English R1B

Reading and Composition: Tricksters and Transformations in the Old, Weird America

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
10 Spring 2018 McWilliams, Ryan
TTh 5-6:30 122 Wheeler

Book List

Alcott, Louisa May: Behind a Mask; Bird, Robert Montgomery: Sheppard Lee; Chesnutt, Charles W.: Conjure Tales; Kingston, Maxine Hong: Tripmaster Monkey

Other Readings and Media

Bob Dylan, extensive audio selections

Film: I'm Not There, Todd Haynes

A course reader will likely include excerpts from Native American trickster tales, Mikhail Bakhtin, P.T. Barnum, William and Ellen Craft, William Wells Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edgar Allan Poe, and Herman Melville.


In this course, we'll examine how authors have imagined and re-imagined the carnivalesque aspects of American life. We'll read stories about con-men, tricksters, wandering ghosts, seducers, conjurers, and other rhetorical magicians. In addition to considering how characters con one another, we'll focus on Native-American, African-American, and Asian-American authors' varied uses of theatricality and language to subvert power structures and preserve cultural heritages. We'll conclude the course with a unit on artistic metamorphosis, evaluating ways that Bob Dylan constantly reinvents himself in part by excavating folk traditions from the Old, Weird America.

You will choose a research topic related to the course theme and ultimately produce a polished 12-15 page argumentative essay. The course focus on performativity will provide a means to consider broader questions of academic norms and audience expectations. You will learn to find critical works, differentiate between more and less credible sources, and locate your arguments in an ongoing scholarly conversation. Along the way, you will refine your project by producing formal research questions, annotated bibliographies, and drafts, and by reviewing one another's work.

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