Topics Courses

Winter 2020

Each quarter, the English Department offers variable topics courses such as English 315 (Studies in a Literary Genre), English 324 (Studies in Literary Topics) and English 515 (Senior Seminar). Because the topics change each quarter, the courses may be repeated for credit . Those scheduled for Winter 2020 are described below. 

ENG 308 Community Writing for Social Change
TR 10:00 (Alexandra Cavallaro) 
What might the following groups have in common?

  • Incarcerated people participating in a college-in-prison program in Illinois
  • Immigrants helping each other learn to navigate citizenship documents in Massachusetts
  • Volunteers answering letters from and sending books to queer and trans incarcerated people in Wisconsin 
  • Refugee youth participating in an after school program in Michigan
  • Community members writing proposals to the state legislature in order to address problems in their city in California

All of these people are engaged in community writing, a practice where people come together and use a variety of literacy practices in order to take action for themselves and their communities. Community writing also offers opportunities for people from places of privilege (such as college students and faculty) to support the learning, writing, and public voices of others. Through engaging with case studies, outside speakers, and archival documents, this class will explore the ways that a variety of communities write for social change. This class is an excellent opportunity for anyone considering careers in public schools, non-profit organizations, civil service, or government. 
ENG 319 A Game of Masks: Literature of Resistance from African American Culture
MW 6:00 (Eric Atkinson)
This section of English 319 focuses on the analysis of literature(s) of resistance from African American culture. This class will explore how African American culture producers have used speculative fiction, poetry, comic books, humor, monsters, and myth as tools for uplift, freedom, agency, and as a means to subvert traditional narratives, transforming social identity. 

ENG 321 Talkin’ About Race: How We Talk About Ourselves in Everyday Language
MW 6:00 (Wendy Smith)
How do we talk about race? How do we talk about each other in terms of race? How does in-membership affect talk about ourselves? What about others? From the  first Obama campaign to current times with Trump, race has been alluded to in many different ways. In this course, we will examine how it comes up in everyday conversation, blogs, listservs, and TV and radio talk. We will look at how we frame race politically or in terms of ourselves.  During the first half of the course, we will read what others have to say about how we talk about race. In the second half of the course, we will examine real-life language on the internet, spontaneous conversation, and TV and radio shows to find if these ideas apply. Though there is no prerequisite for this course, students should be willing to be keenly aware of how we frame our ideas, and should be prepared to look at talk from this perspective.
ENG 441 Jonathan Swift
TR 4:00 (Jennifer Andersen)
This course will examine the major satirical works of Jonathan Swift:  A Modest Proposal, The Tale of a Tub, and Gulliver’s Travels. We’ll become familiar with classic tools of satire, especially irony.  We’ll learn to identify and analyze classic satirical poses such as the naïfand the braggart or boaster, and techniques such as the use of puns, incongruity, and the literalization of metaphors. Recurrent targets of Swift’s satire will become apparent as well as broader philosophical questions posed by his works about poverty and social welfare, political sovereignty and colonialism, old age and death, technological progress, and the human treatment of animals. 
ENG 463 Latinx “Out West”: Gender, Sexuality, and Ethnicity in Literature of the American West
MW 4:00 (Vanessa Ovalle Perez)
The foundational fantasy of the American West is one that has continually marginalized and misunderstood the identities and literary contributions of Spanish-speaking Latinx people. Problematically termed the old west or frontier, this era is rooted in the imagery, culture, and archive of a period spanning the nineteenth century through the turn of the twentieth century. During this time, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo marks not only the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), but also the beginning of massive ethnic and social fluctuation in the territories of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. This course understands the old west not as a wilderness tamed by way of treaty and colonization, nor simply as a land which changed hands from Latinos to Anglos. Instead, this course proposes a vision of the American West as a transnational contact zone of clashing ethnic groups, languages, and social norms in terms of gender and sexuality. Challenging the preconception of western expansion as an exclusively white, male, and heterosexual endeavor, the class will attend carefully to the roles of early Latinx individuals in socially and aesthetically resisting, transforming, and constructing culture—paying special attention to the unique points of contact between Latinx, indigenous, Asian immigrant, and African-American communities. This class will expose students to archival research methodologies and includes a visit to the John M. Pfau Library Special Collections to view the “Western” Pulp Fiction Collection. By working with numerous primary sources from the nineteenth and early-twentieth century, this class will help students develop strong methods and strategies for analyzing and contextualizing archival writings.
ENG 513 Autobiography
MW 4:00 (Jim Brown)
Autobiography is a course in memoir writing where you'll learn to shape personal experience into stories employing narrative techniques such as scene, setting, character, dialogue, and conflict.  Where do we draw the line between imagination and memory, fact and fiction?  How do we recreate and mold the past into something more than a simple record of our lives?   We'll use representative works from the memoir genre to help guide us into giving form and meaning to this crazy, beautiful, sad, mad sprawling thing called life.
ENG 513 Surrealism and Magical Realism in Fiction and Poetry
TR 2:00 (Chad Sweeney)
This seminar/workshop will explore illuminating readings in surrealism and magical realism (lo real maravilloso) in both poetry and fiction in dialogue with students’ own creative writing projects. Through fun and innovative writing activities, group discussions, workshops and collaborative experiments, we will dive into two of most influential and intriguing movements of the past century, surrealism and magical realism, from all over the world, advanced by such writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison, Pablo Neruda, Haruki Mirakami, Amee Bender, Federico Garcia Lorca, Laura Esquivel, Andre Breton, Charles Simic, and Diane Wakoski. As we study surrealist theory and production, we will launch our own literary experiments by drawing our unconscious, “irrational” minds into a working relationship with our rational, waking life. Students will explore new writing methods and awareness which will carry forward into future creative projects.
ENG 515 What Can a Body Do?: Disability in Literary Study
MW 6:00 (Jessica Luck)
This course is designed to introduce you to some of the key theoretical texts, terms, methodologies, and debates in the growing field of disability studies. We will read through some key theoretical formulations of disability in this exciting new discipline and work to apply them to analyses of fiction, poetry, drama, and autobiography. I have titled the seminar after Gilles Deleuze’s provocative question “What Can A Body Do?” Although Deleuze doesn’t mention disability in his essay, his formulation here challenges the traditional ways we think about bodies in essentializing ways. By adapting his title to this seminar, I want to consider the ways that nontraditional bodies and forms of cognition productively challenge normative ideas of identity and how language works. We will also examine the role that disability plays in literary texts as a kind of “narrative prosthesis,” with disabled characters acting as walking, talking metaphors rather than complex representations in their own right. Finally, we will consider the recent “intersectional turn” in disability studies influenced by work in critical race studies, material feminism and queer theory that has moved disability studies beyond forms of identity politics to intersectional identities and coalitional politics.