Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG365H1S L0101

ENG365H1S   L0101   T10-12, R10
Contemporary American Fiction
Instructor: Dr. Ira Wells

Office Location: JHB905

Brief Description of Course: In his influential n+1 essay “MFA vs. NYC,” the writer and critic Chad Harbach argues that the stunning rise of the creative writing program (from 79 degree-granting programs in 1975 to 1,269 today) has produced two competing literary cultures in America: MFA fiction, which privileges the short story, formal experimentation, syntactical difficulty, and the book as a credential; and the New York City publishing industry, which privileges the blockbuster novel, narrative drive, bingeable sentences, and the book as a vehicle for a six-figure advance. Using Harbach’s framework as a jumping off point, this class investigates some of the signature themes, anxieties, and aesthetic preoccupations that animate the systems of contemporary American fiction. We’ll consider examples of post-2008 American fiction alongside related cultural texts (music, film, digital ephemera) and think about things like privacy, intersectionality, boredom, empathy, “reboots” and retro culture, and the fate of the literary within the increasingly transactional climate of higher education. Throughout, we will think about how contemporary writers make use of traditional and innovative representational modes in order to write the world around us.

Required Reading: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (2016); Emma Cline, The Girls (2016); George Saunders, Tenth of December (2013); Teddy Wayne, The Love Song of Johnny Valentine (2013); Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot (2011); Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010).

First Three Authors/Texts: Egan, Whitehead, Saunders.

Method of Evaluation: Short critical reflection; presentation; 10-page essay; term test; participation.

Link to ARTSCI Calendar Course Descriptions.

Link to ARTSCI 2016-17 Timetable with Room Allocations.

Return to 300 Level Courses.

Return to 2016-17 Fall-Winter Courses.

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