Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Class Narratives

Instructor: Erin Sroka

We will explore class in America through story. We'll look to works of journalism, fiction, and creative nonfiction that deal with class directly-treating class as a major element in a character's trajectory-and texts that keep class on the periphery while revealing cultural assumptions about who gets what in America, and why.

We will look at the pursuit of the American Dream as plot, considering the varying trajectories it can take-telling the story of social mobility in some cases, class entrenchment in others. Our readings will portray meteoric rises from poverty to wealth, catastrophic falls in the opposite direction, and stories in which mobility is frustrated, where class acts as the ultimate foil for a character's attempts to change her station or understand the world around her.

We will read with an eye for themes like equality and inequality, fairness and competition, success and failure, personal responsibility, hard work, talent, and luck. We will watch for common tropes that emerge from all class stories, defining concepts like the American Dream, wealth, poverty, and social mobility as we go. Course readings will include highly influential texts whose ideas concerning class have seeped into the culture, as well as more marginal voices.

Coursework will be part creative writing, part critical analysis. Course units will include writing exercises in which students explore aspects of American life that reveal socioeconomic fault lines: health, education, family, love, work, vacation, and others. Some writing exercises will be journalistic, asking students to find class narratives through interviews and research; others will be personal or creative, asking students to write their own class stories in nonfiction or fiction.

Writing exercises and analyses will lead up to a final project, in which students will write a polished fiction or nonfiction manuscript in which class is central to the narrative. Students will also write a critical analysis of their work, discussing the role of class, and how the work fits into the larger context of American class narratives.

Required readings may include: The Unwinding by George Packer, Class Matters by the New York Times, Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, and writing by Sherman Alexie, ZZ Packer, Matt Taibi, Dorothy Allison, Katherine Boo, and others.

Last Update: March 2, 2017