Literature of Place: Florida

Professor: Laura Runge
Institution: University of South Florida
Course Number: 6934

Place is a meaningful location; it has particular material conditions and a relationship to the human capacity to produce meaning; it is also a way of being and knowing in the world. This course invites us to look at our home place, Florida, and study what it means using literature as one of several factors in the construction of meaning. Inspired by an article called “Teaching Hometown Literature: A Pedagogy of Place,” this course invites students to discover and engage with the literature of our home. In many ways Florida’s unique physical environment and history cause it to stand apart from regional study; Florida cannot, for example, be encompassed by the idea of “The South.” Moreover, the cultural hybridity of Florida has produced a significant, if under-studied, literature, emphasizing the limitless potential and paradisal promise of this unique land.

But the tremendous growth of Florida in the twentieth century has led to serious environmental problems, and the human impact on the environment constitutes a major thread in literary representation we will be studying. The environmental challenges now facing inhabitants of this place make attention to Florida a critical issue. How might the literature of Florida contribute to our understanding of our home place? Conversely, how does this unique, beautiful and diverse environment shape the literature written upon it?

Students will read a variety of authors and literature, ranging from the travel narratives of William Bartram in the eighteenth century to the essays, short stories, novels, and poems by authors including Stephen Crane, Zora Neale Hurston, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, Hart Crane, Carl Hiassen, John Fleming, Jay Hopler, Campbell McGrath, Jose Iglesias and Enid Shomer. We will read theories of place and place attachment from philosophy, cultural geography, art and psychology, as well as readings in ecocriticism, animal studies, history and ecology of Florida.

Operating with the assumption that literature gains in meaning from experiencing the site of its production, the class will travel to specific literary locations, including Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home, Ybor City, Hillsborough River State Park, and Payne’s Prairie. We will view videos of previous guest lecturers from disciplines other than English, such as geography, philosophy and history, and we will have one guided “swamp-walk” with USF hydrogeologist Mark Rains. Early in the semester we will learn about USF’s unique library holdings in the Florida Studies Collection, with Andy Huse. We may even hold class in the Poetry Garden at USF Botanical Gardens. This experimental class departs from the standard lecture-discussion format by implementing contemplative pedagogy, such as meditation, journaling, and contemplative photography. These methods make space for slow, mindful consideration of a text and the environment. The class borrows a proposition from contemplative environmental studies that sees a parallel between inner well being and the well being of the planet. Our focus will be local.

This course is appropriate for anyone interested in Florida, literature and the environment, theories of place and ecocriticism, nature writing and contemporary literature, contemplative pedagogy and engaged learning. This course counts as a literature elective for MFA students, as a theory-rich course and an elective in critical cultural studies.

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