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Undergraduate English Courses

358:387 Ethnic Literature of the United States

01  TF3  CAC  19383  CASTROMAN  HH-A7

Conversations about what it means to be an ethnic subject in the US, as well as what it means to the US that there be so many ethnic subjects has a long history. From the time of troubling national food metaphors: “the melting-pot” or “the salad bowl” to multiculturalism and the transnational and diasporic subjects of globalized postmodernity, the terms of “ethnicity” remain just as fraught and relevant.  It is still an issue for the individual deciding what box to check on an application, as much as it is for the author forced to answer whether their text reveals the “authentic” ethnic experience of a particular community.  So, in the vein of critical ethnic studies, this class aims to explore the shifting relationships between various ethnic subjects and the US by considering, for example, Native American, African American, Latino/a, and Asian American literatures as they represent and trouble the terms by which we understand a collective “ethnos.” We will look at how these texts comparatively address issues of race, gender, migration, belonging, and identity, and will be driven by such overarching questions as: What are the terms of ethnicity in the U.S., and what are its stakes for the individual, the community and the nation? How does ethnicity shape the stories we tell and the ways we tell them? What does it mean to “live on a hyphen,” to experience “the peculiar sensation of double consciousness,” or to think from the place of the border? And finally, who is “Ethnic”? How is this category determined, and what does it produce?

Texts under consideration include: Brown Girl, Brownstone (Marshall; 1959); Down These Mean Streets (Thomas; 1967); The Way to Rainy Mountain (Momaday; 1969); A Gesture Life (Ra-Lee; 1999); When the Emperor Was Divine (Otsuka; 2002); The Namesake (Lahiri; 2003); Americanah (Adichie; 2013), as well as poetry from, but not limited to, The Best American Poetry 2015 collection guest-edited by Sherman Alexie.