English 278a

T. Tensuan

MW 12:30-2



Contemporary Women Writers:  writing in the margins


In this course, we will be reading the work of a select and eclectic group of artists whose writings range from a retelling of a Shakespearean tragedy to a memoir that bills itself as a “tragicomic.” We will be exploring the ways in which texts that are often cast outside of literary canons – speculative fictions, autobiographies, comics – enable us to assess the critical, cultural, and political processes that create the very notions of margin and center. We will focus on how such works revise literary canons and canonical literary texts, challenge conventional narratives  of gender and development, and transform normative visions of individual, sexual, religious, and national bodies.   Our discussions will be framed by the following questions: How do these texts contend with the standard scripts accorded to women in canonical texts and cultural contexts?  How do constructions of gender inflect individual or communal perspectives on what kinds of narratives are worthy of being told, written, read, and reinterpreted? How do we develop our own standards for critiquing texts; what criteria do we employ in determining a work’s value?  How do we respond to works that break through/break down our aesthetic sensibilities?


Course Requirements: 

There will be three short papers in addition to regular writing assignments.  You will work with a small group in preparing questions for a class discussion on one of the books in the syllabus;  in lieu of a written final, each discussion group will convene during finals week for a conversation with the professor that will be based on questions and critical concerns raised in the course. 


Book list:

Lynda Barry, One! Hundred! Demons!

Alison Bechdel, Fun Home

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

Joy Harjo,  How We Became Human

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

Suzan-Lori Parks, Getting Mother’s Body

William Shakespeare, King Lear

Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres

Helena Maria Viramontes, Under the Feet of Jesus

Karen Tei Yamashita, Through the Arc of the Rainforest


In addition, we will be reading selections from the work of Jessica Abel, Samuel Delany, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Alicia Ostriker, Adrienne Rich, Francesca Royster, Mab Segrest, Leslie Marmon Silko, Art Spiegelman, and Julia Watson


English 278a satisfies the “Introductory Emphasis” requirement for the Haverford English Major.