'I Urge You to Drop E67-02': Course Syllabi by Famous Authors


This is what it'd be like to take a class taught by David Foster Wallace, Katie Roiphe, or Zadie Smith.

banner david-foster-wallace teaching.jpg
David Foster Wallace

Every once in a while, one of eminent professor and author David Foster Wallace's syllabi emerges on the Internet, and devotees head to their local bookstores. In that spirit, I've taken this opportunity to pull together a series of famous authors' syllabi and reading lists. Who needs to go to college when you've got a list of texts from the best and a public library?

David Foster Wallace's syllabus, English 102—Literary Analysis 1: Prose Fiction, 1994 [via OpenCulture]


Donald Barthelme's reading list for students [via Believer]:


Zadie Smith's syllabus for her Spring 2009 Writing R6212 section 001 [via The Village Voice]:

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, David Foster Wallace
Catholics, Brian Moore
The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka
Crash, J.G. Ballard
An Experiment in Love, Hilary Mantel
Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader, David Lodge
The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
My Loose Thread, Dennis Cooper
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
The Loser, Thomas Bernhard
The Book of Daniel, E.L. Doctorow
A Room with a View, E.M. Forster
Reader's Block, David Markson
Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
The Quiet American, Graham Greene

Plus: George Saunders's Pastoralia, Tom McCarthy's Remainder, W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, JG Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, readings from Orwell, and Richard Yates's Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.

Course Description:

What does 'having a sensibility', literary or otherwise, mean? Is it something one acquires, something innate, or something else again? We're going to read a selection of very good 20th century novels (and one book of poems) concentrating on whatever is most particular to them, in the hope that this might help us understand whatever is most particular to us. The reading list is long* and heterogeneous in the hope of encouraging sympathy for a broad range of literary sensibilities regardless of what our own natural inclinations may be. Students will give short presentations, and at the end of the course will write a piece of fiction, or a piece of literary criticism, of at least five pages.

The course will be punctuated by secondary readings of literary criticism and philosophy.

* Most of the novels are short.

W. H. Auden's syllabus for English 135 at the University of Michigan during the 1941-42 academic year [via Alan Jacobs]:


Susan Howe's syllabus for Poetics: Sexuality and Space in 17th - 19th Century American Literature, 1996 [via SUNY at Buffalo]

SYLLABUS English 3 9 : Professor Susan Howe. Spring 1996. Thursdays 3:30-6:30 pm.

Though we wander about,
find no honey of flowers in this waste,
is our task the less sweet-
who recall the old splendour,
await the new beauty of cities?

The city is peopled
with spirits, not ghosts, O my love:

Though they crowded between
and usurped the kiss of my mouth
their breath was your gift,
their beauty, your life.

H.D. from "Cities" (Sea Gardens)
Who knows the curious mystery of the eyesight? The other senses corroborate themselves, but this is removed from any proof but its own and foreruns the identities of the spiritual world. A single glance of it mocks all the investigations of man and all the instruments and books of the earth and all reasoning.

The great poet forms the consistence of what is to be from what has been and is. He drags the dead out of their coffins and stands them again on their feet. . . . he says to the past, Rise and walk before me that I may realize you. He learns the lesson. . . . he places himself where the future becomes present.

Walt Whitman-from Preface to Leaves of Grass

We will begin by examining the literature of Puritan New England. During the 17th century, women, figured as converts, heretics, captives, goodwives, and witches.; indeed Puritan women and young girls were simultaneously represented as embodiments of exemplary virtue and deplorable deviance. We will explore a variety of genres-conversion narratives, captivity narratives, heresiographies, trial transcripts, diaries.

During the second half of the semester will concentrate on the powerful subliminal influence these issues and texts exert on certain 19th century American works. Concentration will be on primary texts but I want to enter our discussions of Hawthorne, Dickinson, and James via two books: Jonathan Crary's Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century, and Sexuality and Space, edited by Beatriz Colomina.

Required Texts:
Two Packets containing much of the reading. The first one available the first day of class checks to be paid to the UB Foundation. David Hall ed., The Antinomian Controversy 1636-38. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Ninteenth Century. Beatriz Colomina, ed. , Sexuality and Space, Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Young Goodman Brown," "The Gentle Boy," Alice Doane's Appeal," "Rappaccini's Daughter." The Marble Faun, Henry James, "The Ghostly Rental," "Maud-Evelyn," " The Turn of the Screw," What Maisie Knew, The Golden Bowl.

There will be a group of recommended but not required texts on reserve in the library. Most importantly The Manuscript Books of Emily Dickinson edited by Ralph Franklin.

1. A class presentation on a subject that I will assign (10-15 minutes no more no less). Although I will assign research subjects to each member of the seminar how you chose to present your research to the group is up to you. This is a poetics seminar and If you wish to take an experimental approach to your oral presentation . You are welcome to do so however you will need your strategy with me first. Keep in mind "experimental" is the process of trying or testing something. Something specific.

2. Two copies of a 1-2 page weekly written free-form response to some aspect of the material read and or discussed each week. One copy should be handed in to me at the beginning of each session, the other is for each member of the seminar.

3. A final research paper or video production due on the last day of class April 25 (latest possible due date April 30).

1. Th. 1. 25. First Lecture. Overview, intentions for the semester etc. Slides of Dickinson prose fragments and letters. Discussions of issues these slides of her manuscripts raise when we come to consider the Antinomian Controversy.

"The Poems" will ever be to me marvellous whether in manuscript or type.

Susan Gilbert Dickinson to Thomas Wentworth Higginson.
2. Th . 2.1. Anne Hutchinson and the Antinomian Controversy.
3. Th. 2. 8. Conversion Narratives and Thomas Shepard "Autobiography."

4. Th. 2. 15. Captivity Narratives. Mary Rowlandson, Hannah Dustan (Thoreau and Mather versions).

5. Th. 2. 22. Witchcraft in NE. Trials and cases of possession. Cotton Mather, historian, minister and doctor. "Brand," "Ornaments for the daughters of Zion," exerpts from Magnalia Christi Americana.

6. Th. 2. 29. The Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards "A Faithful Narrative, "Narratives of Surprising Conversions" " Personal Narrative." Sarah Edwards Narrative of Conversion and Esther Edwards Burr, excerpts from Narrative and Journals in second packet..

7. Th. 3. 7. Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century . Hawthorne. "Young Goodman Brown," "The Gentle Boy," "Alice Doane's Appeal, " "Rappaccini's Daughter. "

8. Th. 3. 14. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun . Henry James, Hawthorne.

9. Th. 3. 28. Emily Dickinson. Alice James, excerpts from the Diary (in second packet. )

10. Th. 4. 4. Henry James, "The Ghostly Rental," "The Turn of the Screw, " "Maud-Evelyn." "The Question of our Speech. "

11. Th. 4. 11. Henry James. What Maisie Knew.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Emily Temple is an editor at Flavorpill.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.


A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.


What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.


Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.



More in Entertainment

Just In