Fall 2023 Undergraduate English Courses

358:452 Seminar: Carson McCullers and Richard Wright

01   TTH5   CAC   08196   MILLER   MU-113

The two writers we will read this semester, Carson McCullers and Richard Wright, rose to prominence in the late 1930s to the early 1940s: both wrote novels and short stories where the central characters outsiders; both wrote about life in a nation where racism was assumed to be a constant. But their frames of reference were radically different: McCullers writes about misfits in the South, adolescents coming of age, and Southerners reacting to the possibility of desegregation; Wright writes about Black Americans, crime, racially motivated violence, and what it means to be free. By reading these two remarkable contemporaries together, as they reflect on and represent the lives and the sufferings of social misfits, outcasts, outsiders, criminals, and victims of police-enforced racist norms, we will have a chance to consider their accomplishments at the level of the sentence, the paragraph, the story, and the depiction and understanding of conflict.

Both writers are concerned with violence—physical, social, racial, and sexual, so, of necessity, our discussions will engage with their often graphic and always disturbing depictions of the varieties of human cruelty. And, because all the works we will read depict periods well before the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, we will be considering stories from a time when segregation was legal. And we will be asking, what do these writers have to say to us today? And what can we learn by reading them side-by-side?

Required Texts:

Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

The Ballad of the Sad Café: The Novels and Stories of Carson McCullers (1951)

A Clock without Hands (1961)

Richard Wright

Uncle Tom’s Children (1938)

Native Son (1940)

The Man Who Lived Underground (2021—written in 1941)

Every class begins with ten minutes of graded writing. There will be two short papers specifically focused on providing historical context for our reading. And there will be a final project on reading McCullers and Wright together.