Syllabus  |  Assignments

We will examine a century of poetry, fiction, drama and autobiographical works set in or written by authors from the upper Midwest, and consider some ways in which their subjects and preoccupations mirrored the region’s history, culture and geography.
Writers whose works we will sample include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Susan Glaspell, Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes (Missouri), Richard Wright, Fenton Johnston, Winona La Duke, Gwendolyn Brooks, Aldo Leopold, Ruth Suckow, Jane Smiley, Rita Dove and others.

As assignments, I will ask students to bring in questions for class discussion, post brief web-responses to the texts, prepare class-presentations on one or more of the course’s authors, and write two six-page critical essays, one due midway through the course and the other at the end.



8:154 Revised Syllabus, Literature of the American Midwest

January 21st, 2009 Wednesday
introduction, course content, Midwestern history

January 26th, 2009 Monday Main Travelled Roads, 3 stories

January 28th, 2009 Wednesday Edvart Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth

February 2nd  Monday Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth

February 4th   Wednesday American Midwest: Essays on Regional History, introduction; first section, Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio

February 9th Monday Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio

February 11th, Wednesday Mark Twain, The War Prayer, “A Fable,” “On the Decay of The Art of Lying,” “Man’s Place in the Animal World”

February 16th  Monday Paul Laurence Dunbar; Fenton Johnson; Carl Sandburg

February 18th Wednesday Susan Glaspell, “Trifles” and “A Jury of Her Peers”; “The Outside”

February 23rd  Monday Glaspell, “The Verge,” “The Inheritors”

February 25th  Wednesday Upton Sinclair, The Jungle; topic of first paper due

March 2nd  Monday Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

March 4th  Wednesday Edgar Lee Masters, Spoon River Anthology
outline or précis of first paper due

March 9th  Monday Ruth Suckow Omnibus, 3 stories

March 11th  Wednesday Ruth Suckow, A Part of the Institution
spring break

March 23rd Monday essays from American Midwest by Andrew Cayton and Douglas Hunt; start Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House

March 25th Wednesday more Addams? Langston Hughes, Not Without Laughter

March 30th Monday Langston Hughes, Not Without Laughter

April 1st Wednesday Guendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems

April 6th, 2009 Monday Guendolyn Brooks, Selected Poems

April 8th, 2009 Wednesday --------

April 13th, 2009 Monday Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres

April 14th, 2009 Wednesday Jane Smiley, A Thousand Acres

April 20th, 2009 Monday  Winona LaDuke, Last Standing Woman

April 22nd, 2009 Wednesday Winona LaDuke, Last Standing Woman

April 27th, 2009 Monday Toni Morrison, Beloved

April 29th, 2009 Wednesday Toni Morrison, Beloved

May 4th, 2009 Monday  -----------

May 6th, 2009 Wednesday Rita Dove, Robert Hayden, Louise Erdrich

Exam: (take home essay) May 11th, 2009 at 7 p. m.


7-8:15 p. m. MW 8 EB
Instructor: Florence Boos
Office: 319 EPB, office phone 335-0434 (answering machine)
Office hours: Mondays and Wednesdays 4:00-5:15 p. m.

Textbooks at IMU:

Garland, Hamlin, Main Travelled Roads
Anderson, Sherman, Winesburg, Ohio
Glaspell, Susan, Four Plays
Rolvaag, Ole Edwart, Giants in the Earth
Suckow, Ruth, Ruth Suckow Omnibus
Masters, Edgar Lee, Spoon River Anthology
Twain, Mark, The War Prayer
Hughes, Langston, Not Without Laughter
Guendolyn Brooks, Collected Poems
Smiley, Jane, A Thousand Acres
Morrison, Tony, Beloved

Other material:

La Duke, Winona, Last Standing Woman (you must order this from Amazon)
Lindsay, Vachel, Carl Sandburg, Paul Laurence Dunbar, handouts
Sandburg, Carl, handout
Glaspell, Susan, “A Jury of Her Peers,” handout (short story)
Theodore Dreiser, short story handout
Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (on-line, Gutenberg)
Mark Twain, essays and fable, handout
Fenton Johnson, Rita Dove, Robert Hayden, Louise Erdrich, poetry handouts
readings from The American Midwest: A Regional History, ed. Andrew Cayton and Susan Gray

Exam: (take home essay) May 11th, 2009 at 7 p. m.

come prepared to class each session and contribute to class discussion; sometimes I will ask you to bring in questions for discussion;
past 7 short essays/reading responses to ICON on the texts we have read; these should be the equivalent of about two typed pages (and please number postings);
present to the class biographical/publication-reception information on two or more authors we read;
submit 2 6+ page essays on topics of your choice, the first due March 4th and the second due at the end of exam period. If you give me drafts the week before these are due, I will return them with suggestions. For this you are expected to read a book by the author you discuss not studied in class, and to use several critical/historical sources (including several not available on the internet).
present your final paper to the class during exam week.


8:154 Literature of the American Midwest , Final Paper/Exam:
To be handed in at our final session, held  Monday May 11th, 2009 at 7 p. m. 

You should write a six page essay contrasting some aspect of the works of two authors  we have studied to show how they represent an important feature of Midwestern culture, values or sensibility, or alternately, different responses to literary fashions and concerns of their periods. If the authors you discuss are from different periods, you should consider whether their contrasting  choices reflect shifts in literary taste or social concerns as the century progressed. Your essay, in other words, should comment not only on the works themselves but how they express contrasting the thematic concerns or stylistic tastes of their respective periods.
Your essay should include comments on formal features of the writings you discuss: for poetry, style, stanzaic form, rhythm, meter and diction; for prose, narrative structure and organization, use of metaphor and language, narrative voice(s) and speech.
Writers we have studied have included Hamlin Garland, Ole E. Rolvaag, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Fenton Johnson, Upton Sinclair, Sherwood Anderson, Susan Glaspell, Ruth Sukow, Winona LaDuke, Mark Twain, Guendolyn Brooks, Jane Smiley, Toni Morrison, Edgar Lee Masters, and Jane Addams.

Topics you might consider for contrast include:

the pioneer experience/shifting American ideals
themes of democracy and repression
use of landscape; themes of nature and the environment
the sense of place and region; values ascribed to the midwest
use of compound protatonists/poetic or narrative sequences
rural vs. urban life
immigration, multiple ethnicities/old world cultures vs. assimilation
issues of gender/ sexuality
racial relations/relations with native peoples
crime and violence
issues of belief and religion
isolation/atomization vs. community
family relationships/marriage/parent child relations
issues of fate/social determination
war and conflict
the uses of history; the sense of a future
evocation of regional differences
social hierarchy/issues of class and marginalization
fellowship/alternative societies or ideals