"There is a Continent Outside My Window" : United States and Caribbean Literatures in Dialogue

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
11 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

The St Lucia-born Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott describes the United States as an 'aggressive democracy' and a 'dictatorship of mediocrity' where 'all are forced to be equal.' One of the characters of Haitian origin featured in the work of the African-Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat describes the experience of finally obtaining a passport and North American citizenship as 'standing in a firing line and finally getting a bulletproof vest'. On the other hand, in political science and international relations the Caribbean is often referred to as 'America's backyard' a disparaging definition which arrogantly conflates the United States with the entire continent and also implies that the United States 'owns' the Caribbean.

It is becoming increasingly urgent to look at the literature form the United States in relation to the rest of the Americas, particularly because many of the best writers who currently live and/or publish in the United States originate from the Caribbean. Derek Walcott who used to live and work for part of the year in the United States is a case in point, but other prominent writers we will encounter in this module include: Haitian-American Edwidge Danticat, recipient of the 1999 American Book Award, the 2011 Langston Hughes Medal and 2009 MacArthur Fellow; Dominican-American Junot Diaz, recipient of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and 2012 MacArthur Fellow.

This module aims at looking at the ways in which writers from the United States imagine and represent the Caribbean and how writers from the Caribbean and the Caribbean diaspora imagine and represent the United States. Students will be able to deepen their knowledge of American literature by becoming acquainted with major poetic, fictional, non-fictional and dramatic works which will be put in dialogue with one another in order to delineate the broader context in which these texts can be better understood. A close reading of primary texts will be at the centre of our method as we will investigate crucial issues such as the difference between reality and the 'American Dream', what it means to be from the Americas, nationalism and transnationalism, the function of memory and imagination, migration and the formation of identity, the diasporic nature of blackness in the United States, and the question of language.

Primary reading list:

Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994)

Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker (2004)

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936)

Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

Julia Alvarez, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991)

Derek Walcott, The Arkansas Testament (1987)

Derek Walcott, Walker (2002)

José Martí, Selected Writings (2002)

Richard Harding Davis, Soldiers of Fortune (c1897).

Claude McKay, Selected Poems (1999).

Claude McKay, Home to Harlem (1987, c. 1928).

Eric Walrond, Tropic Death (2013, c. 1926).

Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (2009, c. 1959).

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (1988).

Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary (1998).

Toni Morrison, Tar Baby (1997, c. 1981).

Module aims

This module aims to foster students’ critical thinking by inviting them to investigate American literature from a broader perspective. It will enable students to become acquainted with the vibrant and diverse literature originating from the specific context of U.S.-Caribbean relations. After successful completion of the module students should be able to display a detailed knowledge of major twenty- and twenty-first- century texts about and/or from the United States and the Caribbean.

Module learning outcomes

After successful completion of the module students should be able to display a detailed knowledge of major twenty- and twenty-first- century texts about and/or from the United States and the Caribbean.

Module information

Module Supervisor’s Research into Subject Area

This module is a logical extension of Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli's interest in Caribbean literatures which she approaches in a comparative way. Maria Cristina is the author of three monographs on Caribbean studies: the first one, The Flight of the Vernacular: Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, and the Impress of Dante, analyzes Derek Walcott's and Seamus Heaney's conversation with Dante paying particular attention to their use of language; the second one, Caribbean Perspectives on Modernity: Returning Medusa's Gaze (2009) reconfigures our understanding of modernity by approaching the issue from a Caribbean perspective; the third monograph, On the Edge: Writing the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic (2015) is a literary and cultural history which has the politics of borderline-crossing and the poetics of borderland-dwelling at its core and which also brings to the fore the experience of Dominican and Haitian writers who currently live and work in the United States like, for example Edwidge Danticat or Junot Díaz. Maria Cristina is also the editor of an issue of Agenda entirely devoted to Derek Walcott and the co-editor of two collections of essays which focus on gender and sexuality in the Caribbean (in particular on the figure of the 'cross-dresser') and engage with the idea of a literary geography of the 'American Tropics', an area that includes the Southern USA, the Atlantic littoral of Central America, the Caribbean islands and northern South America and which is central to this module. Maria Cristina has just completed a new monograph entitled Derek Walcott’s Painters which was supported by a Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship.

Jak Peake is a Fulbright scholar and literature lecturer in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies at the University of Essex. His monograph, Between the Bocas: Towards a Geography of Western Trinidad, was published by Liverpool University Press in 2017. His current research examines Caribbean-New York networks in the early twentieth century. He has published recently on this topic in Radical Americas (‘“Watching the Waters”: Tropic Flows in the Harlem Renaissance, Black Internationalism and Other Currents’, 2018) and has book chapters forthcoming in The Cambridge History of Harlem Renaissance Literature and The Red and the Black: Revolutionary Lives of the Red and Black Atlantic. He also co-edited a special issue of Comparative American Studies examining American networks with Dr Wendy McMahon in 2019.

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery for 2020-21: This module will be taught via weekly online seminars of two hours each. Each session will include online portfolio activities/student presentations; teacher-led discussion; general discussion.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Autumn Essay (3,000 Words)    40% 
Coursework   Spring Essay (3,000 words)    40% 
Coursework   Online Portfolio (online discussion forums, reading, oral presentations)     15% 
Practical   Participation    5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Maria Fumagalli, email:
Dr Jak Peake, email:
Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli
LiFTS General Office - email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Prof Duncan James Salkeld
University of Chichester
Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature
Available via Moodle
Of 45 hours, 45 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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