ENG20430 Modern American Literature

Academic Year 2021/2022

'Make it new' was Ezra Pound's view of the fundamental role of the Modernist writer, yet it is an indication of the complexity of American Modernism that the writers involved approach the 'new' in radically different ways. The course will introduce and develop an understanding of American modernism, both in terms of the particularities of American culture in the early twentieth century, and in relation to its complex relationship with Europe. Particular attention will be paid to concepts of race/ethnicity, gender, politics and social activism as ways of emphasising the plurality of American modernism, as well as the diverse aesthetic forms which give it expression. In its geographical reach, the course encompasses writing from the American West, rural Wisconsin, New York (from Harlem to the Jewish American community of the Lower East Side), the American South, and expatriate experience in post-war Britain and France.

At the core of the course is an exploration of the complex, shifting and dynamic nature of American Modernism, both in terms of the creative output of its writers, and in relation to the critics and theorists who attempt to define it.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

1. Demonstrate a critical understanding of American Modernism, one that is alert to its complexity and diversity.
2. Engage with key critical and theoretical concepts such as race/ethnicity, gender, and the dynamic and shifting nature of cultural forms and national identities.
3. Develop an understanding of the historical and cultural contexts from which modernist writing emerges.
4. Apply such concepts and contexts to close anlaysis of poetic and narrative form.
5. Develop an ability to engage in discussion of course texts and themes in the workshops accompanying the lectures for this module.
6. Develop and write a research essay on a topic related to this module.
7. Complete an examination at the end of the semester.

Indicative Module Content:

The key focus of the course is the diversity and complexity of American Modernism. Consequently the course examines a range of male and female writers across varied ethnic and regional perspectives, and engages with innovations in both narrative and poetic practice.

Topics and writers may include (subject to amendment):

Introduction to the Themes and Contexts of American Modernism

The Waste Land: The Poet in the Modern City

Moving Toward Modernity: Edith Wharton, 'Ethan Frome'

William Carlos Williams and Imagism

The Harlem Renaissance: Constructing Black Modernity

Langston Hughes: Modernity, the Blues and Jazz

Zora Neale Hurston/Nella Larsen: Blackness, Modernity and the Woman Writer

Willa Cather: Regional and Rural Modernisms

Anzia Yezierska: Vernacular Modernism and the Urban Immigration Novel

Lorine Niedecker’s Poetics: Folk / Avant garde Modernism

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Small Group


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
The course combines Lectures (with PowerPoint presentations) and Small Group Teaching.

The Lectures will focus on a specific writer/texts and will also engage with different critical perspectives.

The SGT classes allow for more interactive teaching: they are led by a tutor, focused on set reading (based on lecture topics) and are structured around student discussion and debate.

The course demands preparatory reading and independent preparation in advance of both lectures and SGT. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Exclusions:

American Modernism ENG 30230

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
ENG30230 - American Modernism, ENG31280 - American Literature (EVENING)

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: 2000 word essay based on set essay questions. One question to be selected. Varies over the Trimester n/a Graded No


Examination: Online exam. Timing per registrar 2 hour End of Trimester Exam Yes Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Continuous Assessment Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Tutors will schedule sessions for essay feedback for individual classes. An additional essay cover sheet (with comments) may be given.

ENG: 20430 Modern American Literature (2019-2020)

Reading List (Provisional)

Primary Texts:

1. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. 978-0393679021

2. Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918). Norton edition.

3 Nella Larsen, Passing . Any edition.

4. Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (1925). Norton edition.
5. Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
6. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

Please consult the Brightspace page for final readings. A novel or two will be added
Additional short fictions and poetry will be linked or posted via Brightspace

Secondary Reading:

The Cambridge Companion to American Modernism, ed., Walter Kalaidjian (Cambridge UP: 2005).

Additional secondary reading will be posted/ linked via Brightspace.

Name Role
Dr Katherine Fama Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Clare Hayes-Brady Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Adam Kelly Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Maria Stuart Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Assoc Professor Nerys Williams Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Dr Katherine Fama Tutor