Recognized by campus awards for both undergraduate and graduate teaching, Parker teaches courses in American literature, critical theory, and Modern literature, especially fiction, poetry, and recent critical theory.
Selected Course Descriptions
The Theory and Study of Poetry and Fiction
What does a poem, story, or novel do, and how? Most contemporary practices of criticism and interpretation apply across genres, but critics can also gain from studying how poems, stories, and novels work specifically as poetry or prose fiction. Early in the course, students will acquaint or reacquaint themselves with prosody and narratology. (Previous background in those areas is welcome but not required or presumed.) Readings will include a good deal of sometimes highly technical theory and criticism, addressing strategies and debates in the study of poetry as poetry and the study of narrative fiction as narrative fiction. We will draw on the histories and present practices of both genres rather than on any one time period. In that way the course aims to serve students interested in any and all periods of English-language literary study. Each student will write a series of exercises and design a writing project that connects the material of the course to the student’s interests, usually several short papers or one short and one longer paper about specific poetry, fiction, movements in poetry or fiction, or criticism or theory about poetry or fiction.
American Fiction in the 1920s and 1930s
This course, deliberately organized more by time-period than by any particular argument about the time-period, will study a wide range of novels and stories and their varying refractions of formal, historical, and social interests, including Modernism and stream-of-consciousness; race, ethnicity, and indigeneity; poverty; region; and literary and social value. We will also address questions about gender, agency, representation, narrative form, literary history, and close reading that I might bring to almost any course. We will read canonical works as well as works that rarely appear on a syllabus, and we will read a modest assortment of related materials: works by the same or related writers, contemporary magazines, contemporary responses, history, criticism, etc. Prospective seminar members may find it particularly helpful to have the chance to read or reread The Sound and the Fury in the context of a class. This seminar will work by discussion. If you do not like to participate in discussion, then do not sign up for this seminar. Registered students can expect an emailed reading assignment for the first class approximately a week before classes begin.
Reading list: Ernest Hemingway, selections from The Short Stories; William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury; Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; Nella Larsen, Passing; Dorothy Parker, selections from Complete Stories; Tess Slesinger, The Unpossessed; Tom Kromer, Waiting for Nothing; John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath; D’Arcy McNickle, The Surrounded; Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God; Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter; and selections from The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.
American Modernist Literature
This course will sample American literary writing from between the world wars, closely studying individual writings and their roles in literary and cultural tradition. Along the way, we will ponder literary responses to changing gender and race relations, World War I, the roaring twenties, and the Great Depression. We will also consider the growth of Modernism and its revolutions in literary form as well as the relation between experiments in literary form and the era’s social and political conservatisms and radicalisms. We will read fiction by some of the most celebrated writers in American literature—Ernest Hemingway (short stories), F. Scott Fitzgerald (short stories), William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury)—as well as equally amazing novels and stories by less canonized or more recently canonized writers, including Nella Larsen’s Passing, Dorothy Parker’s short stories, Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, short fiction by Bruce Nugent, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, and Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. We will also read a greatest hits selection of a wide variety of poems by H.D., William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Wallace Stevens, and others. This course offers you the chance to read one of the stunningly great but forbiddingly difficult works in American literature—The Sound and the Fury—in the helpful company of others working it through with you, but be prepared to work hard and read it twice (if you have not read it before), as it makes far more sense on a second reading. Take this course only if you plan to attend class regularly and join actively in class discussion.
American Literature, 1945 to the Present
In studying nearly seventy years of prolific writing, we cannot pretend to find a representative sample in one semester, but we will read a set of works that provoke our interest for their variety of forms, styles, and topics, the dialogues they set up with each other and with readers, and the portraits they offer of American literature and culture since World War II. The reading list follows a series of loose pairings: Allen Ginsberg's Howl with Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, Ira Levin's A Kiss Before Dying with Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? with Ursula K. LeGuinn's The Left Hand of Darkness, Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine with Ray A. Young Bear's Black Eagle Child: The Facepaint Narratives, Tony Kushner's Angels in America with Margaret Edson's Wit, and Percival Everett's Erasure (which offers two novels in one) with itself. Where appropriate, we will watch clips from films based on the readings. We will also explore the world of contemporary literary journals, in print and online. Students who prefer to stay quiet in class should not take this course, because we will focus on discussion, and all students will be expected to join the dialog.
Introduction to Criticism and Research
This course is a survey-introduction to the concepts and methods of recent critical theory. In short, it is a ticket to engaged fluency in the dialogues and opportunities of contemporary criticism, designed for newer English graduate students (and more experienced graduate students) who do not already have a broad background in critical theory. We will proceed through a series of cumulative, overlapping units on new criticism, structuralism, deconstruction and poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, feminism, queer studies, Marxism, historicism, cultural studies, race studies (including critical race theory), postcolonial studies, reader response, environmental criticism, and disability studies. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in the Modern Critical Theory Tuesday evening lecture series sponsored by the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory and including parallel graduate seminars from other departments. Depending on scheduling and student interests, we may devote sessions to such practical concerns for graduate study in English as research methods, graduate writing, and organizing and planning your graduate studies and academic progress intellectually and administratively. Attendance, inquisitiveness, and vocal participation in class discussion are crucial.
Modernist Literature and Culture
Modernism was the great age of literary experiment and innovation. Novelists and poets disrupted the very forms of their writing with competing points of view, stream-of-consciousness narration, free verse splattered across the page, and stories that flaunt the expectation of resolved endings. Seeming certainties of gender, race, class, peace and war, physics, and the human mind collapsed. Everything seemed on the edge of ending—or of beginning anew. Concentrating on English-language Modernism (roughly 1910-1940), we will read an assortment of novels and poems and watch Georges Méliès, Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on the screen—all amidst the larger Modernist scene of accelerated change in science, technology, psychology and, especially, painting, music, and dance. Students need no particular previous experience studying Modernism, but all students must be prepared to attend class regularly, read regularly, join class discussion, and stretch their brains.
Critical Approaches to Literature
“How to Interpret Literature: An Introduction to Contemporary Critical Theory.” This course is required for English majors and minors and best not delayed for long. Seniors in the course regret not taking it sooner. Literature students write, think, and speak literary criticism, and this course sets out to make that process more interesting and—eventually—more fun. Literary critics have repeatedly reinvented literary and cultural criticism in ways that change how we interpret what we read and how we understand our daily lives. We will study such critical movements as new criticism, structuralism and narratology, deconstruction and poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, feminism, queer studies, Marxism, new historicism, cultural studies, race studies (including critical race studies), postcolonial studies, disability studies, and environmental criticism. This course prepares students for future literature classes, and it helps us understand and question the world around us and the entire project of critical thinking and reading. Attendance will be crucial, because we learn these concepts both by reading and by working with the concepts together. If you like to stay silent in class, or if you do not expect to attend class regularly, then do not take this section. Class time will focus on discussion, not on lecture, so you will need to do the reading and join your classmates in discussion.
American Indian Literature
One course cannot "cover" the enormous chronological, cultural, or generic range of Native American literature, but it can gather a sampling of fascinating works, and it can introduce the fields of American Indian literature and American Indian studies both in themselves and in relation to the larger framework of contemporary American literary study. We will begin with oral tales and the practice and theory of translating and writing down Native American oral literature, looking at both older and newer models. Then we will read two novels from the 1930s: John Joseph Mathews’ Sundown and D’Arcy McNickle’s The Surrounded. In the second half of the semester we will concentrate on fiction and poetry from the great burgeoning of American Indian literature in the last thirty years, including Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, and Thomas King’s Medicine River, as well as poetry by Ray A. Young Bear, Joy Harjo, Erdrich, Chrystos, and Sherman Alexie. Please note that students registered for the class will receive a possibly lengthy reading assignment for the first class at least one week before classes begin. Anyone considering the course is welcome to talk with me before registering (my office is English Building 329). Writing assignments will include your choice of either a) three short-to-medium length papers or b) one short paper followed by a paper that aspires to article scale. Assigned reading will include (tentatively) the novels and poetry listed above, the volumes listed below, and a large amount of additional material. (Students in the class will have the opportunity to prepare a paper for the annual CIC American Indian Studies Consortium Graduate Student Conference, either for 2008 or for 2009.)
Paul Radin, The Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology, 1956; Finding the Center: Narrative Poetry of the Zuni Indians, ed. Dennis Tedlock, 1972, 1999; Ray A. Young Bear, Black Eagle Child: The Facepaint Narratives, 1992; Parker, The Invention of Native American Literature, 2003. Recommended: Parker, How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies, 2008.
After Multiculturalism: Cultural Identities and Contemporary Literary Studies
Working from the general assumption that so-called multiculturalism is more or less a good thing, this course considers arguments about the benefits, side-effects, and unwitting dangers of multiculturalism, including allegations that multiculturalism often flattens difference, fosters imperialism under another name (let's all work together--my way), substitutes superficial variety or simplistic cultural celebration for critical thinking, or betrays crucial principles such as the rights of women, the legitimacy of non-dominant sexual orientations, or the rights of individuals. We will study these debates and their consequences for reading, interpreting, and writing about literature. This is a new course, and the reading list is still under development, but it will include a variety of non-fictional prose about these issues, such as the collection Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? and other writing by cultural critics. We will read a selection of short stories, novels, and plays by Hisaye Yamamoto (short fiction), James Baldwin (Giovanni's Room), Caryl Churchill (Cloud Nine), Beryl Markham (West with the Night, a memoir), Nguki wa Thiong'o (Devil on the Cross), D'Arcy McNickle (Wind from an Enemy Sky), William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night), Toni Morrison ("Recitative"), and others along with related literary criticism. To take this class, you must be ready for hard thinking and difficult, controversial issues, ready to open your mind to perspectives that might challenge your customary thinking, and ready to join class discussion and respect other students' opinions. Anyone considering the course is welcome to talk with me before registering (my office is EB 329).
Intro to the Study of Literature
This course is your path to future courses in English literary studies—and to reading for the rest of your life. We will immerse ourselves in the specific strategies and pleasures of reading, interpreting, and discussing poetry, drama, and fiction and of writing intellectually rigorous and ambitious interpretive essays about what we read. Students should be prepared to attend class regularly, read regularly, join class discussion, and build on and expand beyond what they already know. [Please note: if you don’t want to speak in class, then this section is not for you.]
Courses Taught at the University of Illinois
101 Introduction to Poetry
200 Intro to the Study of Lit
213 Modernist Lit and Culture
215 Introduction to Contemporary Literary and Critical Theory
249 The American Novel
255 Survey of American Literature, I
256 Survey of American Literature, II
300 Writing about Literature: Selected American Novels
300 Writing about Literature: American Fiction in the 1920s and 1930s
300 Writing about Literature: American Indian Literature
300 Writing about Literature: After Multiculturalism: Cultural Identities
& Contemporary Literary Studies
300 Writing about Literature: American Literature Since 1945
301 Critical Approaches to Literature
397 Defining and Redefining the Canon of the American Novel
397 American Indian Literature
449 The American Renaissance
451 American Literature from the First World War to the Present
451 American Modernist Literature, 1914-1945
452 American Literature, 1945 to the Present
460 American Indian Literature
461 American Indian Literature
483 Contemporary Literary and Critical Theory
500 Introduction to Research and Critical Techniques
553 American Fiction in the 1920s and 1930s
553 American Indian Literature
564 Defining and Redefining the Canon of the American Novel
581 Contemporary Literary and Critical Theory
[Illinois course numbers are listed according to the current numbering system.]
Courses taught at the University of Michigan
240 Introduction to Poetry
270 Introduction to American Literature
280 Introduction to Twentieth-Century Literature
357 "Core III" (survey of Victorian and Modern Literature)
432 The American Novel
472 Twentieth-Century American Literature
Courses taught at Yale University
110 Principles of Composition
111 Problems in Composition
114 Reading and Writing Prose
120 Modern Prose: Advanced Writing
129 The European Literary Tradition: Epic from Homer to Joyce