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
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 city fiction, southern fiction, race and ethnicity, stream-of-consciousness, modernism, poverty, the grotesque, 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 a good number of works that rarely appear on a syllabus and a modest assortment of related materials: works by the same or related writers, contemporary magazines, contemporary responses, history, criticism, etc. Writing assignments will probably 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. Please note that there will be a reading assignment for the first class posted by my office door at least one week before classes begin. Anyone considering the course is welcome to talk with me before registering (my office is EB 329).
Selections from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway; William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury; Nella Larsen, Passing; Dorothy Parker, selections from Complete Stories; Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; Tom Kromer, Waiting for Nothing; Henry Roth, Call It Sleep; Tess Slesinger, The Unpossessed; Erskine Caldwell, Tobacco Road; 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 poetry and fiction from between the world wars, closely studying a set of individual texts and their roles in literary and cultural tradition. Along the way, we will ponder literary responses to changing gender and race relations, to World War I, the roaring twenties, and the Great Depression. We will also consider the growth of modernism and its revolutions in literary form and the era's social and political conservatisms and radicalisms. We will read work by some of the most celebrated writers in American literature—Ernest Hemingway (short stories), William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury), and T. S. Eliot—as well as work by less canonized or more recently canonized writers, including poetry by Langston Hughes and a selection of Imagist poets, Nella Larsen’s Passing, Dorothy Parker’s short stories, Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing, and Carson McCullers' The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. 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, 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. If you don’t want to speak in class, then take another course. Writing requirements will probably include several papers and a final exam.
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 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, new historicism, cultural studies, critical race theory, postcolonial studies, and reader response, including attention to ecocriticism and disability studies. We will also 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, preparing for publication, and organizing and planning one's graduate studies and academic progress intellectually and administratively. Attendance, inquisitiveness, and active participation in class discussion are crucial. Students who prefer to be seen but not heard should not enroll.
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 more-or-less novels from high Modernism to detective novels, read a wide selection of poems, and watch Charlie Chaplin on the screen—all amidst the larger Modernist scene of accelerated changes in science and technology and innovations in painting, music, dance, and psychology. 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 literature majors and is best not delayed for too long. Seniors usually 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. In the last half century, critics have repeatedly reinvented literary and cultural criticism in ways that can deeply influence 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, critical race theory, postcolonial studies, and reader response. This course prepares students for future literature classes, and more to the point, it helps us understand and question the entire project of critical thinking and reading. Attendance will be crucial, for we learn these concepts both by reading and by working with the concepts together. Class time will focus on discussion and more discussion, not on lecture. Each student will write multiple short papers and make multiple class presentations. If you like to stay silent in class and do not want to make class presentations, don’t take this section. Readings will include How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies (2nd edition, 2011) and Critical Theory: A Reader for Literary and Cultural Studies (2012).
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).
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