American Literature Reading Group

The American Literature Reading Group at the University of Melbourne began in mid-2009. Between early 2010 and the end of 2011, I took over the co-ordination of the group. Although I have been unable to join the group since I relocated to Switzerland in August 2012, I have decided to leave this reading list online for anyone interested in the group’s history.

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Week 35 (end of 2011)

Karen Russell, “Haunting Olivia”
Jennifer Egan, “Safari” 

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Week 34

Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning,” “A Brave and Startling Truth,”
“Still I Rise,” and selections from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Sunni Patterson, “We Made It” 

Critical reading:

  • Yasmin Y. DeGout, “The Poetry of Maya Angelou: Liberation Ideology and Technique,” The Langston Hughes Review 19.2 (Spring 2005): 36-47.

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Week 33

Washington Irving, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

Critical reading:

  • Greg Smith, “Supernatural Ambiguity and Possibility in Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’,” The Midwest Quarterly 42.2 (Winter 2001): 174-182.

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Week 32

Valerie Solanas, “The S.C.U.M. Manifesto”

Critical readings:

  • Claire Dederer, “Cutting Remarks,” The Nation (27 May 2004): online.
  • James Martin Harding, “The Simplest Surrealist Act: Valerie Solanas and the (Re)-Assertion of Avantgarde Politics,” The Drama Review 45.4 (Winter 2001): 142-162.

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Week 31

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance

Critical readings:

  • Excerpts from The Dial published during the Brook Farm experiment.
  • Gale Temple, “‘His Delirious Solace’: Consummation, Consumption, and Reform in Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance,” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 49.4 (2003): 285-321.

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Week 30

John Steinbeck, “The Chrysanthemums” and The Pearl

Critical readings:

  • Gregory J. Palmerino, “Steinbeck’s ‘The Chrysanthemums,'” The Explicator 62.3 (Spring 2004): 164-167.
  • Harry Morris, “The Pearl: Realism and Allegory,” The English Journal 52.7 (October 1963): 487-495, 505.

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Week 29

David Foster Wallace, selections from Infinite Jest: “Don Gately,” “The Depressed Girl,” “Exotic Facts,” “Hideous and Improbable Deformities,” “Hal’s Trauma and Grief”

Critical reading:

  • Mary K. Holland, “‘The Art’s Heart’s Purpose’: Braving the Narcissistic Loop of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest,” Critique 47.3 (Spring 2006): 218-242.

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Week 28

William Carlos Williams, selected poems: “Classic Scene,” “Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!,” “Poem (As the cat),” “This is Just to Say,” “The Spring Storm,” “The Late Singer,” “Transitional”
Marianne Moore, selected poems: “Black Earth,” “A Grave,” “Marriage”
e.e. cummings, selected poems: “in Just-,” “2 Little Whos,” “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in,” “raise the shade,” “as freedom is a breakfastfood,” “anyone lived in a pretty how town”

Critical readings:

  • William Carlos Williams, “Notes from a Talk on Poetry,” Poetry 14.4 (July 1919): 211-216.
  • Marianne Moore, “Feeling and Precision,” The Sewanee Review 52.4 (October-December 1944): 499-507.

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Week 27

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Week 26

Richard Wright, “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow”
James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son”

Critical reading:

  • Maurice Charney, “James Baldwin’s Quarrel with Richard Wright,” American Quarterly 15.1 (Spring 1963): 65-75.

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Week 25

Toni Morrison, “Recitatif”

Critical readings:

  • Toni Morrison, “The Nobel Prize Lecture” and selections from Black Matters.
  • Elizabeth Abel, “Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation,” Critical Inquiry 19.3 (Spring 1993): 470-498.

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Week 24

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

Critical readings:

  • James Mellard, “Something New and Hard and Bright: Faulkner, Ideology, and the Construction of Modernism,” The Mississippi Quarterly 48.3 (Summer 1995): 459-70.
  • Joe Kovesdy, “Dewey Dell in As I Lay Dying,” The Explicator 68.4 (2010): 261-63.
  • Tim Poland, “Cash in As I Lay Dying,” The Explicator 49.2 (1991): 118-20.

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Week 23

Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood

Critical readings:

  • Linda Rohrer Paige, “White Trash, Low Class, and No Class at All: Perverse Portraits of Phallic Power in Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood,” Papers on Language and Literature 33.3 (1997): 325-333.
  • Terry Teachout, “Believing in Flannery O’Connor,” Commentary (March 2009): 55-58.

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Week 22

Walt Whitman, selected poems: “Song of Myself,” “I Sing the Body Electric,” “For You O Democracy,” “Song of the Open Road,” “A Song of Joys”
Alan Ginsberg, selected poems:
“Song,” “In Back of the Real,” “Love Poem on Theme by Whitman,” “Footnote to Howl,” “A Supermarket in California,” “Sunflower Sutra,” “America,” “Many Loves,” “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear,” “The Names,” “Today,” “Who Be Kind To,” “A Vision in Hollywood,” “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” “City Midnight Junk Strains,” “Wales Visitation”

Critical readings:

  • Alan Ginsberg, “On Walt Whitman, Composed on the Tongue; or Talking a Walk Through Leaves of Grass,” in Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995 edited by Bill Morgan (New York: Harper Perennial, 2000), 285-331.
  • Terence Diggory, “Alan Ginsberg’s Urban Pastoral,” College Literature (West Chester University, Philadelphia) 27.1 (Winter 2000): 103-118.

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Week 21

Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Wakefield”
E.L. Doctorow, “Wakefield”

Critical readings:

  • Jorge Luis Borges, notes on Hawthorne’s “Wakefield” from Other Inquisitions, 1937-1952 (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1964), 53-57.
  • Angela M. Kelsey, “Mrs. Wakefield’s Gaze: Femininity and Dominance in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Wakefield’,” American Transcendental Quarterly 8.1 (March 1994): 17-32.
  • Daniel Stern, “‘Wakefield’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne,’Raritan 11.2 (Fall 1991): 99-114.

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Week 20 (start of 2011)

Henry James, Washington Square

Critical reading:

  • Bette Howland, “Washington Square, the Family Plot,” Raritan 15.4 (Spring 1996): 88-111.

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Week 19 (end of 2010)

Philip K. Dick, “Beyond Lies the Wub,” “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” “The Story to End All Stories,” and “Rautavaara’s Case”

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Week 18

H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
Robert E. Howard, “The Horror From the Mound”

Critical readings:

  • Mark Lowell, “Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos,” The Explicator 63.1 (Fall 2004): 47-50.

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Week 17

Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
Sherwood Anderson, “Hands,” “The Thinker,” “Loneliness,” “The Untold Lie”

Critical readings:

  • Sherwood Anderson on Gertrude Stein (fragments)
  • Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner on Sherwood Anderson (fragments)
  • Gertrude Stein, “A Valentine for Sherwood Anderson” (live recording)

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Week 16

E.L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel

Critical readings:

  • Barbara L. Estrin, “Surviving McCarthyism: E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel,” The Massachusetts Review 16.3 (Summer 1975): 577-87.
  • Michelle M. Tokarczyk, “From the Lions’ Den: Survivors in E.L. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel,” Critique 29.1 (Fall 1987): 3-15.

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Week 15

Hunter S. Thompson, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”
David Foster Wallace, “Shipping Out”
Joan Didion, “The West Wing of Oz”

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Week 14

William Saroyan, The Time of Your Life
David Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross

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Week 13

Anzia Yezierska, “The Fat of the Land”
Joyce Carol Oates, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”
Carson McCullers, “The Ballad of the Sad Cafe”

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Week 12

Raymond Chandler, “I’ll Be Waiting” and The Big Sleep

Critical readings:

  • Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”
  • Joyce Carol Oates, “The Simple Art of Murder,” The New York Review of Books
    (21 December 1995): online via subscription.

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Week 11

Elizabeth Bishop, selected poems: “The Armadillo,” “North Haven”
Robert Lowell, selected poems: “Skunk Hour,” “Home After Three Months Away”
Sylvia Plath, selected poems: “Morning Song,” “The Applicant,” “The Colossus”
Anne Sexton, selected poems: “Mother and Daughter,” “Consorting With Angels,”
“45 Mercy Street,” “Sylvia’s Death”

Critical readings:

  • John Thompson, “Two Poets,” The Kenyon Review 21.3 (Summer 1959): 482-90.
  • Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, selected letters: online.
  • Helen Vendler in discussion, on Robert Lowell: online podcast.

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Week 10

J.D. Salinger, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” “For Esme — With Love and Squalor,” and Franny and Zooey

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Week 9

W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” and “The Sorrow Songs”
Zora Neale Hurston, “Sweat” and “How it Feels to Be Colored Me”
Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” and the poems:
‘Harlem (Dream Deferred),’ ‘The Dream Keeper,’ and ‘Let America Be America Again’

Critical readings:

  • Alice Walker, ‘Foreword: Zora Neale Hurston — A Cautionary Tale and a Partisan View’ published in Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography by Robert E. Hemenway (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1980), xi-xviii.

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Week 8 (start of 2010)

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Critical readings:

  • Mario Vargas Llosa, “Destroyed but Not Defeated,” The Guardian Review
    (Saturday, April 7, 2007), translated by John King.

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Week 7 (end of 2009)

Walt Whitman, Specimen Days

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Week 6

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Black Cat”

Critical readings:

  • David R. Dudley, “Dead of Alive: The Booby-Trapped Narrator in Poe’s ‘Masque of the Red Death’,” Studies in Short Fiction 30.2 (Spring 1993): 169-73.
  • Ann V. Bliss, “Household Horror: Domestic Masculinity in Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’,” The Explicator 67.12 (Winter 2009): 96-99.

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Week 5

Emily Dickinson, selected poems: “Safe in their Alabaster Chambers–” (1861), “As if I asked a common Alms” (1858), “The Only News I know” (1864), “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” (1861), “Your Riches — taught me — Poverty” (1862), “The nearest Dream recedes — unrealized –” (1862), “We play at paste” (1862), “Of Tribulation, these are They” (1861), “A Bird came down the Walk –” (1862), “Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?” (1862), “A Death blow, is a Life blow to Some” (1864), “A narrow Fellow in the Grass” (1865), “Except the smaller size” (1866), “As imperceptibly as Grief” (1865), “No Brigadier throughout the Year” (1883).

Critical readings:

  • Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “Emily Dickinson’s Letters,” The Atlantic Monthly (October 1891): online.
  • Brenda Wineapple, “Her Own Society: When Emily Dickinson and Her Radical Friend Thomas Wentworth Higginson Met for the First Time,” The American Scholar 77.3 (Summer 2008): 81-7.
  • Jerisha Hull McCormack, “Domesticating Delphi: Emily Dickinson and the Electro-Magnetic Telegraph,” American Quarterly 55.4 (2003): 569-601.

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Week 4

Eudora Welty, “Where is the Voice Coming From?”

Critical readings:

  • Medgar Evers, “Selections from The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches” edited and with commentaries by Myrlie Evers-Williams and Manning Marable (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2005), 280-90 and 298-308.
  • Nancy D. Hargrove, “Portrait of an Assassin: Eudora Welty’s ‘Where Is the Voice Coming From?’,” The Southern Literary Journal 20.1 (Fall 1987): 74-88.
  • Suzan Harrison, “‘It’s Still a Free Country’: Constructing Race, Identity, and History in Eudora Welty’s ‘Where Is the Voice Coming From?’,” Mississippi Quarterly 50.4
    (Fall 1997): 631-46.

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Week 3

Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience”

Critical readings:

  • Jennifer Powell, “Civil Disobedience and the Democratic Review,” American Periodicals 12 (2002): 172-8.
  • Leigh Kathryn Jenco, “Thoreau’s Critique of Democracy,” The Review of Politics 65.3 (Summer 2003): 355-81.

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Week 2

Edith Wharton, “Roman Fever” and “Selections from The Art of Fiction

  • Barbara A. White, “Wharton’s Telling of the Short Story: Theory and Practice” from Edith Wharton: A Study of the Short Fiction (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1991).
  • Penelope Vita-Finzi, “Edith Wharton’s Theory of Fiction” from Edith Wharton and the Art of Fiction (London: Pinter Publishers, 1990).

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Week 1 (mid-2009)

Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”
Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener”

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thoughts on the what, the how, and the why of literature