"There is a Continent Outside My Window" : United States and Caribbean Literatures in Dialogue
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 06 October 2022
Friday 30 June 2023
30 September 2021
Requisites for this module
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.
"There is a continent outside my window" is a quotation from the Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott's The Prodigal. In this collection, Walcott analyses his relationship with the United States where, at the time of writing, he lived and worked for part of the year. His words highlights that 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; Antiguan-American Jamaica Kincaid, recipient of the 1985 Guggenheim Award for Fiction, the 1999 Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, and honoree Great Immigrant, Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2013, Dominican-American Julia Alvarez, Third Woman Press Award (1986) and Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature (2002); Elizabeth Acevedo winner of Carnegie Medal (2019). We will also look at the film Sugar (2008, dirs. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) and at the work of Jean-Robert Cadet, founder of The Jean Robert Cadet's Restavek Organization.
This module can be taken as a 30 credits module (Full Year) or as a 15 credits module (Autumn or Spring term only) and it 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, the ways in which authors, characters, and texts resist and respond to violence and discrimination, the question of language.
Module Content Note: texts under discussion may contain references to: abuse and physical violence; disordered eating, self-harm and suicide; homophobia; miscarriage/abortion/death and/or abandonment of children; poor mental health; racism and xenophobia; rape and/or sexual assault; slavery and colonialism. Please contact the module supervisor if you have any questions.
This module aims to foster students’ critical thinking by inviting them to investigate American literature from a broader perspective. It aims to 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 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.
Anticipated teaching delivery for 2021/22: Weekly 2-hour seminar (online only)
Danticat, E. (1998) Breath, eyes, memory. 2nd Vintage contemporaries ed. New York: Vintage Books.
Danticat, E. (2004) The dew breaker. London: Abacus.
Walcott, D. (1987) The Arkansas testament
. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Available at: https://www.proquest.com/publication/2060215?accountid=10766
The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list
Assessment items, weightings and deadlines
|Coursework / exam
Exam format definitions
- Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
- In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
- In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
- In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary,
for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.
Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Maria Fumagalli, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Maria Cristina Fumagalli
LiFTS General Office - email email@example.com.
Telephone 01206 872626
Dr Doug Haynes
University of Sussex
Reader in American Literature and Visual Culture
Available via Moodle
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0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).
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