English 20

Modern British and American Literature: Pandemic Fiction

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2020 Snyder, Katherine
MW 5-6:30

Book List

Atwood, Margaret: Oryx and Crake; Atwood, Margaret: The Year of the Flood; Mandel, Emily St. John: Station Eleven; Whitehead, Colson: Zone One


Through the centuries, pandemics have supplied storytellers with fodder for reflections on community and isolation, humanity and inhumanity, hope and despair, and how the future might be imagined in the face of widespread disease and death. In 2020, the world of pandemic is too much with us, but reading pandemic narratives may allow us to reconnect, not blindly but with care and thought, to the world of the living. 

We will briefly survey excerpts from classics of the pandemic fiction genre ranging from the 14th to the 20th century, by such authors as Boccacio, Defoe, M. Shelley, Poe, London, and Camus. Next, we will consider several iconic representations of the AIDS crisis, especially Tony Kushner’s two-part play “Angels in America” and its HBO mini-series adaptation. We will devote the lion’s share of our time to recent post-apocalyptic pandemic novels and stories, well-wrought genre fiction by Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead, Junot Diaz, and Emily St. John Mandel. Along the way, we may view a couple of pandemic movies, possibly “12 Monkeys,” “Night of the Living Dead,” and/or “Shaun of the Dead.”

The readings for the course are subject to change, so don’t buy any of the listed books until you get the syllabus on the first day of class. Requirements include active participation in class discussions; frequent bCourses posts; two short essays; a brief personal narrative or work of fiction; and a final exam.

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