American Passages: A Literary Survey
American Passages: A Literary Survey is a 16-part American literature course. The video programs, print guides, and Web site place literary movements and authors within the context of history and culture. The course takes an expanded view of American literary movements, bringing in a diversity of voices and tracing the continuity among them.
1. Native Voices Native Americans had established a rich and highly developed tradition of oral literature long before the writings of the European colonists. This program explores that richness by introducing Native American oral traditions through the work of three contemporary authors: Leslie Marmon Silko (Laguna Pueblo), Simon Ortiz (Acoma Pueblo), and Luci Tapahonso (Navajo).
2. Exploring Borderlands Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa tells us that the border is “una herida abierta [an open wound] where… the lifeblood of two worlds is merging to form a third country — a border culture.” This program explores the literature of the Chicano borderlands and its beginnings in the literature of Spanish colonization.
3. Utopian Promise When British colonists landed in the Americas, they created communities that they hoped would serve as a “light onto the nations.” But what role would the native inhabitants play in this new model community? This program compares the answers of two important groups, the Puritans and Quakers, and exposes the lasting influence they had upon American identity.
4. Spirit of Nationalism The Enlightenment brought new ideals and a new notion of selfhood to the American colonies. This program begins with an examination of the importance of the trope of the self-made man in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and then turns to the development of this concept in the writings of Romanticist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
5. Masculine Heroes In 1898, Frederick Jackson Turner declared the frontier as the defining feature of American culture, but American authors had uncovered its significance much earlier. This program turns to three key writers of the early national period — James Fenimore Cooper, John Rollin Ridge, and Walt Whitman — and examines the influential visions of American manhood offered by each author.
6. Gothic Undercurrents What was haunting the American nation in the 1850s? The three writers treated in this program — Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson — use poetry and prose to explore the dark side of nineteenth-century America.
7. Slavery and Freedom How has slavery shaped the American literary imagination and American identity? This program turns to the classic slave narratives of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass and the fiction of Harriet Beecher Stowe. What rhetorical strategies do their works use to construct an authentic and authoritative American self?
8. Regional Realism Set in the antebellum American South, but written after Emancipation, Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains a classic of American literature. This program compares Twain’s depiction of Southern vernacular culture to that of Charles Chestnutt and Kate Chopin, and in doing so, introduces the hallmarks of American Realism.
9. Social Realism This program presents the authors of the American Gilded Age, such as Edith Wharton, and juxtaposes them with social realists like Anzia Yezierska. These writers expose the double world that made up turn–of–the–century New York: that of the elite and that of the poorest of the poor. Which of these realities is the more truly American?
10. Rhythms in Poetry Amidst the chaos following World War I, Ezra Pound urged poets to “Make it new!” This call was heeded by a large range of poets, ranging from T. S. Eliot to Jean Toomer. This program explores the modernist lyrics of two of these poets: William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes. What is modernism? How did these poets start a revolution that continues until this day?
11. Modernist Portraits Jazz filled the air and wailed against the night. Caught in the sway, American prose writers sought out the forbidden — the slang, the dialects, and the rhythms of the folk and of everyday life. Writers such as Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald forged a new style: one which silhouetted the geometry of language, crisp in its own cleanness.
12. Migrant Struggle Americans have often defined themselves through their relationship to the land. This program traces the social fiction of three key American voices: John Steinbeck, Carlos Bulosan, and Helena María Viramontes.
13. Southern Renaissance “My subject in fiction,” Flannery O’Connor tells us, “is the action of grace in the territory held largely by the devil.” One might do well to ask what, if not the devil, haunts the American South in this era between the wars. This program uncovers the revisioning of Southern myths during the modernist era by writers William Faulkner and Zora Neale Hurston.
14. Becoming Visible This program guides the viewer through the works and contexts of ethnic writers from 1945–1965. Starting with the works of Ralph Waldo Ellison, Philip Roth, and N. Scott Momaday, we explore the way writers from the margins took over the center of American culture.
15. Poetry of Liberation For many, the 1960s mark the true end of modern America. Whereas the modernists remained serious about the transcendent nature of art, the artists of the 1960s wanted an art that was relevant. They wanted an art that not only spoke about justice, but also helped create it. This program explores the innovations made in American poetry in the 1960s by Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and Adrienne Rich.
16. Search for Identity Even as the poets were fostering a rebellion, contemporary prose writers began creating a new American Tradition comprised of many strands, many voices, and many myths about the past. This program explores the search for identity by three American writers: Maxine Hong Kingston, Sandra Cisneros, and Leslie Feinberg.
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