Treasure(d) Maps: Writing the American South

English 374-01

Most twentieth century U.S. Southern literary novels do not begin or end with words but rather with maps. Included as pictorial representations depicting setting or supplemental tools meant to further situate novels within a broader geographic context, oftentimes, maps offer a preview, even a purview, of the literary narratives they supplement. But if we read maps that accompany U.S. Southern literature – read not skim or skip or sidestep – it becomes clear that the very tools that purport to orientation and direction complicate how we understand setting and provide counter-narratives to the stories they accompany. In this course, we will investigate to what ends canonical and non-canonical American authors alike incorporate invented, rewritten, or unfinished maps into their literary works. By considering how these authors-turned-cartographers engage in practices of demarcation, decide which areas are deemed representable, and create legends to assess land, sky, and sea, we will ask whether or not these maps legitimize narratives, engender divergent stories, and/or constrain readerly possibilities.             

Attention to writers and the maps they claim describe the U.S. South raises its own set of questions about what constitutes regional identity. Together we will ask what happens if we consider the South as the northern rim of the Caribbean as it is in Paule Marshall’s Brown Girl, Brownstones? What if we look south of the South to encounter new places like the unnamed Central American city in Cristina Garcia’s The Lady Matador’s Hotel? What if the South is not a place at all but an undesired and inescapable fantasy as in Octavia Butler’s Kindred? Broadening our definition of what comprises the South will inevitably demand that we rethink what we mean by the term “American.” As such, this course will include people you might already expect insofar as reading from William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, and Flannery O’Connor. But we will also attend to material including Native American fiction and Caribbean-American transatlantic novels like that of Michelle Cliff. In addition to participation, students will write three papers (6-8 pp), contribute to a class blog, and complete a creative final project where they create their own digital map for one of the texts we read in the course.

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