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Reading the Cosmopolitan: American Fiction and the City.

Course registration will be available for this course once it is scheduled.

Course Description

This course focuses on the significance of the cosmopolitan city to 20th and 21st century American literature and cinema. Through it, students will learn about the history and role of urban writing in the US, and how through this genre varied cultural experiences are presented and explored.

Why do we come together, live together and stay together in urban settings, and how is that experience represented? In its consideration of these questions, this class will address the cultural and literary significance of the city in American literature and cinema, exploring how the experience of urban life has shaped fiction and film from Fitzgerald to Ben Lerner. We’ll read, among others, works or excerpts from Truman Capote, HP Lovecraft, James Baldwin, Maxine Hong Kingston, Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, and analyze the cultural and artistic significance of films by Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen and Wes Anderson. We’ll go to the RISD museum to examine and discuss artistic representations of the American city, visit the Providence Athenaeum, and take the Lovecraft Walking Tour of College Hill to envision and experience the method of one of Providence’s own native writers.
Through its attention to the development of the variegated strands of city-writing, this class will pose questions of gender, race and class as they appear in the works of the above writers as integral to its focus on urban cosmopolitanism. Students will write short response papers to some of the texts studied, participate in discussions of varying sizes, and create a final group project in which they will demonstrate their understanding of the telos of the course.
Reading and discussing these texts individually and together will give students a unique lens through which to address American literature, preparing them thoroughly for introductory college courses on this subject. Particular attention will be paid to developing close reading skills, interpreting objects, and to methodologies of interpreting films and cultural artifacts. In its attention to American history and culture, this course will also provide a useful framework for those pupils interested in cultural studies, anthropology, American studies and art history at the tertiary level.

Students will obtain a nuanced knowledge of American cultural history as it relates to the city, and will develop their skills in close reading and writing through the assignment of response papers. They will learn formal methods of analyzing and reading film as text and artifact, work to deadlines, and gain experience in the discipline of small-group work as it is performed at university.

Prerequisites: This class is open to all, but will be particularly accessible to high school juniors and seniors. Students should have at least some preliminary experience of writing literary or cultural essays, and should have a strong interest in the development of their skills in the disciplines of English literature and American history.