A variable topics course in a wide variety of fields and genres. Past topics have included "War Stories," "Electronic Literature," "The Avante Gard," "City in Literature," and "The American Seen Through British Eyes."
English 397 Literary Houston | Spring 2020
Class: Mondays 6:30-9:20
Instructor: Dr. Comer (email@example.com)
Satisfies: Critical Race, Postcolonial, Gender Requirement for English Major; SWGS Critical Race Theory; Latin American Studies Major Elective
Open to Majors and Non-Majors
We venture together into Houston’s literary and art scenes in order to think about the public marketplaces of American cultural institutions as well as their celebrated figures. We ask: What difference does it make to read literature “privately” in students’ rooms versus to read literature in preparation for an event to which we go as a group, and hear a writer read? How do the places where we hear readings then impact our sense of an author’s authority, authenticity, or intended audiences including unexpected audiences?
Our course meets on Monday evenings, and during three (3) meetings, we attend readings at the Alley Theatre sponsored by Houston’s premier literary arts organization, Inprint. Beforehand, we read works of featured speakers. Inprint is a high quality, donor-funded, and well-led organization that brings writers to Houston from all over the U.S. and offers a key context for discussions of local literary institutions. But Inprint is one among many organizations in what is also a thriving grassroots literary world. To think comparatively about other literary marketplaces in Houston, we introduce ourselves to less-known venues and writing communities. We attend readings sponsored by Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say, as well as readings of the Houston Writers Coalition.
These comparative considerations allow us to research policy discussions in the city of Houston happening now related to budgets for literary and arts spending. Where do our tax dollars go? For organizations not donor-funded, how is public funding distributed? We investigate economic factors creating the literary marketplaces we do or don’t readily see, and ask how such decisions impact writers and the people who make up the communities from which less-known work emerges? The final course goal is to tackle a public-facing project together by writing a group document, called “Mapping Literary Houston,” for use by city officials.
Speakers. Houston’s own writers, poets, and leaders of literary arts organizations including: Rich Levy, Executive Director, Inprint; Tony Diaz, Director, Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say; and potentially Nicolas Kanellos, Arte Publico, Lupe Mendez, Writers in the Schools, and spokespeople from “Librotraficante” (“book-traffickers”).
Required Readings. Carolyn Forchè, Carmen Maria Machado, Louise Erdrich, Reginal Dwayne Betts, Natalie Diaz, Leslie Schwartz-Contreras, Brian Washington, with also writings of classroom vsitors (TBA). Critical materials related to economics of literature + Houston Chronicle reporting on local arts and, specifically, the Talento Bilingue de Houston building closures. Tickets are free and transportation will be arranged for class members.
Assignments. The course and its assignments and ventures into Houston will embed students in various communities of real-time writers alongside the texts they read in preparation for events. We will learn how to talk not only about “literature” as it travels through language, literary histories, and marketplaces, but also “literature” as a practice of communities who are and are not at times networked into a central urban cultural geography. What such a focus means is that community engagement will be interwoven at every step of our work with literature, writers, and Houston itself. Questions of social inequality, racialized non-white geographies, and the conceptual and practical tools needed to do our work, will be at the center of pedagogy.
We have three “Reading Responses” which are shorter 1-2 page opportunities for students to answer questions like the above that I will prompt. We will share our reading responses with one another so they do not remain private.
The two papers are linked. The first allows students a chance individually to write on one of the communities and writers we study. This project is a more conventional literary critical analysis that also applies the critical economic thinking the course teaches.
The second paper is more a public report than individual research project. “Mapping Literary Houston,” is its working title. The research will be done through small groups of 3 or 4 students, and its intended audience is Mayor Turner, City of Houston, who presides over decisions about literary arts funding. As we will learn, and not surprisingly, most of the “big institutions” (Alley Theatre, MFAH, etc.) get majority tax dollars. The smaller literary forums get a very small amount of the public dollar. But these facts are only starting points for a document designed to bring into one place the many venues making up Houston vivid grassroots arts culture.
The kind of writing required of this report is, of course, public writing, and we will workshop how to write in non-specialist language conducive to city official audiences.
While I will advise and guide the research, of course, I also will encourage students’ independent work and resourcefulness. Which writing communities do students wish to research? They might find something I don’t know a lot about, which would create new knowledges for our class, for City readers, and a future version of this course.