This past Fall Quarter, I had the pleasure of taking the UChicago English course “20th Century American Short Fiction” with Professor William Veeder. The course was a survey of America’s major writers of short fiction beginning with Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case” in 1905; proceeding to the masters of High Modernism, including Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Porter, Welty, Ellison, and Nabokov; continuing on through the next generation with writers such as O'Connor, Pynchon, Roth, Mukherjee, Coover, and Carver; and finally ending with more recent work by Danticat, Tan, and the microfictionists.
Professor Veeder has taught at UChicago for over 50 years, with research interests in 19th and 20th Century American and British Literature, Victorian Literature, and the Novel. He logged on to each session with a warm smile, ready for the new format of online class. From the first class meeting to the last, not a single student looked away from their screen, enraptured by Professor Veeder’s insights into the American short story canon, and his personal stories of family, college, teaching, and studying abroad. Professor Veeder is driven by Henry James’ dictum: “In the arts, feeling is always meaning.” He would repeat this statement at the beginning of each class, and truly follow it, placing our subjective reactions to the texts at the forefront of discussion. Professor Veeder introduced a lens of psychoanalysis into our discussions and close readings, revealing its worth as a tool of literary analysis. This was my first introduction to interdisciplinary study in the humanities, expanding my understanding of literature and dynamic thought. This class was an incredibly meaningful experience, full of academic and personal growth, one that I will not soon forget.
The midterm and final essay assignments were particularly impactful in my academic development. Small excerpts from one of the assigned short stories were selected, then a close reading and analysis was completed. I chose Raymond Carver’s “Why Don’t You Dance?” for my final paper, and investigated notions of memory, loss, and control as experienced by the story’s protagonist. Professor Veeder was especially helpful in guiding methods of argumentation and analysis, while encouraging expressive writing and divergent ideas.
“20th Century American Short Fiction” is just one of many challenging and intriguing courses offered through UChicago’s Department of English. It stands out in its interdisciplinary approach to literature and its commitment to close reading combined with historical and conceptual analysis. The courses I have taken through the English department have addressed a wide range of perspectives and eras of literature, allowing me to organically explore my personal literary interests while developing transferable close-reading and argumentative writing skills. The classes are filled with professors and students who are warm, inviting, and intellectually curious, a perfect environment for any student eager to read, listen, and write with a smile.