Intro to Lit: Literary History

Politics and Fiction: Women Writing the American Public


In January 2017, the largest single-day protest in American history marked a tenable shift in public movements. U.S.-nationwide, between three and five million people gathered in their communities, in public spaces, and in front of government buildings to visibilize discontent with the political and social status quo. The American narrative constructed through single stories of race, socioeconomic, gender, and political relations is reproduced through the same moral-political lens; the March forced public attention and response to the uncomfortable, the inconceivable, the ignored stories that undergird our national story, that which is both retold internally and which is seen abroad.


Since 2017, the annual Women’s March continues intervention in the ongoing rhetoric about women’s rights as/and human rights, and the demands for a new national narrative to be written and reproduced. Where the private has been made public, women’s voices are moving to the fore and demanding recognition and change.


We will examine a historical path to the 2017 Women’s March through primary texts by American women writers of the 20th century. While the Women’s March has taken to the global public, its origination in the United States steers our inquiry toward such issues as slavery, immigration, reproductive rights, labor concerns, LGBTQ rights, and representation. As we confront the stories that have shaped our public, we will rely on authors such as Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Alison Bechdel, Silvia Plath, Carmen Maria Machado and/or others to engage questions like What is public and what is private? What is gendered memory? What is history? How do these (hi)stories link to the private and the public? How do women and other marginalized groups negotiate the public while retaining agency over the private? How might we mobilize these texts to create an American public that includes and, perhaps, reforms?


Students will be expected to read and discuss course texts, write short response papers, and complete a final project.