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Summer 2013, New York University

This course explores American literature and culture through what has been called our uniquely national art form, the short story. Writer Ann Patchett likens reading short stories to the experience of a swarm of bees, “blocking out sound and sun and becoming the only thing you can think about.” We’ll be doing a lot of thinking about the short story—as a literary art form, as a social and historical record, and as a reflection of the cultural values that shape our ideas of who we are. From the ghosts and fantasies that haunted the nineteenth-century short story to the casual cruelties and everyday redemptions in twentieth-century stories to today’s experimental fictions, the short story represents diverse visions of American identity and experience. We will thus roam widely to construct methods for thinking about and a critical vocabulary for discussing and writing about the short story.

Students will examine the genre, learning about its formal structures and strategies, as well as its place among various historical literary movements, including realism, naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism. Special attention will be paid to the material conditions of short story writing and publishing—the 19th century rise of the literary magazine, the Little Magazines and anthology collections of the 20th century, and the possibilities for the short story in today’s digital environment. We will read individual stories from a wide range of American authors as well as a contemporary short story collection.

As an English course, we will also devote energy to critical writing skills. Written assignments will be designed to help students gain expertise in a variety of academic writing modes including the formal essay, concise close-readings, and the critical review. Students may choose to do a final project in lieu of the traditional essay.

Authors include: Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Sarah Orne Jewett, Willa Cather, Charles Chesnutt, Sherwood Anderson, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver, James Baldwin, Eudora Welty, Philip Roth, Junot Diaz, Lorrie Moore, Aimee Bender, George Saunders, Jennifer Egan, Alison Bechdel.

Full Syllabus

Final Project Options



Teaching Assistant to Profs. Bryan Waterman and Cyrus Patell, Spring 2010, New York University

Section syllabus