Austin Peay State University faculty add more diverse voices to world literature class


Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, Tennessee – Three years ago, the Austin Peay State University Student Government Association (APSU) passed a resolution asking the Department of Languages ​​and Literature to teach more diverse authors in its 2330 English course : Topics in World Literature.

The letter sent by the students announcing the request was timely. That same spring, several professors in the department were already looking to reinvigorate the class.

“Many of us were trying to find a way for our students to do better in this class because we felt like we weren’t reaching our students in this class as well as we could have,” Dr. Linda Crenshaw, English APSU professor, said.

For decades, APSU students have found themselves in the required class, reading works by German Thomas Mann, French Marcel Proust, and other white authors from around the world. Many faculty have strived to include more diverse voices, but there was nothing explicit about the course settings the faculty was expected to take. This meant that some instructors had put the nearly 4,000-year-old poem “The Epic of Gilgamesh” in their curriculum to include works by non-white authors.

The SGA resolution called on professors to “challenge themselves and their students to broaden their horizons and study work they might not know.” The faculty of the department enthusiastically accepted this challenge.

“I loved that students are so interested in the curriculum that they ask us to pay attention to it,” said Dr. Mercy Cannon, department chair. “The way we structured the classroom before was more traditional, like an investigation from the old to the modern. You think of periodization and literary history, and it’s really easy to get into western canon.

Over the next three years, the department – with support from the APSU College of Arts and Letters – began to reinvent its world literature class. Earlier this fall, the department launched the new 2330 English course as an introductory course aimed at improving reading skills while generating interest in literature.

“We just said, ‘Look in 2021, our students need more cultural literacy and more cultural mastery and more exposure to things written by people from really different parts of the world – not just from England and maybe from France ”, Dr Dan Shea, professor of English and former chairman of the World Literature Committee, said. “What we have found is that 50% of what you assign students to read and 50% of class time must come from authors beyond white Western canon. At least. “

Now, in addition to Beowulf, Shakespeare and 4,000-year-old Mesopotamian poems, students could also read works by Indian author Aravind Adiga, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Japanese Nobel Prize winner Kenzabur? ? e.

“It is more like what we always wanted to do with our literature courses, which is to present students with diverse texts, to talk about big problems and themes, to make connections with their personal experience and also to enjoy. and revel in literature, ”Cannon mentioned.

Previously, students were required to take 1010 English and 1020 English courses before enrolling in the World Literature course. Then, after taking these courses, the students ended up in another course that required longer writing assignments with a focus on literary criticism.

The new World Literature class has no prerequisites, such as English 1010 or 1020, and class assignments focus on shorter pieces dealing with how students personally respond to a literary work.

“My students are doing more reading responses instead of literary analyzes,” said Crenshaw, new chair of the World Literature Committee. “I wanted it to be more accessible and give students the opportunity to discuss how they interacted with literature.”


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