ENGLISH 398 - Junior Seminar in English Studies
Fall 2018, Section 001 - Genre Study: Letters in/as Literature
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:


Some novels are written completely as a series of letters between correspondents, or as one long letter from Person A to Person B. We have poems in the form of letters—and collections of poems, where, as in the epistolary novel, subjects are writing back and forth to each other across the breadth of a single long text. We have dense, long collections of actual letters from famous people—writers, politicians, theologians, movie stars. Great portions of the New Testament are made up of letters, of course—all those epistles from Paul of Tarsus to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Romans, etc. And perhaps there are those stacks of letters that some of you might have—tied up in bundles, maybe, from people who have meant a great deal to you or were involved at one point or another in some important moment in your life, though these bundles in general are becoming smaller and smaller and rarer and rarer (while the letter as a mode of writing, a means of discourse, fades away) and for some of us can seem downright strange, old-fashioned, even obsolete in the age of email and text messages. Is there something meaningful to hold onto in the form of the letter, in the practice of exchanging letters, in the intellectual structures that are put in place by what the genre of the epistle invites or requires and the work of crafting your thoughts into a text that's (usually) meant for an audience of one—a single person who, it should be noted, won’t read your letter until at least a day or two after you send it, or maybe longer? (Time and distance are two places to start in thinking about the difference between a letter and an email…) And what is gained when we use the form of the letter as a literary device—a form that will be less available and less legible to us as we write fewer letters?

In this class we’ll study all kinds of letters in an attempt to answer these and related questions in as many ways possible. You’ll also write a number of letters yourself—as well as a paper or two about letters, from a critical, analytical perspective. Most of your formal, graded work will be submitted in a portfolio of writing. And as a class that satisfies the Upper-Level Writing Requirement, a portion of our class meetings will be devoted to workshopping your work and the work of your peers, both to generate thoughts and feedback that you’ll use when you revise, and to learn about your own aims and objectives in writing by helping others with theirs.

Specific course texts for study are TBD, but likely contenders include: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead; Alice Walker’s The Color Purple; a diverse collection of poems by poets including Emily Dickinson, Mark Doty, William Carlos Williams, Lucille Clifton, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Major Jackson, Evie Shockley, Ezra Pound and others; and of course, lots of actual letters from famous people—most of them poets and writers: (more) Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, James Joyce, Flannery O’Connor, Wallace Stevens, Wallace Stegner, Frederick Douglass, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf…there’s a LOT to choose from.

Course Requirements:

You’ll keep a reading journal throughout the term, which you’ll use both in and out of class, read roughly 40-80 pages per week, and submit a midterm and final portfolio, which will include both creative work and critical, analytical work. This class is discussion-based, so your class participation will be crucial to its success and will be figured into your final grade. All students will be workshopped at least once during the course of the term.

Intended Audience:

This is technically a Junior Seminar, though it’s open to all levels and all majors. English 298, the prerequisite for the English major, will likely be helpful for lots of students in this class, but it’s not a required prerequisite for English 398.


ENGLISH 398 - Junior Seminar in English Studies
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
 In Person
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM
9/4/18 - 12/11/18

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