Spring 2020 Course Favorites
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 304 (EG) LITERATURE & DIVERSITY
If I had to name a favorite book for the current semester, it would have to be Colson Whitehead’s novel The Nickel Boys (2019), which I taught for the first time in Literature and Diversity. Set partly in a Florida reform school for boys in the 1960s and partly in the Harlem of our own historical moment, The Nickel Boys is about the long legacy of slavery and Jim Crow segregation, the way the racism and systemic racial oppression of those eras persist into the present in the form of continuing violence and unforgettable trauma. As one character reflects in 2014, “It was hard to remember sometimes how bad it used to be . . . [,] and then it all returned in a rush, set off by tiny things, like standing on a corner trying to hail a cab, . . . and set off by the big things, . . . another boy shot dead by a cop . . . .” This description can make Whitehead’s novel sound unrelentingly grim. But though The Nickel Boys features some harrowing moments and never blinks in its depiction of the barbarism that is white supremacy, it is also a novel about friendship, dignity and courage– the qualities that fueled the Civil Rights Movement and continue to fuel the justice struggles of today.
Dr. Tara Harney-Mahajan
EN 207 GLOBAL LITERATURE
My favorite text this semester is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, a novel I am teaching in my Global Literature classes. I love this challenging novel for the ways in which it transgresses boundaries on almost every level. It asks to deeply think about the social categories that keep people apart–not only in terms of class, caste, race, religion, gender, sexuality, and nationality–but also in terms of the family unit and love. And even the most heinous so-called “villains” in the novel, those characters who reinforce the most divisive boundaries at all costs, deserve our consideration and understanding.
Dr. Katie Kornacki
EN 221 WOMEN IN LITERATURE
This semester, we read Alice Duer Miller’s suffragist text, Are Women People? (1915) in EN 221 Women in Literature. A compilation of items from Miller’s pro-suffrage series of satirical poems and other items published in the New York Tribune, the book consists of poetry, prose, lists, and even a short play all inspired by common anti-suffrage rhetoric which Miller quoted, ventriloquized, and reframed, using humor to expose the illogic of some of the most frequently used anti-suffrage arguments. Part of the American women’s literary tradition of suffragist literature, Are Women People? was quite popular when it was published, leading Miller to publish a sequel, Women Are People! two years later. Are Women People? even became a catch-phrase for the suffrage movement.
Reading Are Women People? comes at a timely moment as 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. Not only did students examine the way that Miller uses quotation, ventriloquism, and parody to turn upend anti-suffrage arguments, turning them against themselves, but we also considered how contemporary feminists employ similar strategies today using digital media. Specifically, students participated in an online discussion forum in which they each selected a current feminist meme to share with the class, explaining how the meme uses humor to forward specific feminist causes. We had a lot of fun with this one!
Dr. Mary Lindroth
Something that I am reading, rereading, and now teaching, is a recent New York Times article by dance critic Gia Kourlas entitled “How We Move Our Bodies to Navigate a Pandemic” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/arts/dance/choreographing-the-street-coronavirus.html
I liked the article so much that I decided to use it as a basis for an assignment for the performance class that I was teaching in person, but am now teaching remotely. I asked students to read the article and then create a 2-minute video in which they move their bodies intentionally, and with purpose, in space. I asked them to think a little bit about what it feels like to move their body in space and in motion during a pandemic. I also asked them to think a little bit about what space they would choose for their movement video.
Here’s why I liked the article so much. Kourlas grouchily points out that not everyone understands that in order to negotiate space on busy sidewalks, “You stand on the right; you pass on the left. This is the choreography of everyday life.”
I couldn’t agree more. Having spent so much time in New York City, my body knows this movement of passing on the left deep in its very bones and tissues. I once saw a very funny and talented solo performer by the name of Penny Arcade, do a 5-minute, at least, rant exclaiming against tourists on the streets of NYC who block the way. Her rant included the physical actions mimicking how a “true” New Yorker walks, swishing and dodging, moving their hips to accommodate oncoming pedestrians. Now that I am living in a time of pandemic, I find my body even more than usual, swishing and dodging and moving out of the way.
The article also introduces another important phrase that I hadn’t been thinking about: “spatial awareness.” Kourlas writes about movement in space as a series of choices. What I love about this perception is that as soon as you say something requires a choice, that means there is an ethical component to movement. So, deciding to move in a way that does or does not allow others to remain six feet away from you has an ethical dimension. As Kourlas states toward the end of the article, “When you walk outside, you are responsible for more than just yourself. We are in this together, and movement has morals and consequences…”
When the semester started, this article and this assignment were nowhere on my horizon. Coronavirus changed everything, including my reading list. What hasn’t changed is my desire to read everything because, more often than not, I discover that reading helps me make sense of the world around me, even when that world stops making sense.
Dr. Mary Ann Miller
EN 240 002 INTRO TO POETRY
Before the pandemic, three groups of students from my EN 240 (Introduction to Poetry) sections this semester were going to work with three of the above poets (Cat Doty, Tina Kelley or Carole Stone) and then host a joint poetry reading for these three poets at the Caldwell Public Library.
Since we had to cancel their one-on-one meetings with these poets as well as the public reading itself, I devised a way for ALL my students in EN 240 to do service for CavanKerry Press remotely.
Students are in the process of choosing ONE of the above 11 titles. They will then write a short book review to submit to me, but they will also post a paragraph from the paper in the “customer review” section for that book on Amazon.com.
CavanKerry is excited about the project and is offering to help me set up remote readings by these poets, so that the students writing on each of the poets can attend their chosen poet’s remote meeting, hear the poet read from the book and, of course, ask the poet questions about the book. (We will see how this goes . . . I have 60 EN 240 students to try to keep up with, so it might not be a good idea to publicize this part of the project, until we see how many of the 11 authors end up being chosen and how many of the poets are able to do this! :)