The Story of America in 7 Books

Bard College

Joseph Luzzi (PhD, Yale) is Professor of Comparative Literature and Faculty Member in Italian Studies at Bard College, and he taught previously at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in The New York Times, TLS, The London Times, the Guardian, Chronicle of Higher Education, and on National Public Radio. Dr. Luzzi’s awards include a Yale College Teaching Prize, Dante Society of America Essay Prize, and Wallace Fellowship at Villa I Tatti, Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. He is the author of five books and recently created The Virtual Book Club: an international community of readers dedicated to exploring major literary works past and present.

 

Overview

In 1869, as our nation was recovering from the devastations of the Civil War, the critic John William DeForest described the quest for "the Great American Novel," suggesting how difficult it was to capture the complexity and diversity of the American experience in a single book. The past century and a half has seen many remarkable attempts by a wide range of authors to meet this challenge and distill the essence of U.S. history into the pages of unforgettable writing.

In this brand new course, we will explore those 7 books that best represent this quest to tell the American story, answering such questions as: What does it mean to be "American"? What are the books that have had the greatest impact on U.S. history and culture? How can fiction illuminate the hard truths of American life? This presentation will lead audiences through the fascinating world of American literature, as we explore how masterpieces ranging from Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury to Toni Morrison's Beloved, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and Philip Roth's American Pastoral, and more, reveal the characters and conflicts of the American spirit.

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