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The Short Story in the Americas and Beyond

Prof. Lyn DiIorio

In this course we explore the modern short story, a beautiful yet highly underrated form.

Our approach focuses on both the genre tendencies of the short story since it began in the 19th century in the Americas and its technical aspects.

We will follow the idea that there have been two genre tendencies in short story practice. The first involves uncanny, mysterious, magical and haunted happenings. The first modern short stories by Americas-based authors, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe, were in this mysterious-haunted category. In Latin America, Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar adapted that tendency. Mariana Enriquez and Carmen Maria Machado are contemporary pursuers of it. We will read these writers and others in this category.

The other genre tendency is decidedly non-magical. These realist pieces often focus on the psychology of characters who are outsiders because of class, race, gender, queerness, youth, identity or psychic bent. Practitioners of this tendency include Anton Chekhov, Ernest Hemingway, Junot Díaz, and Otessa Moshfegh. We will also have to contend with the fact that some authors seem to write in both categories. Lauren Groff and Bryan Washington come to mind and of course we will read them.

In discussing the short story, we must also address its technical aspects. Among other elements, we will consider protagonists and their desire lines; the way story conflict escalates; the importance of good endings; and the use of sensuous and precise details. I will also probably devote class days to discussions about violence, animals, and children in the short story.

The main writing assignments will be a final research paper about stories read in class and an essay delivered as an oral report about a short story to be discussed in class. But we will also have extra fun with one or two creative writing exercises. I urge creative writers to write a short story as their final project!

“Imagining the Queen: Race, Sex, and Empire in Elizabethan England”

Prof. Elizabeth Mazzola

Elizabeth Tudor’s spectacular reign was also an incredibly fraught one, given the anxieties it raised about female authority as well as the longstanding presence of her cousin and rival Mary Stuart, under house arrest in England just miles away from Elizabeth’s throne. For nearly twenty years, a second queen shadowed the background as ongoing threat, pliant alternative, and constant rebuke to Elizabeth’s power. 

This course will explore how Elizabeth curated ideas about herself and her authority in order to silence her critics and sidestep Mary Stuart’s challenge. But other issues will concern us, too: How did writers and artists participate in this curatorial activity and how did they subvert it? How did women writers in particular follow the Queen’s lead or ignore her example? And how did ideas about the West and whiteness, purity, and nation-building reflect (or shape) Elizabeth’s complicated figure? 

Elizabeth Tudor arrives on the English stage as a prop and a riddle, showpiece and mash-up, because imagining her involves gorgeous, complicated, contradictory efforts—dressing her as nubile maiden or arming her for battle, queering her, deflowering her, idolizing her, bleaching her, loving her—even putting her body on a timetable to deploy ideas about childbirth, breast-feeding, and menopause. Involving medicine, politics, sexism, and racism, imagining the queen leaves traces in the works of William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser and clues in the writings of early modern women, just as eager to use (or deform) Elizabeth’s example for their own unusual projects.  

A reproduction of  Elizabeth I, Tomb Effigy

English B2140-2RS: Immigration Literature: Place ­– Language – Identity

Prof. Grazyna Drabik

Course description:

The immigrant experience has been well represented in American literature since the beginning of the 20th c. Numerous narratives, in fiction and non-fiction, chart the dynamics, variations, and stages of the migration experience. They tend to highlight the Ur-concept of the “American Dream” and the process of “assimilation/ acculturation” by which immigrants “become Americans,” espousing the promise of a new life. The leading themes of the immigration literature are clashes of culture; forging new individual and communal identities; conflicting loyalties that shape lives led between the adopted homeland and country of origin; redefinition of gender roles and of inter-generational relations; and the transformative role of education.

Important writers such as Willa Cather, Claude McKay, Frank McCourt, Paule Marshall, Sandra Cisneros, and Julie Otsuko have contested and enriched the American literary canon in significant ways addressing these important themes. Our graduate seminar recognizes the riches of this classic ethnic-based (or place of origin-based) approach but also notes the need to extend the discussion further, in an open-ended and exploratory manner. 

The course will focus on the dialectics of place, language, and identity, as highlighted by the writers, our contemporaries, who speak with the “forked-tongue,” writing from the perspective of a bi-cultural, marginal, and/or transnational experience. They are particularly attuned to the impact of massive displacement and to contradictions of ongoing cultural transformations. Their novels and short stories, plays, poems and personal essays do not fit comfortably within established versions of national histories, as they confront the complexity of cross-cultural encounters and the importance of transnational ties.

The seminar is demanding in terms of the amount and diversity of reading materials, but leaves space for individual special interests, offering a wide range of choices for the term project.


Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior (memoirs, 1976).
Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies (short stories, 1999).
Cristina García, Dreaming in Cuban (novel, 1992).
Stuart Dybek, I Sailed with Magellan (novel, 2003).
Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker (novel, 1995).
Teju Cole, Open City (novel, 2011).
Martyna Majok, Ironbound (play, 2016).
Edwidge Danticat, Create Dangerously (essays, 2010).
Aleksander Hemon, The Book of My Lives (autobiography, 2013).

Class booklet: selection of poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Dunya Mikhah, Shirley Geok-lin Lim, and Derek Walcott; excerpts from diverse materials, including from Jhumpa Lahiri’s recent Translating Myself and Others, and essays by Richard Rodriguez, James Baldwin, Eva Hoffman, and Charles Simic.


ENGL B2034: Duppies, Demons, and Despots: The Role of Myth in Caribbean Literature

Prof. Kedon Willis

The Caribbean is haunted by its past. This course examines how writers from the region mediate the horrors of slavery, disasters, and dictatorships through the surreal, the supernatural and the downright weird. As a class, we will encounter a range of Caribbean myths and legends that move about the islands in kindred yet distinctive forms. And we will question how these subtle variations reveal vast regional bonds despite the distinctiveness of each region’s political and cultural histories. Through select poems, short stories, and novels we will discover how writers marshal the unreal or folk culture to make sense of their island’s complex realities. And, along the way, we will deliberate on this use of “the folk” as both an aesthetic and political praxis.

ENGL B2054 & ART B3803: Material Images and Material Texts: 1400-2000

Profs. Ellen Handy and András Kiséry

This is a collaborative, interdisciplinary class about the media through which people experienced literary and visual artifacts over the past centuries. It brings together professors and students from CCNY’s Art and English departments—last time we taught it, we had students from 5 Master’s programs!

The class is organized around hands-on encounters with CCNY’s rare books and works on paper collections: with rare treasures as well as with ephemeral mass products. We will explore technologies that circulated images and texts on paper in North America and Europe before the computer: from medieval manuscripts through the printed books of the hand-press period and early newspapers to modern magazines and journals, and from woodcuts, engravings, and lithographs through various technologies for the reproduction of the photographic image.

We will think about the artistic, intellectual, and political effects of these technologies, about authorship, authenticity, and accuracy, about censorship and circulation. The materials considered will include medieval codexes, literary publications from the age of Shakespeare, political pamphlets from the English Civil war, scientific illustrations from the 17th-19th centuries, Diderot’s Encyclopédie, botanical illustration, African-American cultural journals, popular periodicals and modernist literary magazines, photo books, contemporary artists books and zines, etc.

ENGL B0710   After Shakespeare: the plays and modern literature

Prof. András Kiséry

Shakespeare is the cornerstone of English literature, a virtually unavoidable name on college reading lists. His works have also been a steady source of inspiration for writers and artists for centuries. This course provides an opportunity to re-familiarize ourselves with two or three of Shakespeare’s most influential plays through the lens of modern, modernist, and contemporary literary texts that engage with them critically and creatively. We will be working on Hamlet and The Tempest, reading works by such authors as Margaret Atwood, Aimé Césaire, and J. W. Goethe. We will think about tradition, adaptation, and appropriation, about borrowing and originality, and about the devastations of the Shakespeare industry. At the end of the semester, we will also take a quick look at Macbeth.

ENGL B2130: The Kafkaesque

Prof. Václav Paris

What do CUNY administration, the DMV, suffocating families, airport security, and the law have in common? One answer is the “Kafkaesque.” Defined briefly as characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world,” the Kafkaesque originates with the German-language Prague-based Jewish writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924). Its applications, however, are much broader than simply to Kafka’s work. Taken up in various ways by writers, artists, philosophers, and filmmakers, the Kafkaesque has become one of the defining symptoms of modern life.

This course is dedicated to exploring the meanings of the Kafkaesque, theorizing the term, and staking out its creative potentials. We will begin by reading Kafka’s major works: a selection of his stories, including “Metamorphosis,” his novel, The Trial, as well as extracts from his letters. We will then move on to other expressions of the Kafkaesque in literature and film (both earlier and later), including Hermann Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” and Basma Abdel Aziz’s 2013 novel, The Queue. We’ll also read theorists of the Kafkaesque including Walter Benjamin, Theodore Adorno, Hannah Arendt, and Jorge-Luis Borges. One of our areas of focus will be Kafka’s immediate geographical context: the culture and literature of Prague during his lifetime. The questions that we’ll ask include: is the Kafkaesque a historical formation? How does it relate to modernity? What is its genre? Is it a form of comedy? Does it have a particular place (the city, the West), or relation to a given identity (Jewishness, linguistic minority)? Why has such an apparently inane set of topics and affects proved so fascinating to writers and theorists of the last century? What does it teach us about life today, and about the future? And what isn’t Kafkaesque… at least not yet? This course is for those who want to confront difficult issues and difficult questions. It involves a lot of not always pleasant reading and thinking. Evaluation will be based on participation, written critical responses on Blackboard, as well as a final critical project.

ENGL B1957: The Novel Now

Prof. Robert Higney 

In this course, we will read recent works of literary fiction with an eye to what they can show us about the literary world of the present. There is no single overarching theme to the course, but the novels we’ll read fall into two main categories (with significant overlap): literary appropriations of “genre” (sci-fi, historical fiction) and big, formally ambitious works that blur fiction with archival history, theory, the essay and other forms. At the same time, we will survey some of the conditions under which contemporary fiction is written, marketed, circulated, and read. These conditions include the challenges of translation, the consolidation of the publishing industry, the role of agents, the function of book reviews, challenges to diversity in the publishing industry, and the symbolic economy of literary prizes and cultural prestige. Assignments typically include regular journal or discussion board entries, a midterm book review assignment, and a final research, creative, or hybrid project. Primary texts in Spring 2024 include Raven Leilani, Luster; Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive; Hernan Diaz, Trust; Teju Cole, Tremor; Mohsin Hamid, Exit West; Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun; and Samantha Schweblin, Little Eyes.


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