Reading & Writing Fiction: ESLit (LIT4594.01) (day/time updated as of 5/10/2024)

Mariam Rahmani

Reversing the typical shame around so-called “ESL” speakers, this course explores the rich history of modern and contemporary Anglophone literature written by authors who learned English as a second language or within a bi/multilingual context. This rigorous reading list is then used as a springboard for cultivating diverse voices and stories in the classroom. The course’s seminar and workshop portions complement each other.

Our readings start with a famous twentieth-century example (e.g., Nabokov) and the comparative case of the establishment of modern Persian fiction before fast-forwarding to our contemporary moment and staying there, placing a stress on the U.S. American literary landscape. The idea of “outsiderness” serves as our entry. Together we ask how this outsider position opened up possibilities for these texts, both thematically and formally. What Others are produced in these texts, and what does Otherness look like within their pages?

We consider, and also critique, the popular idea buttressed by some theories of translation that there is something special about the so-called “mother tongue.” Putting those claims to task, we explore the politics of this feminization of language (i.e., why “mother?”). We furthermore consider how the idea of the mother tongue has been used as a tool of racist colonial policing, shutting racialized others out of official discourse. Recognizing that embracing a “mother” tongue has also been used as a tool of anticolonial resistance, that is, as a way to create space for a self threatened with erasure, we nevertheless consider authors who claim space in and through English-as-imperial tongue, whether by explicitly rejecting the mother tongue (e.g., Yiyun Li) or by more vexedly treating English as a site of loss and melancholia (e.g., Valeria Luiselli, Jhumpa Lahiri) – or still more, by embracing diglossia and multilingualism (e.g., Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) alongside self-translation. Our workshop utilizes this heterogenous mapping to make room for your work and your peers. We will devote the same time and attention to one another’s work as to this published literature. Our readings might also open room for experimentation with new themes or forms.


Learning Outcomes:
- Learn to analyze how modern political structures like the nation-state have shaped culture
- Learn to close read a literary work, published or drafted (a.k.a., a peer’s)
- Hone critical thinking skills
- Learn to productively critique creative work, your own and others’
- Learn how to revise fiction based on each work’s own merits


Delivery Method: Fully in-person
Prerequisites: All responses must be submitted via this form by May 9, 2024. Students will be notified of their acceptance into the course by May 14, 2024. Guidelines for submission - a 300-500 word response to the following AND a writing sample in fiction: How will this course contribute to your future studies and original fiction? Briefly cite the 2-3 lit courses you have taken that best prepare you for this class, both in terms of reading and writing. Append a recent short story or excerpt from a larger work that can stand alone by way of a writing sample.
Course Level: 4000-level
Credits: 4
F 8:30AM - 12:10PM (Full-term)
Maximum Enrollment: 15
Course Frequency: Every 2-3 years

Categories: 4000 , All courses , Course Description Update , Course Title Change , Day/Time Changes , Four Credit , Fully In-Person , Learning Outcomes Update , Literature , Updates
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