Friday, March 25, 2011

Teaching Lit: Scaring the Crap Out of Students a Class at a Time

It's that time again! We've just changed over from one academic term to the next, which means I'm rolling out new literature to new batches of students. This past term, I taught a Literature and Film independent study. My two students were great, and we had a good time discussing film in general. We read some selections from Stephen King's Different Seasons and Reginald Rose's classic play, Twelve Angry Men.

This term is going to be even MORE fun as I'm teaching another independent study, this time over Science Fiction and Fantasy. I'm also teaching a general Introduction to Lit class, which is a whole section of students--not an independent study.

Wanna know what I've decided to terrorize my students with??! Check it out...

Introduction to Literature:

Short Stories and Essays:
  • "Coming to an Awareness of Language" by Malcolm X
  • "August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury
  • "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
  • "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates
  • "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor
  • "Everyday Use" by Alice Walker
  • "Today's Demon: Magic" by Lynda Barry (comic)
  • "Good Country People" by Flannery O'Connor
And WHOA, I'm seeing the male-writer-gap now. I still have some things to fill in, I just don't know what I'll use to flesh this out. Stay tuned!

Poetry for Intro to Lit:
  • The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats
  • “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot
  • “Totem” by Ted Hughes
  • “Jilted” by Sylvia Plath
  • "Mad Girl's Love Song" by Sylvia Plath
  • “my old man” by Charles Bukowski
  • “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy
  • “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen
  • "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams
  • "In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound
  • "Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins
  • Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare
  • "Tyger! Tyger!" by William Blake
  • "Howl" by Allen Ginsburg
And I'm sure I'll jam a few more in there somewhere.

Last, but certainly not least, I'm debating about the "drama" section of the course. The textbook has Antigone by Sophocles and A Doll's House by Ibsen. I've read both, I loved both, and I've taught A Doll's House to death. I would prefer to buy the class copies of Proof (probably can't afford it!). I'm also just not sure Antigone will "play" very well for this bunch. To be announced!

And for the Science Fiction and Fantasy class, we're reading a butt-load of fairy tales I won't list, but the short stories are:
--Excerpt from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
--Excerpt from We by Yevgeny Zamyatin
--"Mars is Heaven!" by Ray Bradbury
--"The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke
--"All You Zombies--" by Robert Heinlein
--"The Persistence of Vision" by John Varley
--"Bloodchild" by Octavia Butler
Honestly, I haven't read all of these yet. Most, but not all. I've taken some recommendations from a colleague who taught this course last term and is a heavy-duty sci-fi reader. I also have a bunch of others marked in the textbook like Geoff Ryman's "Dead Space for the Unexpected," but I plan to gather a bit more feedback and do a bit more of my own reading in the coming days.
If you were teaching your own Introduction to Literature or Science Fiction and Fantasy sections, what would you add to the reading list?


  1. You are reading some great stuff for your sci-fi class! I love Bradbury's short stories. We just finished reading "Sound of Thunder" in my english classes and the kids LOVED it. I also brought in a story from The Martian Chronicles.

    Another sci-fi story I really like is Harrison Bergeron. Basic, but so wonderful to talk about.

    I want to take that class! :)

  2. You for got HP Lovecraft.

  3. I'd add A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

  4. I teach Intro to Lit, but I don't use an anthology. My students read: The Picture of Dorian Gray, W;t by Margaret Edson, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and some essays: The Yellow Wallpaper, The Story of an Hour, A Jury of Her Peers (and the play version Trifles), and a handful of poems.

    Isn't picking out the books/stories both fun and frustrating?

  5. If you want to add some slightly more modern reading to your sci-fi list Paolo Bacigalupi has written some excellent and thought provoking short stories in a collection called Pump Six and Other Stories.

    By the way, I appreciate that you included Octavia E. Butler in your curriculum, she is such an amazing and under-read author.

  6. You've got Ray Bradbury in there so I'm good. :) I just read Jo Walton's "Among Others" and there is so much talk of science fiction in there that I am inspired to read some more...I used to read it a lot more than I do now.

    I think your choices are great -- and the poetry choices you listed are very interesting. I can remember studying many of them in my own long-ago university years. Have fun!

  7. Wow, I love your list! I don't know what to add, particularly to the sci-fi list. But maybe for the lit class, something by June Jordan? I have a girl-crush on June Jordan, or maybe also Constantine Cavafy? He has beautiful stuff. Ithaka, or Waiting for the Barbarians?

  8. Those are great reading lists! You're making me miss Intro to Lit, even though I found that class pretty frustrating :)

  9. I teach a lot of that, but for the play, I just finished teaching August Wilson's Fences and highly recommend it. Had great conversation in class last week, and there are some good, short clips of pivotal moments from when Denzel Washington played Troy.

    I also throw in some Carver/Cheever/Dubus to the short story section and do an intro to graphic novels and read Persepolis.

    Fun! I love planning the reading part of a syllabus.

  10. Asimov: I, Robot or maybe Foundation

  11. I would have to dig it out, but I took a sci-fi/fantasy class in college and in one anthology there was a one page story about scientists creating a supercomputer. I'll never forget it. Everyone is excited about the computer's ability to answer questions and they feed it the first question: "Is there a god?" And it spits back out: "There is now." And that's how it ends. Loved it! I'll look it up later to see if I can find it, but what a great conversation starter.

  12. What I would do, is throw in one or two episodes of The Twilight Zone. There are some very good classic episodes, lots for you to choose from and at 22 minutes they are perfect. You can watch them and have time to discuss them afterwards.

  13. I actually took a sci-fi and fantasy course back when I was in university... The memorable reads were Fire & Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones and The Princess Bride. She also tried a collection of stories from the Earthsea series by Le Guin, it was a major fail. um, I can't remember what else we read anymore. Oh, The Giver, I believe. That went over well, too.

  14. You would be my favorite teacher ever if you taught Lynda Barry in an intro class. Just saying.

  15. What about some short stories by Edith Wharton or Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Minister's Black Veil)? I was just flipping through old literature handouts from my college days and those were two of my favorites.

  16. I am so intrigued about how teachers decide to pick what they want their students to read. It is something that has come up several times in my Education-related English classes and when I spent some time peer educating an Ecofeminism class with one of my favorite professors. But this topic is definitely one of the things that scares me a bit about becoming a teacher. I would want to pick pieces that I enjoy but also pieces that will inspire my students. It's difficult to really find that perfect well-rounded balance. and then there is also the fear of students discovering my own reading deficiencies. Even though I love reading, I have shied away from the classics for much of my life and thus have a huge deficiency of experience there. I guess it is something that I will just have to keep working on.


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