Tag Archives: teaching

Writing Literature, Writing Race: Syllabus

Below is the description and course reading list for a writing class I designed and am teaching in Spring 2016 in the English Department at UC Davis.

English 003: Introduction to Literature: Black and White and Read All: Writing Literature, Writing Race

Race is read all over: thinking about race and, especially, thinking that is shaped by ideas about race, is global and constant, from college campuses in the United States, to Paris, Brazil, South Africa, just about everywhere. Though each location and social situation is unique in its thinking about race, race is something we think we “see”; it can shape what we think we know about particular human beings; it can shape our behavior and treatment of others; it can affect our life circumstances, opportunities, and hazards. But what is “race”? We often use the term “race” to refer to groupings of humans who share (or seem to share) distinct physical phenotypical traits. And in practice race is also often used to refer to cultural traits. But in both of these cases, after scratching the surface there are many complexities and contradictions that make simple categorizations quite problematic. Why? Race is a social construction, meaning simply that “race” is an idea created by humans to explain or understand the world. So some scholars argue that racism—as expressions of how people are thinking about race—is not only a useful way to understand “race” as a socially constructed idea but perhaps its defining characteristic: racism makes race. Race (and other social constructions) is a flexible concept that change over time and place, and can differ depending on the society in which they are used. As a social construction, we can look to an unlikely place to better understand race: literature and culture, expressions human experience and human thought. The creative expression of literature shows us what people see, think, and imagine about their world in particular places and times. Importantly, literature is not simply about recording knowledge; literature makes new knowledge that shapes society. So literature also creates understandings of race. Thus, to write literature is also to write race.

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Literature and Citizenship: Syllabus

[Image from Mine Okubo, Citizen 13660 (1946)]

Below is the description and course reading list from the syllabus for a writing class I designed and taught in Fall 2015 and Winter 2016 in the English Department at UC Davis.

English 003: Introduction to Literature: “Go Back to _____!”: Literature and Citizenship

In the summer of 2015, when Donald Trump told Univision reporter Jorge Ramos to “Go back to Univision” (i.e. “go back to Mexico or X-Latin-American country”) he used rhetoric and expressed ideas that are neither new nor uncommon. He wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. Even in the few months since then, debates about who belongs where, what they should look like, sound like, worship like, think like, etc.—who they should be—are everywhere in this country and world. In a globalized world, questions about citizenship and belonging are of the highest importance, not only in the technical sense of laws but also at a very deep philosophical level. Who are we? And how is this shaped by our relationships to other human beings? What are those relationships? How are they formed, perpetuated, dissolved, and transformed? In this class, we will examine how writers have used literature to represent and think the meaning of citizenship, belonging, nationhood, movement, migration, inclusion, and exclusion.

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