Literature of Place: Florida

20 08 2010

I finished the syllabus for Literature of Place: Florida, and it is posted here.  The course is divided into four themes: local place and history; land and exploration; water and plants; and animals (species, races, sexes). 

In the first section we will read place theory and study our local places, doing some writing on concepts of home and Florida places.  We will read about and visit Ybor city, and Professor Emeritus of history, Bob Ingalls, will talk to us about Ybor city, historical research and place.  Our main literary readings will be Nilo Cruz’s Anna in the Tropics, a play set in an early 20th century  cigar factory, and the poetry of Jose Marti. 

 In our second section, we will focus on Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling) and William Bartram’s Travels.  We will visit Cross Creek and Payne’s Prairie and do the rim walk in Bartram’s footsteps.  Geographer Bob Brinkmann will talk to us about Florida ecology. 

In our third section we will visit the Hillsborough River State Park and Hydrogeologist Mark Rains will talk to us about deep geological place and ground water in Florida.  We will read Susan Orleans’ The Orchid Thief, some nature writing from The Wild Heart of Florida, and much poetry. 

In our final section we will focus on animals and read some interesting theories in critical animal studies that raise connections to race and gender.  We will read Fearsome Creatures by John Fleming and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.  We will visit Eatonville, Florida and Ponce Inlet, the site of Crane’s “The Open Boat.”

 Many subthemes are developing as I pull together this and many more readings not mentioned.  Themes on paradise and exploitation of the land, on aging and retirement in Florida, on storms and the weather, on fishing, on tourism.  Classes begin on Tuesday, and I’m ready to get started!

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Florida Literature – the beginning

18 07 2010

When I tell people that I am studying Florida Literature, they generally pause, look politely interested, and ask “what literature?”  It’s a good question, a question I found a hard time answering only two years ago.  I am preparing to teach a graduate course at the University of South Florida on Literature of Place: Florida, in which I will begin to explore what the literature of Florida looks like.  I have discovered that the topic is huge and growing daily.  There is a lot of energy in the creative arts in Florida, a place often looked down upon for its lack of culture.  This project is an exercise in looking closely at the place in which I live and unfolding the layers of meaning that have become structured over time and through the lives of diverse people.  It is also an exercise in exploring this unique place, its history, its ecology, its art and, of course, its literature.  I was trained as an eighteenth-century British literature scholar, focusing on women and gender issues.  My training, therefore, leads me to begin with the connections I can make in eighteenth-century Florida, and thankfully we have the wonderful Travels by William Bartram that chart the wilderness of the 1780s in Florida and Georgia.  It is a fruitful beginning.   The contemporary poet, Campbell McGrath, does a riff on Bartram in his phenonmenal collection, Florida Poems.  In many ways Bartram sets an agenda for Florida literature that we are still responding to.

In this blog, I will post on the readings I have been doing and the plans I’m making for the course. I’ve also discovered that when I explain to folks what I am doing, they frequently have suggestions for favorite books and authors connected to Florida.  I am grateful for all suggestions.  Bring ’em on.