Next year I'll be teaching a Contemporary Writing course to first-year English undergraduates. What should I teach? 'Contemporary' appears to mean 'anything from about 1950 onwards', and all texts have to be written in English (ie no translations.) It looks like I have to include poetry and perhaps drama, too (I'm not sure whether I'm able to set films).
Here's an example of a nicely-thought-through version of the course, taught by the exceptionally talented and lovely Ellen McWilliams. I like her approach to the selection of texts - things which contribute something in themselves and are interesting to read and to teach, but which will also allow the class to talk about some of the broader issues which have characterized the last 50 years of Anglophone literary writing.
Some of the things that have happened in the past 50 years which I find interesting are:*
• the invention and development of the Young Adult novel (from the 'first' teenage novel, Beverly Cleary's Fifteen , to Pullman and Haddon's early-21st-century crossover books);
• the invention and development of the graphic novel (Bechdel's Fun Home is definitely going to be on the list);
• the women's movement (Woman on the Edge of Time?);
• the development of gay and queer literature;
• punk/avant-garde post-modern stuff (not as in, like, 'pomo', but as in William Burroughs' cut-up techniques which develop from modernist techniques. Dennis Cooper? But I don't know if I can face teaching his books - I mean, especially on a core unit... if students have specifically signed up for a sex-n-violence unit, that's one thing, but making, say, Frisk compulsory might be a bit much. I had to throw Frisk across the room and then leave the room when I first read it at the age of seventeen);
• the development of black and postcolonial literature.
But I don't want the course to be as tokenistic as that list risks being; nor do I want it to be a rerun of the 'Critical Issues' course I'm also teaching next year (one of those breakneck one-theory-a-week, sexual difference/queer theory/postcolonialism/ideology/deconstruction kind of courses). Maybe I need some sort of unifying theme -I wonder about something like boundary-pushing or intertextuality? The way contemporary literary/canonical writing engages with its 'outside' (the not-yet-adult reader; the visual; the popular; the colonized)?
Answers in a comment, please... (Anyone reading this via LJ feed, I'll make sure to check comments there too for once, so you don't have to sign up to Blogger to have your say.)
*I originally wrote 'some of the most important things', but then I read it back and realized that was a ridiculous thing to say. What I mean is, 'some of the things I would enjoy teaching about'.