Introduction to Literature by Women

Last week I learned that I will be teaching the upper-level course ‘Literature by Women’ this fall semester. As I consider what texts to choose and what to do with them, I remember doing the same last summer when I was preparing to teach ‘Introduction to Literature by Women’. The latter course fulfilled my university’s core ‘Women’s Studies’ requirement; many of the students were freshmen and sophomores from a range of majors. The upper-level course, in contrast, will be taken by mostly junior and senior English majors. Because the audiences and objectives of the course are different, I doubt I will reuse many (if any) of the same texts I used for the introductory course.

While I’m not ready to blog about the decision process for my upcoming course, I thought that I would write about my choices for my introductory course.

Because ‘Introduction to Literature by Women’ was an introductory literature course, I decided to use it to introduce students to women’s writings in a variety of genres, namely: memoirs, poetry, fiction, and essays. I also set the parameters that the texts I chose had to be written by modern or contemporary American women.

I wanted to introduce my students to as wide range of authors as I possibly could, so I opted to have a key text (a book-length work) for most of the genres that would be supported by selected shorter texts, such as short-stories or essays. The only genre that I did not have a key text for was poetry.

Once I set my parameters, I immediately chose Kindred by Octavia Butler as my fiction key text and Ursula K. Le Guin as one of my supplemental authors. I already knew that if I had to teach poetry, I wanted to teach poets I liked, so I included Naomi Shihab Nye and Laurie Ann Guerrero, who was the 2016 Texas Poet Laureate. Upon asking K. regarding memoirs, she suggested Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Dandicat. I read it, was hooked, and promptly added it to my list.

It was then that I discovered that nearly all of my chosen authors were women of color. Although this happened unintentionally, I did intentionally continue this theme: I had Latina-American, Palestinian-American, Haitian-American, and African-American authors, so let me also have Korean-American, Japanese-American, Indian-American, and Native American authors, as well as Anglo-American authors. We spent a lot of time discussing what it means to be an American that semester. Also, that women write about everything, not just ‘women’s issues’. It was awesome.

Below are the units, organized by genre, with the texts that I chose for each unit.

Unit 1: Memoirs/Narrative Non-Fiction

Dandicat - Brother I'm dying cover

Key text: Edwidge Dandicat, Brother, I’m Dying

Supplemental texts:

  • Zora Neale Hurston, ‘How it feels to be colored me’
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, ‘No Name Woman’
  • Mary McCarthy, ‘Artists in uniform’

Unit 2: Poetry

Guerrero - Tongue in the mouth of the dying cover

Selections from:

  • Laurie Ann Guerrero

  • Kimiko Hahn

  • Joy Harjo

  • Vandana Khanna

  • Naomi Shihab Nye
  • Hannah Sanghee Park

Unit 3: Fiction

Butler - Kindred cover

Key text: Octavia Butler, Kindred

Supplemental texts:

  • Toni Morrison, ‘Recitatif’
  • Leslie Marmon Silko, ‘Yellow Woman’
  • Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘Nine Lives’
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, ‘The Third and Final Continent’

Unit 4: Essays/Non-Narrative Non-Fiction

Carson - Silent Spring cover

Key text: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Supplemental texts:

  • Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘Introduction’ from The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Toni Morrison, ‘Unspeakable Things Unspoken: The Afro-American Presence in American Literature’
  • Rebecca Solnit, ‘The Future Needs Us’


If I were to teach this course again, I would keep the same parameters for choosing texts, but maybe choose different authors or texts. Which authors or texts would you recommend?

2 thoughts on “Introduction to Literature by Women

    • Chera says:

      Start with A Wizard of Earthsea! I think you’ll enjoy the Earthsea series.

      I know the feeling: There are lots of subjects I wish I could go back and take courses on just because I’m interested in them. I don’t know the names of all the programs, but I’ve heard that there are places where you can listen to lectures as podcasts. And you don’t have to be enrolled to read books and talk about them with others, in person or online. 🙂


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