We recently asked each of our English Department faculty members to share one work from a course that they are currently teaching and are particularly excited to share! Here are their responses.
Professor Doug Anderson
EN 334 001 Refugee Crisis in World Literature
One of the works I am most excited about this semester is Chris Cleave’s moving and beautifully written novel Little Bee. It’s the story of a sixteen-year-old Nigerian “refugee girl” who escapes the violence in her home country and makes her way to London, where she is immediately arrested, held in an immigrant detention center and threatened with deportation. Released due to a computer error and on the run, the heroine seeks help from a young, newly widowed mother who edits an upscale women’s magazine. At the heart of the novel is the evolving relationship of these characters, two women who despite coming from very different worlds, forge a powerful bond of friendship.
Dr. Tara Harney-Mahajan
EN 332 001 Modern Irish Drama
One of the plays I am teaching this semester in my Modern Irish Drama class is Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. O’Neill wrote the novel in 2015, but it was adapted for the stage by playwright Meadhbh McHugh in 2018. I am really excited about this play because I saw it staged in Cork last summer, and it was just devastating in all sorts of really important and thought-provoking ways–most notably in its representation of young Irish women and rape culture. In addition, Meadhbh is coming to talk to my class in early May, and I think it will be a wonderful opportunity to wrap-up the class and reflect not only on the past and present of Irish drama, but also its future.
Dr. Katie Kornacki
HP 332 The Family in U.S. Literature
I am enjoying teaching Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women in my The Family in U.S. Literature course, an Honors Seminar. Like many American women, I grew up reading Little Women (for a while, I remember reading it at least once a year!) and identified most with the character of Jo, the outspoken, “tomboyish” aspiring writer. This is the first novel we are reading this semester, and already my students are engaging in some very lively discussions about the relationship between Little Women and dominant 19th-century American gender ideologies. Like many critics, students have made persuasive cases for reading the novel as upholding separate spheres ideology and reinforcing the Cult of True Womanhood, while at the same time allowing for more subversive readings in which Alcott seems to be challenging popular notions about womanhood and femininity.
Dr. Mary Lindroth
EN 221 Women in Literature
One work that I am thrilled to be teaching this semester is the play Paradise Blue, part of a trilogy entitled The Detroit Project written by Dominique Morisseau. Morisseau is one of my new favorite playwrights and I think she has the same genius for capturing language, humanity and social justice issues as does Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun. On the surface, Paradise Blue, set in 1949 in a neighborhood of Detroit known as Black Bottom, has all the signs of being about Blue, a man trying to realize life as a musician. So why am I teaching this play in a class focused on women? Because in addition to being written by a woman, the play features women whose dramatic arcs are central. The written play is even better than the excellent performance I saw last year. Why? Because, with script in hand, you get to spend time poring over the breathtaking language and reveling in the actions of the unforgettable characters. Characters like two of the coolest women you’ll ever meet named Silver and Pumpkin. Silver is the new woman in town and when she walks into Blue’s club, the stage directions read she “moves like a spider weaving a web.” As I prompt my students in class, imagine what that looks like or how you would make a spider-walk happen on stage! More important, it is Silver who teaches Pumpkin to stand up for herself in a world too often shaped by men.
Dr. Mary Ann Miller
EN 410 English Seminar
In EN 410 English Seminar class this semester, we are exploring the various ways that writers have conveyed the “hero” in Western literature. Beginning with the tragic hero in ancient Greek plays, we then examine the comic hero in the 18th century British comedy of manners, then the interior hero in Wordsworth’s British Romantic “epic” narrative poem, The Prelude; and finally conclude with the “anti-hero” in Harold Pinter’s late modernist play, The Dumb Waiter, where we see that “anti-hero” does not mean antagonist, but an inadequate figure, lower in character than we imagine ourselves to be, who experiences no “tragic fall” because he is already so miserable there is not much room to “fall” anywhere and who is, at best, ineffectual, unable to overcome either the internal or the external forces working against him.