Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG365H1S L0101

ENG365H1S L5101 TR 6-9
Contemporary American Literature
Dr. Ira Wells
Office Phone: TBA
Office Location: 
Jackman Humanities Building, Room 905

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: Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad; Teddy Wayne, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine; George Saunders, Tenth of December; Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Emma Cline, The Girls; Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot.

First Three Authors/Texts: Egan, Diaz, Wayne.

Method of Evaluation: One in-class response essay (15%); one 1,500-2000 word essay (30%); class presentation (15%); term test (25%); participation (15%).

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