As part of my Fulbright application, I proposed two courses for my time at the University of Bergen. I have already posted one of these syallbi, “African American Literature and the American South.” This course will be an MA level course, and I am currently in the process of finalizing the readings. They have changed, some, since I initially posted the syllabus. When I complete the syllabus, I will post it again. Today, though, I want to share with you the other course I proposed for next year: “Introduction to Modernism: Modernism and Ernest J. Gaines.”

In my letter, I proposed the course in the following manner:

Drawing upon my experience at the Ernest J. Gaines Center at UL Lafayette, my NEH grant “Ernest J. Gaines and the Southern Experience,” and my extended research on Ernest J. Gaines, this course would use Gaines as the central figure in a study on modernism in American literature through an examination of authors who inspired him to pick up the pen and write about his “little postage stamp of land” in rural South Louisiana all the way to authors who Gaines inspired to do the same for their regions. Through an examination of modernist American authors such as William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Willa Cather, the course will explore how each of these authors approached place, race, and modernity in their writing and how they each inspired Gaines to write about “his people” in Louisiana. By reading these authors as a precursor to Gaines, students can see the connective tissue of modernism that runs throughout twentieth century American literature and culture and specifically how that tissue relates to the American South. After reading Gaines, students will read works by Southern authors such as Alice Walker, Wiley Cash, and Attica Locke, all of which were inspired by Gaines in one way or another. Overall, the course will highlight for students the tenants of modernism and how authors approach race in America using modernism as a focus by tracing the movement from the early twentieth century through the early twenty-first century.

Course Description

The goal of this course is to destabilize the chronological markers that usually constitute modernism in literature, typically beginning around World War I and concluding around the end of World War II. Scholars such as James Smethurst, Geoffrey Jacques, Farah Jasmine Griffin, and others have traced modernism to African American literature and culture during the latter part of the nineteenth century. This course will not trace that lineage; instead, it will examine the ways threads of modernism continue past the teleological end by focusing on the work of African American author Ernest J. Gaines. Through this focus, we will challenge the monolithic construction of literary genres and lineages. With Gaines as the focus of this course, we will examine authors that inspired him: Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and Willa Cather. As well, we will look at authors that Gaines inspired: Alice Walker, Attica Locke, and Wiley Cash. In this manner, we will explore modernism not just through the mid-twentieth century but through the twenty-first. We will explore how modernism responded to encroaching modernity, created new forms of writing, and how these works challenge generic conventions. Ultimately, we will examine how each of these authors approach place, race, gender, class, and modernity in their writing.

Primary Texts

Ernest Hemingway In Our Time (1924)
William Faulkner The Sound and the Fury (1929)
Willa Cather Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940)
Ernest J. Gaines Bloodline (1968)
Ernest J. Gaines The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971)
Ernest J. Gaines A Lesson before Dying (1993)
Alice Walker The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)
Attica Locke The Cutting Season (2012)
Wiley Cash A Land More Kind Than Home (2012)

Critical Texts

Babb, Valerie. “Old Fashioned Modernism: ‘The Changing Same’ in A Lesson before Dying.” Critical Reflections on the Fiction of Ernest J. Gaines. Edited by David C. Estes. University of Georgia Press, 1994. pp. 250-264.
Ellison, Ralph. “The World and the Jug.” Shadow and Act. Vintage Books, 1964. pp. 107-143.
Holcomb, Gary and Charles Scruggs. Hemingway and the Black Renaissance. Ohio State University Press, 2012. pp. 1-26.
Lowe, John Wharton. “From Yoknapatawpha County to St. Raphael Parish: Faulknerian Influence on the Works of Ernest J. Gaines.” Faulkner and the Black Literatures of the Americans. Edited by Jay Watson and James T. Johnson, Jr., University of Mississippi Press, 2016. pp. 161-183.
Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Vintage Books, 1992.
Seck, Ibrahima. “Habitation Haydel (Whitney Plantation): histoire d’une plantation de la Cité des Allemands en Louisiane (1750-1860).” Creolization in the French Americas. Edited by Jean-Marc Masseaut, Michael S. Martin, and Jordan Kellman, University of Louisiana Press, 2015. pp. 71-92.
Smethurst, James. “Introduction.” The African American Roots of Modernism: From Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance. University of North Carolina Press, 2011. pp. 1-27.
Teutsch, Matthew and Katharine Henry. “‘Memories wasn’t a place, memories was in the mind’: The Gothic in Ernest J. Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 68, no. 3-4, Summer-Fall 2015, pp. 511-530.   

2 Comments on ““Introduction to Modernism: Modernism and Ernest J. Gaines” Syllabus

  1. Pingback: What to Expect in 2019! | Interminable Rambling

  2. Pingback: The Problematic Nature of Willa Cather’s Final Novel | Interminable Rambling

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