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Topics Courses

Spring  2020

Each quarter, the English Department offers variable topics courses such as English 315 (Studies in a Literary Genre), English 324 (Studies in Literary Topics) and English 515 (Senior Seminar). Because the topics change each quarter, the courses may be repeated for credit . Those scheduled for Winter 2020 are described below. 
Spring 2020 Topics Seminar, English Department, CSUSB

ENG 319 Black Women Write Social Justice
TR 4:00 (Yumi Pak)

From demanding equality to pushing for revolution, Black women have long been at the forefront in the project for social justice. At the same time, however, their intellectual and political contributions and frameworks have often been ignored or co-opted by others. In this class, we will engage with the myriad ways in which Black women write for social justice, including creative writing, academic essays and talks, films and performances. Through exploring authors who write from various national/international positions and identities, we will locate African American history and literature within a larger Black diasporic history and literature to understand the global nature of Black women’s writing. Topics will include, but are not limited to, violence against women, access to education, the linkages between racism and capitalism, self-representation and alternative visions of the world. By taking seriously the contributions of Black women writers, we will also undertake the work of figuring out the definitions behind the words that make up our class title: how do our authors define Black? How do they define what it means to be women? What is the importance of writing? And finally, how do our authors conceptualize social justice? Course requirements may include, but are not limited to, a take home midterm and final paper.

ENG 324 (Cross-listed with ES 394) Queer Women of Color Writers
TR 1:00 (Yumi Pak)

Queer women of color writers have long utilized their knowledges, embodied and otherwise, to both enact critique of and imagine otherwise against the demands of heteronormativity, white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. They have done this in part by putting pressure on what it means to be a "writer," and what "writing" can look like, in academic and non-academic spaces. In this class, we will engage with the multiple forms of writing produced by those who identify as queer women of color, ranging from speculative fiction, creative non-fiction, performance and film. In doing so, we will also explore how the writers in question complicate and elaborate upon the sometimes static definitions we hold for "queer" and "women of color," challenging us instead to conceptualize these as dynamic political positions rather than stable identity categories. In doing so, we as a class will join in on ongoing conversations on literary studies, queers of color critique, critical ethnic studies and performance studies that circulate around a vision of social justice that may not yet exist. Course requirements may include, but are not limited to, weekly journal submissions and a take home midterm.

ENG 440:  The Age of Weird.
MWF 9:20. (Ann Garascia)

Now symbolized by the tentacle, a flexible and mobile appendage common to invertebrate animals, “Weird Fiction” refers to a slippery literary genre combining horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Equally fluid is a definition for Weird Fiction, which pushes aside conventional supernatural haunts to explore the overarching cosmic terrors that render humanity insignificant and test the limits of our knowledge. This class attempts to shine a light on this cosmic darkness by mapping out a working definition of “Weird Fiction,” focusing on key texts from the “Age of Haute Weird” (1880-1940) and glimpsing into the future with the “New Weird.”  This class will pursue a number of questions. What is “Weird”: a genre, a movement, an aesthetic, a way of being? How does “Weird” help us think about identity categories, such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and class? How does “Weird” help us navigate an ever-expanding and changing more-than-human world? Authors include M.P. Shiel, Algernon Blackwood, Leonora Carrington, H.P. Lovecraft, Junji Ito, and Michael Marder and Anaïs Tondeur, with secondary criticisms by Mel Y. Chen, Stacy Alaimo, and Anna Tsing. This class also includes cursed books, spirals of death, fungus-people, talking ooze, and (of course) tentacles. 

ENG 463 Big Stories, Small Forms: Flash Fiction, Prose Poetry, Micro Memoir
TR 2:00 (Derek Updegraff)

This course will examine the use of narrative in brief forms. We will begin the quarter by tracing the history of current short narrative forms, reading works (sometimes in translation) from the eleventh century to the eighteenth century before spending most of our time reading twentieth and twenty-first-century writers. We will read essays discussing ideas of genre, and we will formulate our own thoughts about the usefulness and limitation of categorizing literary works according to the genre, considering the overlap among popular brief forms like flash fiction, the short-short story, prose poetry, flash nonfiction, and the micro memoir. In addition to thinking about genre, we will marvel at the craft of constructing full narratives in such small spaces. Some of the authors we will read are Tacey M. Atsitty, Sandra Cisneros, Brian Doyle, Russell Edson, Beth Ann Fennelly, Ursula Hegi, Harryette Mullen, and Juan Rulfo. The evaluation will include a final exam and two essays. One essay can be replaced with a portfolio of the student’s own writing in two or more short forms with commentary discussing craft.

ENG 513 Autobiography
TR 4:00 (James Brown)

Autobiography is a course in memoir writing where you'll learn to shape personal experience into stories employing narrative techniques such as scene, setting, character, dialogue, and conflict. Where do we draw the line between imagination and memory, fact and fiction? How do we recreate and mold the past into something more than a simple record of our lives? We'll use representative works from the memoir genre to help guide us into giving form and meaning to this crazy, beautiful, sad, mad sprawling thing called life.

ENG 515 Women at the End of the World
TR 4:00 at PDC (Julie Paegle)

Beginning with Mary Shelley’s last man standing novel The Last Man, this senior seminar will examine depictions of female protagonists facing the end of the world from the Romantic Period to the cli-fi of today. Grounded in works such as Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Claire Vaye Watkins’ Gold Fame Citrus, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and Lilliam Rivera’s YA novel featuring the girl gang “Las Mal Criadas,” the course will explore how the female bildungsroman rebirths and critiques the genres and stories so relevant to our fevered world.

ENG 515 Outside the American Renaissance: Pop Culture and the Classics of American Literature
TR 4:00 (Chad Luck)

For more than a hundred years, the so-called “classic” authors of American literature—Melville, Hawthorne, Whitman, Emerson—have been celebrated and studied for their literary genius. Critics, in fact, often place them on the pedestal of “highbrow art” and tell us that these works of literature are more rich, more complex, and more aesthetically sophisticated than any other writing in nineteenth-century America. Maybe, maybe not. But more recently, literary scholars have begun to ask how works of “highbrow” literature might in fact be closely related to the popular fiction and popular culture that surrounds them. This is the question at the heart of this class. In “Outside the American Renaissance,” we will ask what happens to the traditional view of “classic” nineteenth-century American literature when we read it in relation to the popular fiction that was being published (more successfully) right alongside it. How, for example, do Edgar Allan Poe’s gruesome tales draw on the bloody “true crime” stories written up in city newspapers? And to what extent does Hawthorne’s moody fiction echo the sentimental tear-jerkers of the popular press?