20th Century American Literature | Department of English | SIU

Southern Illinois University



College of Liberal Arts

20th Century American Literature

The number of important writers in this hundred year time span of American literature is remarkable. Acknowledging this variety, the faculty offer courses that approach this material with unusual strategies that are designed to match the distinctive creativity on display. Introductory courses are followed by a number of individual courses that are oriented toward special problems and specific projects. As well as covering the twentieth century, the faculty has begun including literature of the first decade of the twenty-first century.


Faculty regularly schedule courses that provide introductory surveys to works in specific genres. Every academic year we list two courses in modern American fiction: one covering prose from the first half of the twentieth century, including Cather, Faulkner, and Hurston; the other the postmodern texts of the last few decades, including Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison, Paul Auster, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo).

In addition, we regularly offer:

  • a survey course in twentieth-century American drama from the expressionist plays of Eugene O'Neill to the postmodernism of the Wooster Group, with emphasis on the urban setting and cultural diversity;
  • a survey course in poetry that concentrates on prosody from Robert Frost and Langston Hughes to James Merrill and Susan Howe.

Faculty offer a series of upper-level courses for graduates and undergraduates that concentrate on literary movements or on special problems or on decades viewed from a wide cultural perspective. These courses examine topics, such as cultural studies, whose relevance is still under discussion. In workshop settings that foster interchange between graduates and undergraduates, these courses explore approaches in keeping with the newness of the material under consideration. Recent courses include:

  • Robert Fox's examination of the figures in the Beat Generation, such as Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg;
  • Elizabeth Klaver's course on American culture of the 1980s, which studies literature as well as art and photography, music and performance art, and film and television;
  • Mary Bogumil's explorations of cultural diversity in American drama.
  • Elizabeth Klaver's course on Literature and the City, covering 20th century works written about Chicago, New York City, and Los Angeles.

Special Topics Courses

Future special topics planned by the twentieth-century American literature faculty include:

  • Robert Fox's "Science Fiction: The Art of Protest," a study of the subversive tactics that are available within a mass culture medium;
  • Mary Bogumil's "Cultural Diversity in America," an examination of the narratives generated as ethnic groups confront and respond to issues of Americanization;
  • Mary Bogumil's “Reading August Wilson,” situating Wilson within the canon of African American drama;
  • Edward Brunner's "Dante's Inferno and Contemporary American Writing."


In addition to these special topics, faculty in twentieth century American literature regularly offer a range of seminars on specialized intellectual areas. In the past, these have included:

Elizabeth Klaver's "The Postmodern Body,” debating theories of the body by Susan Bordo and Judith Butler; and her “American Cultural Studies,” which examines cultural studies in an American context;

Robert Fox's "Reading America(s): The Novel in a Multicultural Context," analyzing texts by Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros, Jessica Hagedorn, Leslie Silko and others; and his “Twenty-First Century American Fiction,” with writers such as Edward P. Jones, Don DeLillo, and Helena Maria Viramontes;

Edward Brunner's multidisciplinary overview of the 1930s, with emphasis on such writers as Dawn Powell, Muriel Rukeyser, Frank Marshall Davis, B. Traven and Erskine Caldwell, plus the music of Duke Ellington, the photographs of Walker Evans, and W.P.A. Mural Paintings; and his “Everyday Life, Trauma Studies and the Social Imaginary,” which includes examples of experimental fiction, extended sequences and the graphic novel.

Recent Ph.D. Dissertations

  • Benjamin Foster, “Historical Intimacy: Contemporary Reclamations of African American History in the Drama, Poetry, and Fiction of Suzan-Lori Parks, Natasha Trethewey, and Colson Whitehead,” major advisers Edward Brunner and Robert Fox, 2015.
  • David Leitner, “Harlem in Shakespeare, Shakespeare in Harlem: The Sonnet Tradition and Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Gwendolyn Brooks,” major adviser Edward Brunner, 2015.
  • Christopher B. Field, “Our Fathers, Our Brothers, Ourselves: Illusory Pattern Perception and the Progression of Trauma Theory,” major adviser Edward Brunner, 2015.
  • Tony Vinci, “Ghost, Animal, Android: Ethics, Trauma, and the Nonhuman in Twentieth-Century American Literature, major adviser Edward Brunner, 2014.
  • Paul Huggins, “Great Conversations: Systems, Complexity, and Epic Encyclopedic Narratives in Contemporary American Fiction 1960-2007,” major advisers Edward Brunner and Robert Fox, 2013.
  • Joseph Donica, “Disaster’s Culture of Utopia after 9/11 and Katrina: Fiction, Documentary, Memorial,” major adviser Edward Brunner, 2012.
  • Carl Bloom, “Evidence of Anxiety: Women’s Agency and Engagement Law in American Literature and Film, 1880-1930,” major adviser Edward Brunner, 2011.
  • Rachel Hawley, "Vile Humor: Giving Voice to the Voiceless through Dark Comedy in Southern Gothic Literature," major adviser Elizabeth Klaver, 2011.
  • Richmond Adams, "Damnation or Illumination: Harold Frederic's Social Drama and the Crisis of Evangelical Protestant Culture," major adviser Edward Brunner, 2011.
  • Julie Kares, "Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: The Everyday Southern Epic," major adviser Elizabeth Klaver.
  • Misty Standage, "Multiply Voiced, Multiply Heard: Double-Voiced Discourse in Toni Morrison, Maryse Conde, and Nuruddin Farah, major adviser Robert Fox, 2011.
  • Belinda Wheeler, "Expansive Modernism: Female Editors, Little Magazines, and New Book Histories," major adviser Edward Brunner, 2011.
  • Jackie Gruenwald, “From Senator to Simpering Housewife: The De-Evolution of the Heroine in the Film Adaptations of Edna Ferber’s Novel,” major adviser Mary Bogumil, 2008.

Recent MA Theses

  • Brian Steinbach: “De-Romanticizing Empire in the American West: Literary and Cultural Narrative in Novels by Owen Wister, Willa Cather and Cormac McCarthy,” major adviser Edward Brunner, 2014.
  • Karen Kruse Heinemann, "Processing Trauma: Reading Art in 9/11 Novels," major adviser Elizabeth Klaver, 2014.
  • Sarah Munchow, "Constructed Boundaries: Reading Architecture in Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Jeffrey Eugenides's The Virgin Suicides," major adviser Elizabeth Klaver, 2014.
  • Erin Hall, “A Tale of Two Generations: Re-Establishing Young Adult Literature in Contemporary Classrooms,” major adviser Edward Brunner, 2013.
  • Alexandra Maas, "Digital Cityscapes in American Science Fiction: Physical Structure, Social Relationships, and Programmed Identities," major adviser Elizabeth Klaver, 2013.
  • Megan Vallowe, "Exploring Identity: Rural to Urban Migration in Modernist American Fiction," major adviser Elizabeth Klaver, 2013.
  • Joseph Kai-Hang Cheang, “Examining the Literature Of Resistance: The Politics and Poetics of Asian American Identity in The Works Of Frank Chin And David Henry Hwang,” major adviser Mary Bogumil, 2012.
  • Maggie Morris Davis, "The Fictions We Keep: Poverty in 1890's New York Tenement Fiction", major adviser Edward Brunner, 2010.
  • Irma Wildani Anzia, “Images of Islam in The Autobiography of Malcom X," 2008.
  • Krystal McMillen, “From Joe Christmas to Jim Crow: Echoes of Minstrelsy in Faulkner’s Light in August," 2008.
  • Tara Janowick, “Feminist Discourse Across the Waves: A Rhetorical Criticism of First, Second, and Third Wave Women’s Discourse,” 2008.
  • Niya Kennedy, “Domestic Desires, National Negotiations: Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century American Border Fictions,” 2008.
  • Larry Dye, “The Birds of Faulkner,” 2008.