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Topics Courses Spring 2021

Instructor: Larissa Lai

This course will address Canadian and Turtle Island anti-racist cultural events, movements and debates of the 1980s and 1990s their contributions and impact on Canadian/ Turtle Island literary communities. Events addressed will likely include: Telling It, International Dub Poetry Festival and Conference, Writing Thru Race, It's a Cultural Thing/Minquon Panchayat, and the Appropriate Voice. We will track the progress of key debates including cultural appropriation, the use of the term "people of colour", the problematics of equity, the concept of revolution, and more. Texts will likely include: Carol Tator's Challenging Racism in the Arts, Monika Kin Gagnon's Other ConundrumsTelling It: Women Across Languages and Cultures as well as articles and essays from community-based arts magazines and journals. We will also discuss texts produced by writers and artists involved in the events. Since the events we are studying are documented largely in ephemeral sources, this course will have a strong archival component. Course requirements will include presentations, weekly discussion contributions in the form of prepared questions, and a final project with both a critical and a creative option.

Topics Courses Fall 2021

Instructor: Larissa Lai

Course Description:

This is a class in writing short form poetry. Over the course of the semester, you will learn twelve different forms. Some forms we might address (though we can't do them all): acrostic, ballad, blues poem, dub, calligram, canzone, chant, collaboration, concrete poem, eclogue, elegy, event poem, free verse, ghazal, limerick, list poem, lyric, nonsense verse, occasional poem, ode, pantoum, pastoral poem, performance poem, projective verse, prose poem, quatrain, rap, renga, sestina, sonnet, villanelle. You might invent a form of your own. You will write every week. Each week several of you will submit a small selection of poems for critique the following week, for critique by the professor and your peers. In addition, we will read and discuss the work of several contemporary poets.

Application Requirements:

To be considered for a place in this course, please submit an application form to larissa.lai@ucalgary.ca by Aug. 1, 2021.

IMPORTANT: Please put "English 436.01 Application Portfolio" in the subject line of the email. I receive a lot of email, and this is the only way I can be sure I'll be able to find your application when I'm looking for it.

Download the application

Instructor: Rain Prud'homme Cranford


In the age of social media, where racial, sexual, ecological, and economic social justice is often denoted through hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter, #ThisIsIndianLand, #SexualSovereignty, #EffYourBeautyStandards etc, the legacy of rhetorical agency as it manifests in creative production connects social media expressions with a history of on the ground  grassroots movements. From early colonial writers such as Phyllis Wheatly and Samson Occom, to musicians such as Buffy Saint Marie and Lizzo to modern writers such as Jesmyn Ward and Taté Walker, traditions of Red, Black, and Red/Black (or Blindian) rhetorics exist both in relation and contention to one another. Like the many peoples who result of survivals and alliances of Red and Black bodies, whose existences are historically in alliance and in contestation, so we must recognize that these relationships and resistances share histories of subjugation, complexities of oppressions, and borrowed resistance tactics from oppressors in efforts to subvert dominant discourses while blending with both Red/Black inherently rhetorical communal strategies, forging rich histories of resistance rhetorics that are decidedly Black, Native, Afro-Indian or Red/Black. This graduate course is designed to introduce students to themes, forms, histories, epistemologies, rhetorical strategies, and content in works by Black, Indigenous, and Blindian (African-Native), cultural perspectives from the colonial period to the common era. Students will be introduced to concepts, histories, authors, and major themes around race/racism, gender/sexuality, ecology/environmentalism, and body (aesthetics, health, disAbility) at the intersections of Black, Indigenous, and Blindian peoples towards social justice and equity in Canada, the US, and Latinidad/Caribbean

Instructor: Faye Halpern


This course will begin by introducing an approach to literary texts called “narrative ethics.” We’ll spend the rest of the course focusing on a kind of narrative that presents a particularly rich field for this approach: unreliable narration. We’ll explore how unreliability works both in general and in particular texts. What kind of ethical relationships do these unreliable narratives establish between authors, narrators, characters, and readers? How does unreliability enable or limit an author’s ability to engage its audience in thinking about issues like class, gender, race, historical trauma, and disability? Does filmic unreliability present different ethical possibilities and challenges than literary unreliability? Along with the primary texts, we’ll read both literary theory and critical articles that analyze the particular texts we’ll be reading. We’ll use this theory and criticism not just as vehicles for particular views but as models for our own academic writing. Assignments will include blog posts, an analysis of a scholarly journal or a teaching essay, and a conference paper; everyone will also have the chance to lead the class in an active learning activity.

Instructor: Morgan Vanek


In 1720, London witnessed its first major financial crash. The South Sea Bubble burst, the stock market plummeted, and the public sphere exploded with new writing – from periodical essays and plays to legislation – that aimed to expose and curtail the corruption, self-interest, and stock-jobbing many blamed for the crash. In this course, we’ll examine both the new literary genres and the many forms of economic and financial writing that flourished in the years just before and after this crash (1710-1725), with a focus on how these genres – from satire to the realistic novel to, as Mary Poovey has argued, money itself – taught their readers to think about the nature of the risks associated with credit, debt, and speculation. Keeping an eye on what the precarious economic conditions of the present have inherited from this moment when finance was new, we’ll trace both these forms and the wide range of metaphors for risk that the South Sea Bubble generated from its expansion through its collapse and afterlife – and then we’ll look forward, taking up the central questions of an emerging body of writing about the relationship between the Anthropocene and the logic of capital. If, as Jason Moore argues, the present climate crisis represents an “epochal…breakdown of the strategies and relations that have sustained capital accumulation through the past five centuries,” the forms of writing that produced and were produced by the South Sea Bubble represent a newly important archive, not just for what they reveal of the structures of thought underpinning the “strategies and relations” Moore describes here, but for the alternatives they represent. Of all the threats that this literature of the South Sea Bubble sought to expose and contain, we’ll ask, are there any we might want to awaken now?

Topics Courses Winter 2022

Instructor: Pamela Banting


In this course we will study texts, films and artworks (including performance art) that engage in or with environmental activism with a view to analyzing the political and theoretical force of the arts, and creativity in general, in activist practices. How do activists work to create and disseminate a vision of a better future: what are some of the strategies for coaxing such a vision into being?  What are the temporal frames associated with actions and activism? How are the past, present and future invoked in activist planning? How do the arts mobilize people in ways distinct from those associated with supplying people with information or misinformation, science, data, graphs, and statistics? What are some of the ‘rhetorical’ gestures – both linguistic and corporeal rhetorics – deployed by activists? How does defamiliarization (or making strange the familiar) provoke people to see the crack where the light gets in (Leonard Cohen). Who is the subject as activist, the singular figure(s) who act on behalf of the plural or the collective? How are bodies deployed in actions (e.g., die-ins, painted faces, immobilizing bodies, t-shirts and other elements of clothing, etc.)? What role does transformation – transformation of consciousness, structures of feeling and practices – play in activism? How is creativity marshalled in countering corporate and governmental power? How can we deconstruct the widely-held notion of the individual who is essentially powerless in the face of neoliberal agendas and propaganda? 

Instructor: Aruna Srivastava


The course will examine theoretical work in critical studies in illness, dis/ability and health, focussing particularly on debates about how intersectionalities--especially race, gender, sexuality, indigeneity, and especially in Canada--function in and through individual, systemic, and ideological perceptions and expressions of illness. Students will select from a range of literary, digital, film and other "primary" texts of their own choosing and from theoretical and expressive work assigned. In particular, our emphasis will be on how academic, literary and cultural studies function institutionally both to erase and celebrate the chronically-ill body (for example, UofC's mental health strategy, and various policies, including legislation, pertaining to the "body chronic" will be examined, along with the differential ways that illness is perceived medically, institutionally, culturally, through the confusing intersections of race, gender, age, sexualities, and other identity formations). We will also engage with the pedaogical, curricular, community and ethical implications of this work, including those of disclosure and (dis)belief, discourses of accommodation, ethics, competition, secrecy, wellness, health, shame and pride. 

Instructor: Larissa Lai


This is an advanced course in creative writing, designed to offer the student with strong and longstanding poetry writing practice the opportunity to work on a book length project. Students are expected to already have a regular writing practice. This course will help deepen that practice. Students will receive instruction in the various ways that a coherent and cohesive poetry book can be assembled. Early in the course we will discuss both thematic and formal possibilities in relation to project you have proposed in your application. You will be given advice and guidance to refine these, and then you will produce the book you have mapped out— with plenty of room for deviation and reinvention, but with the goal of a complete manuscript by the end of the course. Since the course is for just one semester, students may bring a project-in-progress or a selection of  5-15 finished/well-drafted poems to use as the basis for their book if they wish. Project thematics are wide open. Form is also wide open: narrative poetry, lyric poetry, sound poetry, concrete poetry, interventionist poetry, language-based poetry, conceptual poetry or digital writing. Students are also invited to invent forms and will be given guidance in how to do so. 

Application Requirements: In order to be considered for a place in this course, students must email an application package to larissa.lai@ucalgary.ca by December 1, 2021.


IMPORTANT: Please put "English 593/693 Application Portfolio" in the subject line of the email. I receive a lot of email, and this is the only way I can be sure I'll be able to find your application when I'm looking for it.

How to Apply: Download application form


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