English R1B

Reading and Composition: Audio Texts: Reading and/as Listening Since 1930

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Spring 2021 Ullman, Alex
MWF 11-12


“Every book is already an audiobook,” argue Matthew Rubery and Christopher Cannon in their “Introduction” to the 2020 PMLA forum on “Aurality and Literacy.” Their statement is meant to signify the double ontology of the codex: how textuality and orality—the shapes of the letters and the shapes of the vocal chords—are always connected in the acts of reading and writing. But to many ears, the statement could also double as a marketing slogan for the audiobook industry, which, led by companies like Audible.com, produces over five-thousand new recordings every month. What’s different when we listen to a text than when we read it silently? How are literary forms affected by the acoustic formats in which they are marketed and experienced?

This class takes up these questions by looking closely at the aesthetics and the politics of audio texts. We’ll cover a variety of different forms (drama, narrative, poetry), genres (sci-fi, fantasy, literary fiction, personal narrative), and formats (radio program, audiobook, podcast). But the core of the class will be exploring the history of radio drama across three different historical periods: American (1937-54); mid-century British (1954-1974) and the contemporary era (1970-now). What is specific to the history, theory, and medium of radio drama, and how did the genre leave its mark on the other forms of audio texts, both fiction and non-fiction? We’ll also look closely at what is called the “politics of narration”: if identity markers across race, class, gender, and ability shape the human voice, is some degree of stereotyping inevitable in these audio texts?

Students will write at least one research paper but will also have the opportunity to produce writing in other forms and formats, including: close readings and listening to selected radio dramas; interviews with a current audio writer, actor, or director; collaborative work to write, rehearse, record, and mix an original audio drama based on a classical piece.

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