Spring 2017 Classes | African-American Lit, Retellings, Debate, & More

Today is the first day of the new semester! I’m super excited to tell you all about the courses I’m taking this spring.


Black Fiction Now

This course introduces students to 20th and 21st century African-American literature with a focus on recent black writing and art.  We will examine the eclectic forms of black creativity of the post-Obama era and will analyze how writers use literature and art to engage with contemporary social and political issues.

How are artists of color representing this current moment in American culture, a moment of both promise (Barack Obama’s presidency) and precarity (the near-daily images of African Americans being killed)? How – and why – do contemporary artists engage with an afterlife of slavery? What are the influences of popular culture, music, and art on 20th & 21st century black literature?  How do contemporary black authors define – or dispute – a “post-racial” America or the Obama effect? Examining various forms of literature, as well as art, film, and TV shows, this class will help students understand the complexity and efficacy of Black Fiction Now.

We will begin with classic texts of the early and mid 20th century to establish a historical foundation for the course. We will then move on to the writings of Toni Morrison, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Colson Whitehead, Roxane Gay, Paul Beatty, and other writers, and read the writings and speeches of Barack and Michelle Obama.

This class comes first not just because it’s listed first on my course schedule but also because it’s the one I’m most looking forward to! I want to take as many courses about contemporary and/or pop culture media as possible during my years as an English major, so I was thrilled to get into this class.

Also, yay for diversity! Yay for getting to discuss some of my favorite authors, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, in the classroom!* And yay for being able to take this course with my best friend Jill! We’re gonna have so much fun.

*For the second time, actually. I just remembered that I had to read some of their writing in Intro to Gender, Women’s, & Sexuality Studies, a course from the fall semester of my freshman year!

Literary Retelling and Impersonation

In this class we will explore, and hone our writing skills in, the twinned arts of retelling and impersonation.  Retelling is a form of literary recycling in which writers (novelists, poets, dramatists, et cetera) produce new versions of existing tales and texts. Impersonation, by contrast, is a form of literary mimicry in which writers produce new texts that attempt to “pass” as the work of the author being impersonated.

During the semester we will read example texts from diverse genres as a foundation for engaging in a variety of writing exercises that will emerge organically from this subject matter.  Everyone who enrolls should be willing to produce short retellings and impersonations in at least three different genres during the first half of the semester; thereafter, students will be encouraged to develop a longer retelling in a single genre of your choosing.

HECK. YEAH. I wasn’t even sure if there would be a spot left in this class! (As well as in Black Fiction Now, come to think of it.) I love how the genre (is it a genre? SOMEONE ENLIGHTEN ME PLS) of retellings has exploded over the past few years. I can’t wait to spend an entire semester reading and trying my hand at writing retellings – and I’m really curious to see what the impersonation component of this class consists of!

Foundations of the First Amendment

The course will cover the fundamental principles of mass media law and ethics. It will explore the interplay of law and ethics as they affect specific areas of the mass media. Emphasis will be placed on the legal privileges and limitations affecting the mass media and the key issues arising therefrom. The course, which will follow the case brief method, will focus on how the First Amendment and its press and speech clauses shape artistic endeavors and professional activities in the traditional as well as online media.

I mean… I wouldn’t take this course if it weren’t required for my journalism major, but it is. So I’ll make the best of it! As far as the Constitution goes, the 1st Amendment is definitely one of the more interesting ones simply because it encompasses so many different rights. This shouldn’t be a difficult course for me either, at least for the first few weeks, since my brother and I studied government pretty intensely in middle school and high school and I always enjoyed that subject.

On a less positive note, it will be terrifying interesting to see what Donald Trump does, or tries to do, to this amendment upon becoming president. Ahhhhhhh.

Writing Across Cultures

Journalism goes hand-in-hand with adventure – exploring new territories, braving the unknown. Journalists are often called on to cross borders – not just national ones, but borders of culture, identity, race, religion, and other markers of identity.

As part of thinking about reporting and writing in a diverse global context, this class will focus on the excitement, adventure and dilemmas of reporting on different spaces, places, and people. We will read the best cross-cultural and travel journalism, discuss concepts drawn from ethnography and social geography, and research and write stories based on students’ experiences of traversing cultural boundaries.

DIVERSITY. IN. JOURNALISM! I love that I’m able to pursue my interest in writing diversity in journalism courses as well as, of course, those taken through the English department. I would love to travel the world someday and I think it’s super important to write about one’s adventures in other places – and even more important to know how to do so respectfully. Like, how do you avoid cliches and stereotypes about both people and places?

Principles of Reasoning: Arguments and Debate

Socrates held that the only way to arrive at the truth is by an honest and objective use of critical reasoning. This course covers some of the main methods and principles that can be used to objectively evaluate whether an argument is good or bad. These techniques will be illustrated by considering controversial topics in ethics, science, and religion, among others.

We look at how to recognize an argument before evaluating it, and Socrates’ distinction between sophistry and philosophy. Methods for objectively evaluating deductive and inductive arguments will both be discussed. We also consider the difference between deductive proof and providing evidence for (or against) a given theory such as evolution or creationism.

There is a “quantitative or formal reasoning” component to the gen ed curriculum at my school and while it is usually met by taking a math course, I wanted to avoid that for obvious reasons. So I’m taking a philosophy course instead! I’m a little worried about the possibility of it being filled with douchey philosophy-major bros but hey, at least it’s something I’ve never studied before!


Now it’s YOUR turn! What classes are you taking this spring… or if you’ve already graduated, then what was your favorite and/or weirdest class you’ve ever taken?!


About nevillegirl

Elizabeth. University of Iowa class of 2019. Triple majoring in English & Creative Writing, Journalism, and Gender, Women's, & Sexuality Studies. Twenty-one-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, aspiring writer, and lesbian. Passionate about feminism, mental health, comic books, and cats.
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10 Responses to Spring 2017 Classes | African-American Lit, Retellings, Debate, & More

  1. As usual, I am ridiculously jealous of the classes you get to take! I’m excited for most of mine too, though — I’m taking Spanish Translation just because I can and I think it’s going to be fabulous.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Ooh! I’d love to take more Spanish classes so I can learn new things and avoid forgetting what I already know, but I think taking any now would ultimately be too overwhelming because it takes so much tiiiiime to get better at a foreign language and god knows I already have enough on my plate this semester.

      Good luck on your classes!

  2. These all sound like such interesting classes, and I wish I could take them too. I hope they’ll be really interesting, and that you’ll learn loads 😀 I’d actually be really interested in seeing what you saw in the Black Fiction Now classes, after you’ve finished them.

  3. YOUR CLASSES SOUND SO INTERESTING as usual. A course on retellings? YES PLEASE. Also, I’m actually really interested in that course on the first amendment … examining media and free speech and all that has always fascinated me because it’s like free speech is SO INCREDIBLY important, but at the same time can be used for great harm- but once you start restrictions, it’s a slippery slope ….

    Also, “douchey philosophy major bros” … AHAHAHAHA made my day.

    Im super excited for university EEEP… as I’m just starting this year. Im taking one philosophy course so hopefully neither of us will run into any of those kinds of people 😂. I’m also taking a course in computer programming, a general intro to psychology, and a general maths course. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but I’m still really hyped for it.

    • nevillegirl says:

      The First Amendment course IS really interesting! There’s a lot of reading, and most of it is super dense and hard to get through because right now we’re studying colonial and Revolutionary War-era America and everyone was super wordy, but it’s still pretty fun. 😄

      Good luck with all your classes! 😊

  4. Miriam Joy says:

    The retellings / impersonation one sounds interesting! It reminded me that the best fanfic I’ve read includes the kind where you sort of forget it’s not a part of the book because the writer has the voice down perfectly — I imagine a course like this would help with that. 🙂

    My courses are the same as usual because that’s how our system works. Medieval Irish Language and Lit, Anglo-Saxon History, Brittonic History, Gaelic History, Medieval French Lit (well, technically it’s called “Love, Violence and Power in France 1100-1500”), and my dissertation, which is on Medieval Irish Lit. I’m about to hand in an essay on Lancelot that is 50% of my grade for French, and then I’m going back to writing about magic in Irish lit for my dissertation.

  5. Mahima says:

    I’m going to be vicariously living through your classes. They all sound gorgeous and relevant and informative and I’m so envious! Mainly because half of this year will be spent learning very little new content: I’m studying Crime writing, learning about the course of German nationalism from 1789 to 1919 and learning some new weird and difficult to grasp Maths concepts – apart from that I’m just going over last year’s content for exams in the summer. Gah.

    But hey, in September I’ll hopefully be starting university. Hopefully.

    • nevillegirl says:

      Ooh, crime writing sounds interesting! Is it a fiction-based class, or more like journalism?

      I hope you head off to uni too! I know I’m excited to hear your thoughts about it. 😊

      • Mahima says:

        It’s a fiction-based class. My school only does the option of English Literature which means that sadly I can’t sample and study great pieces of non-fiction.

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