What is most emotionally affecting? What are the details from an interview that stay with you? And from there: what, from a broader account, is the story you are moved to relate? Once you make that choice, how do you do further research, if necessary? How do you select the point of view, the frame, the characters for your fiction? What are the ethics and responsibilities of these choices?

In these riven and challenging times, storytelling is vital: learning to listen, to engage, and responsibly to relay what we discover. Each person we encounter is a bearer of wisdom and vast experience; so many urgent stories remain untold. How might we, as fiction writers, address reality, without simply writing about ourselves?

Several published writers will visit the class to share their experiences of research, and of the relation in their work of fact to invention. We will read published examples of fact-based fiction, and discuss the authors’ choices.

The first third of the class will involve preparing and conducting interviews with a chosen subject, and sharing those interviews with the class. The second third will involve refining the story’s arc, research and formal decision-making, and writing a first draft. Finally, we will workshop the revised stories that have emerged from this process.

Supplemental Application Information: Prior experience writing fiction is helpful but not required. Please submit a writing sample of 3-5 pages of fiction, narrative non-fiction, journalism or personal essay, along with an application letter explaining your interest in this course, any writing experience you feel is relevant, and listing examples of work that moves and/or influences you, explaining why it does.

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

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English CAFR. Advanced Fiction Workshop: Writing this Present Life

Instructor: Claire Messud
Day & Time: Thursday 3-5:45pm 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website


Intended for students with prior fiction-writing and workshop experience, this course will concentrate on structure, execution and revision. Exploring various strands of contemporary and recent literary fiction – writers such as Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk, Chimamanda Adichie, Valeria Luiselli, etc – we will consider how fiction works in our present moment, with emphasis on a craft perspective. Each student will present to the class a published fiction that has influenced them. The course is primarily focused on the discussion of original student work, with the aim of improving both writerly skills and critical analysis. Revision is an important component of this class: students will workshop two stories and a revision of one of these.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of fiction, along with a letter explaining why you'd like to join the workshop, what you hope to get out of it, and what you're working on currently. Please also list your previous writing experience. Your literary and narrative interests are also relevant - what books, films or other artworks speak to you and/or influence your work?

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English CAC. Writing the Now: The Art of Closeness: Workshop

Instructor: Laura van den Berg
Day & Time: Thursday 12-2:45pm 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website
In Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli writes: “I suppose that documenting things—through the lens of a camera, on paper, or with a sound recording device—is really only a way of contributing one more layer, something like soot, to all the things already sedimented in a collective understanding of the world.” This class will focus on the art of documenting the “now” through prose and how such documentation can work to contribute another layer to the collective understanding. Together we will explore the art of writing from a space of “closeness,” or rendering events/moments in time on the page as they unfold around us. How can closeness deepen intensity and insight? What value can we locate in writing from a place of ongoingness as opposed to in pursuit of resolution? What specific difficulties and questions can closeness introduce?

In support of this exploration, we will study published prose works that take the shape of diaries; self-portraits; drifts; hybrids of fiction and reportage. The reading list will include work from Ross Gay, Kate Zambreno, Valeria Luiselli, Zadie Smith, and Yuko Tsushima. Students will also undertake exercises designed to encourage experiments with form, perspective, time, observation, and genre (we’ll be reading fiction, nonfiction, and hybrid forms, and students will be invited to write in any or all of those genres). Later in the term, your own stories will serve as the primary text as the focus shifts to workshop and revision.  

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of prose (fiction or nonfiction) and a cover letter. In the cover letter, please describe why you want to study creative writing at this time in your life. Otherwise you are welcome to share whatever information about yourself and your interests that you feel is relevant.  

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

English CVB. Fiction Writing

Instructor: Laura van den Berg 
Day & Time: Wednesday 12-2:45pm 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students. 
Course Website
This course will focus on the art of writing fiction. The initial weeks will focus on reading and craft discussion— exploring craft subjects such as structure, time, point-of-view, and landscape—and generating new work through experiments in craft and imagination. Later in the term, your own fiction will serve as the primary text as the focus shifts to workshop critique and, finally, to revision. The syllabus is likely to include work from Helen Oyeyemi, Claire Vaye Watkins, Nam Le, Julio Cortázar, Italo Calvino, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, and Alexander Chee—among others.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit 3-5 pages of prose (fiction or nonfiction) and a cover letter. In the cover letter, please describe why you want to study creative writing at this time in your life. Otherwise you are welcome to share whatever information about yourself and your interests that you feel is relevant.  

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

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English CNL. The Novel Lab: Studying Long-Form Narratives in Fiction

Instructor: Paul Yoon
Day & Time:
Section 1: Tuesday 12-245pm 
Section 2: Tuesday 3-5:45pm
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website (Section 1)
Course Website (Section 2)

What defines a novel? And what does it mean to read one as a writer? How does a painter consider a painting or a photographer a photo? This readings class will study novels through the point of view of a practicing writer. We will read one novel a week, with the goal of exploring the ways in which long-form narratives are constructed, from chapter to chapter, from one movement to another—that is, the architecture of it. Please note: this is not a workshop. You will not be sharing your work. Consider the class an investigation into all the tools a writer has to create fiction, with the end goal of producing 2 - 3 chapters of the beginning of a novel as your final project.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit ONLY a letter. I want to know what your favorite novel is and why; and why of all classes you want to take this one this fall. No writing samples. Again, please note: This is NOT a workshop.

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

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English CBF. Breaking Form

Instructor: Teju Cole
Day & Time: Wednesday 3-5:45pm 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website
The tension between the invented and the observed has compelled many writers to break out of inherited forms. How can we productively blur the line between fiction and non-fiction? What are the possibilities for very short narrative pieces? In this prose writing workshop, our thinking will be helped along by a wide variety of authors that, in one way or the other, make it new. Readings include Lydia Davis, Michael Ondaatje, Anne Carson, and Claudia Rankine.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a brief writing sample (3-5 pages of prose: creative nonfiction, journalism, or fiction) and a cover letter describing why you want to take this course in particular. In the cover letter, please mention three books that have positively shaped your sense of literary style.

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

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English CAJR. Investigations: Journalism and Social Justice

Instructor: Jill Abramson
Day & Time: Wednesday 3-5:45pm
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website

 

This advanced seminar focuses on investigative reporting about social justice issues and cases. Readings will cover school resegregation, housing and homelessness, health care and economic inequities, among other subjects. Class members will learn how to use documents, transcripts and other materials in their reporting.

The emphasis of the course is on investigative writing techniques, story ideas, voice and narrative framing.

Students will be required to write two investigative articles, one involving a group reporting project and another on an original subject chosen by each student. There will be intermittent, shorter writing assignments. Grades are based on written work and class participation. Guest speakers will include many of the journalists whose articles are included in class reading assignments.

English CIJR. Introduction to Journalism

Instructor: Jill Abramson
Day & Time: Monday 3-5:45pm
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website


An intense seminar for those interested in understanding the changing role of journalism and in learning the art of reporting and writing narrative stories. The course is intended for those contemplating careers as journalists or because they want a better sense of how journalism really works. Coursework will include two narrative articles that are ready for publication. Readings will include some of the best examples of modern journalism, from magazine features by authors including Gay Talese to multimedia narratives such as The New York Times' "Snow Fall."

Supplemental Application Information: The application should include a letter saying why the student wants to take the workshop, why writing and journalism interests them, and which websites, magazines, newspapers and other news sources they read. A writing sample is optional for this course application.

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English CJK. Poetry Workshop: BIPOC Context and Craft

Instructor: Joan Naviyuk Kane
Day & Time: Thursday 12-2:45pm
Course Website
This poetry workshop centers the work of BIPOC writers through intensive study of poetry writing and the writing process, focusing on craft techniques of imagery, rhythm, and poetic structure. This workshop will initially focus on the generation of new work but will move toward revision-based instruction and discussion. Each student will have their poems workshopped at least twice per semester. Students are responsible for reading assigned texts, submitting required work for workshop, reading and writing critiques of fellow students’ work, accessing (livestreamed or archived) readings, reading and (writing about) one poem closely each week, and memorizing and recording two poems.

Supplemental Application Information: Applicants are requested to submit a maximum of 10 pages of poetry (not more than one poem to a page), and a 2-3 page cover letter in which they may address how long they’ve been writing seriously, what previous study they have done in literary arts, any additional experiences that seem relevant to their application, what type of direct criticism and revision they are seeking from the workshop, craft approaches they would like to know more about, and discussion of any other writers in which the writers’ craft and/or ways in which the writers’ work has served as a model for the applicant’s own literary ambitions.

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

 

English CBBR. Intermediate Poetry

Instructor: Josh Bell
Day & Time: Mondays 3-5:45pm 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students. 
Course Website


Initially, students can expect to read, discuss, and imitate the strategies of a wide range of poets writing in English; to investigate and reproduce prescribed forms and poetic structures; and to engage in writing exercises meant to expand the conception of what a poem is and can be. As the course progresses, reading assignments will be tailored on an individual basis, and an increasing amount of time will be spent in 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.

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English CHCR. Advanced Poetry

Instructor: Josh Bell
Day & Time: Monday 3-5:45pm
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students. 
Course Website
By guided reading, classroom discussion, one-on-one conference, and formal and structural experimentation, members of the Advanced Poetry Workshop will look to hone, deepen, and challenge the development of their poetic inquiry and aesthetic. Students will be required to write and submit one new poem each week and to perform in-depth, weekly critiques of their colleagues’ 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.

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

English CKR. Introduction to Playwriting

Instructor: Sam Marks
Day & Time: Monday 12-2:45pm
Course Website​​​​​​​

Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.

This workshop is an introduction to writing for the stage through intensive reading and in-depth written exercises. Each student will explore the fundamentals and possibilities of playwriting by generating short scripts and completing a one act play with an eye towards both experimental and traditional narrative styles. Readings will examine various ways of creating dramatic art and include work from contemporary playwrights such as Aleshea Harris, Ayad Akhtar, Robert O’Hara, Clare Barron, Suzan Lori-Parks, and Taylor Mac, as well established work from Caryl Churchill, Edward Albee, and Harold Pinter.

Supplemental Application Information: Submit a 2-4 page sample in any genre. Also, please write a few sentences about a significant theatrical experience (a play read or seen) and how it affected you.

English CTV. Writing for Television: Developing the Pilot

Instructor: Sam Marks
Day & Time: Tuesday 12-245pm
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website
This workshop introduces the television pilot with a focus on prestige drama and serialized comedy.  Students will excavate their own voice and explore the structure and execution of pilot writing through a first draft of their own original script. With intensive reading and discussion of student work we will examine elements of TV writing, such as treatments and outlines as well as character, dialogue, tone, plot, and, most importantly, vision.  Over the semester, we’ll turn ideas into worlds and worlds into scripts. 

Supplemental Application Information: Prior experience in dramatic writing is encouraged, though not necessary. Please submit a 5-10 page writing sample (preferably a play or screenplay, but all genres are acceptable). Also, write a few sentences about one of your favorite televisions shows and why you wish to write for TV.

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

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English CLR. Introduction to Screenwriting

Instructor: Musa Syeed
Day & Time: Monday 12-2:45pm 
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website

The short film, with its relatively lower costs and expanded distribution opportunities, has become one of the most disruptive, innovative modes of storytelling--and is often an emerging filmmaker's first step into the industry. This course will introduce students to the basics of short form screenwriting, including narrative theory/structure, character design, and dialogue/voice. In the first quarter of the semester, we will hone dramatic techniques through several craft exercise assignments and in-class writing. In the following weeks, students will write two short screenplays. Throughout the semester, we will be workshopping and doing table reads of student work, discussing screenplays and craft texts, and screening a wide array of short films. The emphasis will be on discovering a sense of personal voice and completing two short screenplays (under 20 pages) that the student can produce in the future, if they choose.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a 3-5 page writing sample. Screenplays are preferred, but fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and plays are acceptable as well. Also, please write a short note to introduce yourself. Include a couple films/filmmakers that have inspired you, your goals for the class, as well as any themes/subject matter/ideas you might be interested in exploring in your writing for film.

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English CACF. Get Real: The Art of Community-Based Film

Instructor: Musa Syeed
Day & Time: Tuesday 12-2:45pm
Enrollment: Limited to 12 students.
Course Website
“I’ve often noticed that we are not able to look at what we have in front of us,” the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami said, “unless it’s inside a frame.” For our communities confronting invisibility and erasure, there’s an urgent need for new frames. In this workshop, we’ll explore a community-engaged approach to documentary filmmaking, as we seek to see our world more deeply. We’ll begin with screenings, craft exercises, and discussions around authorship and social impact. Then we each will develop a short documentary over the rest of the semester, building off of intentional community engagement. Students will end the class with a written documentary treatment and recorded material for a rough cut.

Supplemental Application Information: Please submit a 3-5 page writing sample of any genre. Also, please write a short note to introduce yourself and the community/communities you might be interested to work with and your relation to them. Include an example of films/filmmakers that have inspired you, your goals for the class, as well as any themes/subject matter/ideas you might be interested in exploring. Filmmaking experience is NOT necessary.

Applications due by 11:59 PM ET on 8/19. Apply via Submittable

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Graduate Seminars

English 210Q. Queer/Medieval

Instructor: Anna Wilson
Day & Time: Wednesday 12:45-2:45pm 
Course Website
The / in this course title can suggest slippage or interchangeability, opposition and polarization, or (in fanfiction tagging conventions) erotic or romantic friction between two entities. This course functions as an introduction to queer theory as an intellectual tool with which to read texts far removed from the modern political, cultural, and social discourses from which queer theory emerged. We will ask: what can queer theory offer readers of medieval literature in its explorations of gender, sexuality, power, narrative, trauma, and time? Each week we will read a single queer theorist alongside a single medieval text to do a deep dive into both. Theorists include Judith Butler, José Esteban Muñoz, Lee Edelman, Eve Sedgwick, and Carolyn Dinshaw. Texts will be from the European Middle Ages (roughly 500-1500) that think through questions of gender and sexuality, including the plays of Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, the lais of Marie de France, the poetry of Baudri of Bourgueil, Roman de Silence, The Book of Margery Kempe, and Alan of Lille's Plaint of Nature. Readings will be in modern translation or in glossed Middle English; some experience with the latter is recommended but not necessary.

English 224sr. Shakespeare and Racial Justice

Instructor: Marjorie Garber
Day & Time: Tuesday 9:45-11:45am
Course Website
One of the most powerful effects of Shakespeare’s plays is the uncanny way they both reflect and anticipate the concerns of readers and audiences over time. The plays that address questions of racial justice and injustice seem strikingly pertinent now, just as they have at other key moments from the early modern period to the present.

Working with the play-texts, with literary criticism and theory, and with stage history and material culture, this graduate seminar will examine issues of race, justice, performance and resistance as manifested in Shakespearean drama, both historically and in our own time. Plays to be considered include Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, Othello, Antony and Cleopatra, and The Tempest. Our concerns will be with language and character and with a range of theoretical perspectives, as well as with thematic issues and facets of race, including color, religion, humoral theory, and the idea of the stranger. Participants will be invited and encouraged to address both the plays and ongoing current events, reading them together—or against one another—as theatre, criticism, and critique.

Note: Graduate seminar with limited enrollment, admission by permission of instructor. Priority given to FAS Ph.D. students in English, American Studies, Comparative Literature, and African American Studies. All other FAS Ph.D. applicants should indicate their familiarity with Shakespeare. If space in the seminar permits, applications will be considered from English department senior concentrators who have already taken at least one semester of Shakespeare at Harvard.

English 241nf. "It Is and Is Not a Novel": Narrative Fiction before the Nineteenth Century

Instructor: Deidre Lynch
Day & Time: Friday 9:45-11:45am 
Course Website

When, in 1792, one Charlotte Palmer published a work of fiction entitled It Is and Is Not a Novel, her choice of title, both teasing and fence-sitting, suggested a long history of generic fluidity. It also suggested that by the end of the eighteenth century this history was drawing to a close, as if the moment had arrived when it could be viewed through the lens of a certain playful self-consciousness. Our work this semester will be devoted to the record of remarkable narrative experiment preceding this moment of generic consolidation: preceding the moment, which arrived later than we might think, when a disparate range of fictions—including many calling themselves “histories”--could be categorized retroactively as examples of “the” novel and treated as “imaginative literature.”

Early modern writing does a remarkable job of testing our twenty-first-century expectations about literary kinds and our twenty-first-century convictions about how those kinds relate respectively to probability, knowledge, evidence, fact, and believability. We find factually-based biographies that draw unabashedly on the conventions of the heroic romance; we find travel narratives that are part allegory, part scientific discourse; and, most interestingly for our purposes, we find fictions that claim to report the truth. 

These early fictions’ documentary pretenses, their affinities for matters of fact and transcripts of real life, will be one recurrent concern for this seminar. The overlap between the novelist and the juror in a legal trial (both of whom, according to Ian Watt, take a “circumstantial view of life”) will be another. Throughout the semester we’ll probe Bakhtin’s suggestion that the moment of the novel coincides with that moment when Europe is thrust out of its cultural isolation and enters into relations with the entire globe--a suggestion that helps us see why questions about empire, colonial domination, racialization and chattel slavery loom so large in this writing. And one additional question that is likely to inform our discussions goes like this: why are the secret truths of female sexuality (white and black) so often the referent of early realism? 

Note: Graduate students who wish to obtain 200-level credit should be auditors in English 141 rather than enrolling in it officially.

English 278x. Twentieth-Century Texts

Instructor: Louis Menand
Day & Time: Monday 9:45-11:45am 
Course Website
A reading course of works important for understanding twentieth-century literary and intellectual history. Some of the works will be drawn from the Generals list, and half will be chosen by the instructor and half by the class. The goals are 1) familiarize ourselves with 20th century works “everyone” is expected to know something about; 2) practice for a very common instructional situation: having to get up a new text and introduce class discussion about it in a week.

English 289m. Who Cares about Modernism?: Literary Studies and the Problem of Periodization

Instructor: Beth Blum
Day & Time: Thursday 9:45-11:45am 
Course Website
This graduate seminar uses modernism as a test case for debates regarding the merits and limits of literary periodization. Though our focus is modernism, we will be engaging with examples of similar debates from other periods, such as challenges to the medieval/ Renaissance divide, calls for “presentist Shakespeare,” the manifesto of the Victorian v21 collective, and discussions regarding the utility of labelling contemporary literature as “post-45.” We will examine the contingencies and controversies of modernism’s fraught self-formation, reading detractors including Wyndham Lewis, Laura Riding, and Edith Wharton, as well as figureheads such as Woolf, Lawrence, and Joyce. 

Primary texts are designed to partly overlap with the generals list and may include: Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Wharton’s The House of Mirth, and more. Secondary readings to include: Eric Hayot, Rita Felski, Paul Saint-Amour, Fredric Jameson, Kenneth Burke, Susan Stanford Friedman, René Wellek, Gerald Graff, Ted Underwood, David James and Urmila Seshagiri, Wai Chee Dimock.

English 294z. On Beauty

Instructor: Elaine Scarry
Day & Time: Thursday 12:45-2:45pm 
Course Website
Philosophic and literary accounts of beauty from Greek through modern, including Plato, Aquinas, Dante, Kant, Keats, and Rilke. In addition, the major arguments against beauty; and its stability across four objects (gods, gardens, persons, and poems).

English 360. Teaching the Humanities with New Media: A Poetry in America Practicum

Instructor: Elisa New
Day & Time: TBA 
Course Website
Humanists of the 21st century are looking at a changed professional landscape.  Major shifts in higher education, and in the college and university job market for humanists, predate the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic has brought these shifts into starker relief--even as it has revealed new opportunities for humanists in the fields of digital learning and educational media production, K-12 education, higher education administration, education policy, and more.  

Teaching the Humanities with New Media: A Poetry in America Practicum will enable students to experience some of these newer career opportunities by “embedding” as teaching staff (G4+) or Research and Pedagogy Associates (G1-G3) in Poetry in America: The City from Whitman to Hip Hop, a for-credit course being offered to high-school students--most of them from Title I and Title I-eligible schools--across the US and around the world.  This fall’s practicum will provide students an opportunity to gain exposure to, and to build skills in, the world of online education, broadly defined. Poetry of the City (POTC) is offered in partnership with the National Education Equity Lab and with Arizona State University.  The course will be offered under auspices of ASU’s online high school, ASU Digital Prep Digital.

Students enrolled in the practicum will have official titled roles within the ASU course that may provide them useful credentials for the future.  

Visit poetryinamerica.org to learn more about Poetry in America and its programs.  To learn more about Poetry in America’s work with high-school learners, read this piece from Harvard Magazine.

This practicum is open to G1-G3 students in FAS seeking course credit, and to G4 students and above seeking paid teaching work. GSE students in any of the Master’s or PhD programs are welcome to apply, as well as undergraduates planning to pursue teaching careers

Note: This workshop will be graded as SAT/UNSAT and will count as a graduate course, though not toward the ten seminar requirement.

Freshman Seminars

Freshman Seminar 33x. Complexity in Works of Art: Ulysses and Hamlet

Instructor: Philip Fisher
Day & Time: Monday 3-5pm

Is the complexity, the imperfection, the difficulty of interpretation, the unresolved meaning found in certain great and lasting works of literary art a result of technical experimentation? Or is the source of this extreme complexity psychological, metaphysical, or spiritual?  Does it result from limits within language, or from language's fit to thought and perception? Do the inherited forms found in literature permit only certain variations within experience to reach lucidity? Is there a distinction in literature between what can be said and what can be read? The members of the seminar will investigate the limits literature faces in giving an account of mind, everyday experience, thought, memory, full character, and situation in time. The seminar will make use of a classic case of difficulty, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and a modern work of unusual complexity and resistance to both interpretation and to simple comfortable reading, Joyce's Ulysses. Reading in exhaustive depth these two works will suggest the range of meanings for terms like complexity, resistance, openness of meaning, and experimentation within form. 

Freshman Seminar 63n. Narrative Negotiations: How do Readers and Writers Decide on What are the Most Important Voices and Values Represented in a Narrative?

Instructor: Homi K. Bhabha
Day & Time: Wednesday 9:45-11:45am 

Narrative Negotiations explores narrative “voice” in a wide range of literary and cultural texts. Narrative voice is a lively dialogue between the author and the reader as they engage in the experience of determining the value and veracity of the narrative: whose story is it anyway? The writer creates the imaginative universe of character, plot, emotions and ideas—she seems to be holding all the cards; but it is the reader who rolls the dice as she draws on her human experience and moral values to question the principles and priorities of the storyteller. The game of narrative becomes deadly serious when storytelling confronts issues of colonialism, slavery, racial profiling and gender discrimination. Is the right to narrative restricted to those who have suffered the injustices of exclusion? What is my responsibility as a storyteller—or a reader—if I am a witness to violence, or an advocate against injustice, but my life-story is one of privilege, protection and security? What is the role of the politics of identity or cultural appropriation in determining whose story is it anyway? Throughout the seminar students will be encouraged to draw on their own histories, memories and literary experiences as the enter into the world of the prescribed readings. For the final assessment I hope students will choose critical and creative ways of telling their own stories, or the stories of others who have captured their imaginations. Seminar participants will be required to come to each class with two questions that pose issues or problems based on the texts that are important for them, and may prove to be significant for their colleagues. I will invite members of the group to pose their questions and start a discussion.
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