American Literary Traditions Spring 2016

HANDOUTS for American Literary Traditions will be here in this top section:

Here is the Syllabus for the course.

Here is the handout about the Discussion Starters. We signed up in class for groups 1-4. Check the syllabus to see when your discussion starters are due.

Here is the handout describing the First Paper Assignment.

Here is the handout describing the Second Paper Assignment.

Notes for in-class discussions will be found below, with the most recent one appearing at the top:


Day 26: Dorothy Allison, Billy Collins, and Li-Young Lee

Here's a link to Dorothy Allison's website with more info. The New York Time Magazine did a piece on her in 1985 calling Dorothy Allison "the Roseanne of literature."

Hear Collins read his poem, "Forgetfulness" along with a brief introduction.

Curious about Art Blakey's version of "Three Blind Mice" referenced in "I Chop Some Parsley While Listening to..."? There's a link to a video featuring the song here. (more for listening than watching).

You can read more about Li-Young Lee here.

Day 25: Jack Kerouac, Flannery O'Connor, and Gloria Anzaldua

Today's readings might be the oddest mix assembled yet. We'll try to cover a little bit of everything.

As you (I hope) know, Kerouac is a Lowell original. UMass Lowell hosts the website and there are tons of ways to celebrate Kerouac around downtown.

Flannery O'Connor ( ) is known as a southern writer; she grew up in Savannah, Georgia, in this house (which you can visit), and she taught chickens to walk backwards. Religion -- in particular Catholicism -- is very much apparent in her writings. You might be interested in the publication (only recently, long after her death) of her journals.

Gloria Anzaldua's papers (original documents, etc.) can be found here. There is also a scholarly Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldua.

Day 23: Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Hayden

There is some good info about Hayden's "Those Winter Days" at the Poetry Foundation.

You can get some background on Elizabeth Bishop from the Poetry Foundation.

Here is Brooks reading "We Real Cool" (and explaining it a bit).

You can hear Brooks reading "the mother" in this link from the Poetry Foundation (go to about 10:54 mark)

Day 22: "A Rose for Emily"

We'll start with some small-group work on focused areas; as always, please be sure to seek out specific textual evidence in support of your answers:

  1. What is the point of view of the story?  Who is the narrator?  What clues do we get about the narrator?  How does the narrator know what he/she knows about the events depicted?  What questions might you have about the narration and how it affects our reading of the story?
  2. What do you make of Miss Emily Grierson?  How is she described in the story?  What details about her appearance are important?  How does her appearance change? What does she do or say, and how do you interpret it?  What cultural & historical contexts are important to consider in order to understand Emily?
  3. What’s going on with Tobe in the story?  What does he look like, and how does his appearance change? What do we need to know about him, what role does he play in the tale, and what’s significant about him?  What cultural & historical contexts are important to consider in order to understand Tobe?
  4. What’s going on with Homer Barron in this story? What does he look like and how does he behave? What do we need to know about him, what role does he play in the tale, and what’s significant about him?  What cultural & historical contexts are important to consider in order to understand Homer Barron?
  5. What’s up with Miss Emily’s house?  What elements of it are important, what symbolism might it hold, and why is it significant? 
  6. Which of the literary terms (realism, naturalism, local color, Southern Gothic) applies to this story?  [Review the handout from the previous session w/ the literary terms.] Which genre(s) might you place this story in?  Why is that context important?  How is this story engaging with, reacting to, or making itself a part of one of these genres (or another)?

You might be interested in this article about the revisions to the manuscript.

Day 21: Robert Frost & Susan Glaspell

Here's a link to a video of Frost reading his famous "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening."

Listen to Frost reading one of our assigned poems, "Pasture."

On the topic of "Out Out," I was intrigued by this blogger's details on the issue of the "buzz saw" that features in the poem.

There's a nice web site featuring a group of student projects on Trifles.

The true story behind the situation portrayed in the play -- the Hossack Case -- is detailed in Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America's Heartland. That site includes information on the case, including some original documents.

Day 20: Willa Cather

The Willa Cather Archive has some interesting scholarship, including an online project to map her life's travels.

The Willa Cather Foundation maintains Cather's literary legacy, and provides a guide to Cather's Nebraska for folks interested in visiting her home.

Day 17: Rebecca Harding Davis

Take a look at my notes and powerpoint on "Life in the Iron Mills," which you'll find here.

Day 13: Harriet Beecher Stowe

There's a tremendous site with resources for explore the pop culture impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin here: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and American Culture: A Multimedia Archive. If you click on “browse” mode, you’ll see some options that make it easy to explore. You might want to just start here:

Here's a link to notes for our class discussion of Stowe.

Day 12: Edgar Allan Poe

You might be interested in the Poe Museum.

Also, Poe visited Lowell; we know that he was here at least three times. The first visit was in 1848, where he met Mrs. Annie Richmond. Despite the fact that she was married, it seems the two of them had a relationship of some sort; Poe wrote her several passionate letters. It is likely that she is the one who paid for the daguerreotype taken only months before his death. So yes, it's actually possible (even likely?) that Poe visited The Worthen House, a bar still operating in downtown Lowell.

Day 10: Emerson & Thoreau

Confused about Transcendentalism? You're not alone. Here's a great page that provides a range of definitions and discussions.

Day 8: Washington Irving

Images for discussion of Romanticism.

Yes, there is a Wishbone episode about Rip Van Winkle.

Irving designed the grounds of Sunnyside, his estate in the Hudson River Valley.

Day 7: Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano

The Massachusetts Historical Society has some artifacts related to Phillis Wheatley here.

There is a controversy about whether Equiano was born in Africa or South Carolina. Read more here.

There's a nice image of the frontispiece of his narrative here.

For more about the details of the Middle Passage, you may be interested in this extensive archive of images related to the Atlantic Slave Trade here. The full collection of images and their categories can be accessed here (University of Virginia).

See Frederick Jackson Turner's 1840 painting, "Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying)" at the MFA in Boston.

The New York Public Library's Schomburg Center has an incredible site providing history of the Slave Trade and Abolition, including a timeline, lots of maps, essays, and images of the US Slave Trade (and other fascinating items of interest!).

Day 6: Ben Franklin & Hector St.John de Crevecoeur

Please note that the required Ben Franklin readings include material from the textbook and the handout in class. Please review the syllabus for specifics. Here is a PDF of the required Franklin handout.

The Library of Congress had an online exhibition of some Franklin documents.

The Huntington Library has the original manuscript of Franklin's Autobiography.

2006 was the Ben Franklin Tercentenary, and there's a great online exhibit with lots of artifacts.

Take a look at the Advertisement and Dedication from Letters from an American Farmer.

An exhibit at the library of Congress has a manuscript page from the first volume.

Day 4: Mary Rowlandson & Anne Bradstreet

Images and links for Mary Rowlandson here.

You can see photos of an Anne Bradstreet manuscript here.

Day 2: "Beginnings" (first readings, first writings)

Notes for discussion of Native American Oral Tradition here.

Our version of the "Iroquois Creation Story" is from David Cusick. If you're interested in reading more of Cusick's Sketches of the Ancient History of the Six Nations, you can download the whole volume (just 28 pages) for free here. Cusick published the text along with four of his own engravings. You can see them at the version stored at the Library of Congress, here.

There are some interesting sites about Cabeza de Vaca (a scholarly project about the text), and Learning from Cabeza de Vaca (which examines foodways).

There's some interesting primary source work on the Columbus Letter here:

For some disturbing images that help us interpret Columbus, Cabeza de Vaca, (and also Bartholome de las Casas, who we didn't read), take a look here at engravings by deBry.

Day 1 topics and links:

You might like a bit more information about Martin Espada, who wrote the poem, "The River Will Not Testify" that we read on the first day of class. You can also read more about the history of Turner's Falls here and more about the massacre here, which is still a political issue in Montague (where Turners Falls is) because of debate overwhether or not to try to do more research into what happened. Also, yes, Horse-Thief-Detecting-Societies were (are?) a real thing. Here's a good picture of the monument at Turner's Falls today.


This page updated April 22, 2016.