English courses explore modern literature


Out with the old, in with the new.

Rather than reading typical classics such as “Grapes of Wrath” or “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a few professors choose to engage students in a discourse regarding more current stories and themes they can relate to.

“I decided right away I did not want to do the stereotypical, canonical work,” said Michael Yetter, an English graduate assistant. “I wanted to get some impressions from my students on works that were not canonical.”

While some courses focus more on current literary works, professors are not dismissive of the classics.

“I often see that contemporary literature engages and continues on from the classics,” said Christoph Lindner, an associate professor of film and literature. “You need to know the classics to fully enjoy and understand where we are now in terms of writing, filmmaking and art in general.”

Some courses recognize the graphic novel as a credible material to study. Graphic novels like the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Maus” and the popular “Watchmen” have been seen in classrooms.

This year, in the Rhetoric and Composition II course, the graphic novel “Superman For All Seasons” is being taught.

Tony DiSanto, an English graduate assistant in composition and fiction, said the graphic novel has been well-received by students.

“I’ve had really good reactions from students with the contemporary material that I’ve given to them – the graphic novel especially,” DiSanto said.

Professors of these courses choose the literature themselves, but personal taste is not the only factor. Some set an interconnecting theme between selections, while others use their choices as an aid to reinforce student identity.

“I do think that American students need to graduate from college with a strong sense of who they are as members of a group,” said Ibis Gomez-Vega, an English associate professor of Literary Topics and American Literature from 1960 to the present. “To do so, they need to know their history and their literature that defines them.”

Non-traditional professors’ selections have included “Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” “Choke,” “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” “Terrorist” and other titles such as “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

“I think they’re really good and they’ll probably be the classics that future generations will read anyway,” said junior English major Crystal Dorrington.

Students reading these literary selections are pleased with them.

“I prefer it,” said senior English major Kristen Weygandt. “Reading stuff that isn’t traditional literature makes me learn a lot more from it, especially when getting away from British literature, and you’re able to relate a lot more with the books.”