ENG 239 American Journeys

R. Millington, T Th 10:30 AM-11:50 AM

This is a course in Multiethnic American Literature, which has emerged, especially in the twentieth century, as one of the most powerful of our expressive traditions.  The syllabus is built upon the theme of “journeying,” and we will be reading narratives, from a variety of ethnic traditions and historical eras, that explore the forms of movement—immigration, migration, boundary crossing—so characteristic of American life.  We will emphasize each author’s treatment of the complex encounter between new or marginalized Americans and mainstream culture, and we will thus be exploring their definitions or interrogations of what it might mean to be or become “American.”  I will accompany the fictional texts with some historical and theoretical readings that will help us understand some of the concepts and issues at stake in our work—“ethnicity,” “race,” “identity”—but one of the implicit arguments of the course is that some of our deepest exploration of or “theorizing” about these concepts occurs in the fiction itself.


Written work will probably consist of six moodle postings, two 4-5 page analytic essays, and a final, comparative essay (about 8 pages, with a required draft).


The reading list is still under construction, but will in all likelihood be chosen from the following list of films and texts, designed to give us access to a range of historical moments, a variety of ethnic traditions, and a rich set of issues and literary forms:


John Sayles, Lone Star (film, 1997)

Chris Eyre, Smoke Signals (film, 1998)

Willa Cather, My Antonia (1918), or O Pioneers! (1913)

Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (1925)  Persea

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925) Penguin

Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1947) Vintage

Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory (1982)  Bantam

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977) Penguin

Joy Kogowa, Obasan (1981) Doubleday

Frank Chin, Donald Duk (1991) Coffee House

Junot Diaz, Drown (1996) Riverhead

Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies  (1999) Houghton Mifflin

Tony Kushner, Angels in America (1993)