English 2220, Section 100

Literature & Culture of the U.S.

Spring 2020



Day/Time: Monday, 2:00 pm-3:40 pm.

Room: Brown Hall, Room 3030

Final Exam: April 22, 2:45 to 4:45 p.m.


Mr. Luke McCarthy

Email: lucas.j.mccarthy@wmich.edu

Website: http://lucasjmccarthy.com

Office: Sprau Tower, Room 712

Office Hours: Flexible per student needs

Please do not hesitate to email me to ask questions or to arrange a time to meet!


Required Course Materials

Our primary readings are all critically acclaimed books of American poetry published within the past four years:

  • Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X (2018)
    • ISBN: 9780062662804
    • Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Pura Belpré Award
  • Marie Howe, Magdalene: Poems (2018)
    • ISBN: 9780393356038
    • Longlisted for the National Book Award
  • Layli Long Soldier, WHEREAS: Poems (2017)
    • ISBN: 9781555977672
    • Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry
  • Justin Phillip Reed, Indecency (2018)
    • ISBN: 9781566895149
    • Winner of the 2018 National Book Award in Poetry
  • Solmaz Sharif, Look: Poems (2016)
    • ISBN: 9781555977443
    • Finalist for the 2017 PEN Open Book Award, and finalist for the 2016 National Book Award
  • Mai Der Vang, Afterland: Poems (2017)
    • ISBN: 9781555977702
    • Longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, and the 2016 winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets
  • $5 copy fee card, available for purchase at the bookstore.
    • This fee card pays for various class handouts and assigned readings I will be providing for you to supplement the above readings.
    • If you fail to turn it in by the end of the semester, you will fail the course.


Course Description

Through study of literary works (and, when possible, other artistic achievements or cultural artifacts) by members of the varied cultures which comprise the United States

of America, this course considers the perspectives and sustaining values of these cultural groups and considers the challenges, problems, and opportunities of a pluralistic American society. This course satisfies General Education Area III: The United States: Cultures and Issues. Credits: 4 hours


Course Overview

Given the heated divisions in the U.S. today (as demonstrated recently by the Ferguson, Charlottesville, and Standing Rock protests), what keeps the country united? This course will focus closely on the challenges, problems, and opportunities of pluralism in American society by examining the literature (and the other artistic achievements and cultural artifacts) of the diverse cultural groups comprising the United States. The course readings will focus on contemporary literature that together reflects America’s diversity, including works such as Elizabeth Acevedo’s Poet X. As a class, students will begin considering the cultural issues animating debate in American society today while formulating the essential questions that will guide our investigation for the rest of the semester. Those investigations will include an examination of the significance of “home” and the relation of one’s family, heritage, and language to one’s home. Students will consider how diverse cultural groups can all see America as home, yet still feel “alien” to each other. What happens when individuals attempt to cross the “fences” keeping us apart? Students will also consider two sets of ideals: those of the “American Dream” and those of the heritage received from one’s cultural background. How can those ideals be reconciled? Supplementing the literary readings, students will also consider how America’s legal and political system has attempted to address the challenges and opportunities of a pluralistic society. Students will reflect on the challenges of pluralism while reading a number of political and legal texts, such as the U.S. Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court’s opinions in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and in Obergefell v. Hodges, selections from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, selections from John Rawls’s Justice as Fairness: A Restatement, and other works considering the role of Congress and the Supreme Court in a pluralist society.