Sensational Syllabi: Course Outlines from the Best of the Best

Imagine having once been enrolled in a creative writing class taught by David Foster Wallace. What would that have been like? Thanks to The Atlantic and the wonders of modern technology, you don’t have to merely imagine: you can actually make an educated guess.

Flavorpill editor Emily Temple pulls together a meaty handful of famous authors’ syllabi and reading lists. “Who needs to go to college,” Temple quips, “when you’ve got a list of texts from the best and a public library?”

The best in question are pretty impressive, indeed. Wallace, of course. But also W. H. Auden’s syllabus for English 135 at the University of Michigan in the early 1940s, Lynda Barry’s syllabus for her class “The Unthinkable Mind” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (at right), Katie Roiphe’s syllabus for her Advanced Criticism Seminar, 2008 and others.

Unsurprisingly, some of these syllabi make interesting reading in their own right. Barry’s, of course, is gorgeous… and framable. In his, Wallace points out that the goal of the course is to help students develop critical appreciation of literary art. He writes that critical appreciation means “having smart, sophisticated reasons for liking whatever literature you like, and being able to articulate those reasons for other people, especially in writing …. As you can probably anticipate, the whole thing gets very complicated and abstract and hard, which is one reason why entire college departments are devoted to studying and interpreting literature.”

See all of the examples Temple pulled together here.

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