My favorite time of the quarter is finally here: the time to start planning next quarter’s classes! (And I’m only half joking about that!)

As usual, I’m teaching my Lesbian & Gay Literature class during the winter quarter. Every time I teach it, I try to include some new works that I’ve not taught before. I also try to keep a few books I’m familiar with so that everything isn’t starting from scratch. So, deciding what to keep from last time and what to add is the main difficulty. The basic course description is always the same:

This course studies the political, artistic, and rhetorical uses of the erotic/sexual in gay and lesbian literature with particular emphasis on the ways in which gay and lesbian identities and experiences have been represented in post-Stonewall (i.e., post-1969) literary discourse. Regardless of how homosexuals self-identify, the heterosexual mainstream by and large defines us according to its perception of lesbian and gay sexual identities, desires, and activities. Queer writers have therefore struggled with the issue of representing sexual identity, desire, and practice in their literary works. Should representations of sex work to make homosexual identities, desires, and practices aesthetically pleasing in an effort to gain acceptance in heterosexual society? Or should queer writers revel in what makes us different, using explicit descriptions of sex as a literary corollary to the phrase, “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!”? We will try to answer these and other related questions as we read this term.

In a way, insisting that the class focus on post-Stonewall literature makes it even more difficult sometimes. There are a lot of great texts from before 1969, but I am ultimately committed to teaching a class centered of gay and lesbian identity and that arguably means post-Stonewall. I once tried teaching the class as a survey of “queer” texts since Shakespeare, but neither I nor my students enjoyed that kind of broad sweep in a 10-week class.

So, I tend to select 5 or 6 authors/books for us to study (usually with some smaller texts thrown in). This past spring, for example, I taught Leslie Feinberg‘s Stone Butch Blues, Katherine Forrest‘s Curious Wine, Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Wayne Hoffman’s Hard, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. (I threw in a little Richard Amory, Andrew Holleran, Chrystos, Dorothy Allison, and Jewelle Gomez.)

While that class went well, I’m ready to change it up a bit. In particular, I was unhappy with how little racial diversity I had among the writers we studied last quarter. I also want to give my students more generic diversity — non-fiction, fiction, drama, poetry, etc. I usually chose to keep a couple of texts that I’ve taught before and add a few news ones to the syllabus. So, I’ve been thinking about what to add and what to subtract.

I starting by thinking about which texts I absolutely wanted to keep. I quickly decided that there are two of them: Angels and Fun Home. Angels is one of the most important gay texts, and I really like to include its ultimately optimistic view of the next millennium. And Fun Home has become one of my favorite texts to teach. Everyone I’ve recommended it to has loved it. And my students really responded well to it last term.

The next thing I’ve been considering is whether there are any books that I definitely don’t want to teach this time. Although I love it and think it’s an incredibly important book, I’m getting a little tired of teaching Stone Butch Blues. So, I’ve decided to leave it off of the syllabus this time. I’m sure I’ll regret it later, but I need a break from teaching this one.

I’ve been trying to identify any books that I haven’t taught before but have really wanted to include in my class. There are also two on this list: Paul Monette’s Borrowed Time and Chrystos’s In Her I Am. Monette was an incredibly influential writer to my generation of gay academics. Becoming a Man changed my life when I read it as a college student. But that book is so personal to me that I don’t think I could teach it and do it any justice. So, I’m going to teach Monette’s AIDS memoir instead. I’ve had success teaching one of his poems from West of Yesterday, East of Summer and a few of his essays, especially “The Politics of Silence,” “3275,” and “Puck.” So, I’m looking forward to teaching Borrowed Time, even if it’s going to be a difficult book for us emotionally.

I also teach a poem by Chrystos called “I Suck” each year and I’ve long wanted to teach the entire volume from which it comes. I’ve been hesitant to do so, however, because I’ve felt a little afraid to teach a sustained series of classes on such sexually graphic poetry. I’ve taught works that featured explicit depictions of male-male sex, but I’ve worried that lesbian sex taught by a male professor might be a little too much for my students. We’ll see. I love these poems. They’re absolutely amazing works of art that explore lesbian sexuality, relationships, and identities. I’m going to have to do a little investigation, though. Press Gang Publishers is now defunct, so I’ll have to find out how to get copies of the book for my students.

So, this leaves slots for two new books, one gay and one lesbian. I’ve decided to emphasize racial diversity with these texts. I’ve been torn between teaching something by Larry Duplechan or by Randall Kenan. I’ve taught Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits, which is masterpiece, and Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, a collection of short stories. So, I’m going to go for the completely new and teach Duplechan’s Blackbird, a novel written in the 1980s about a high school senior in the 1970s. I’m hoping that the bookstore will be able to get it in without any trouble, since I want to start the class with this.

The last work I’ve chosen is Trace Elements of Random Teach Parties by Felicia Luna Lemus. One of my students in the spring recommended I read it, and I’ve enjoyed it. I think it will help us look at many of the themes raised by the other works through a different lens.

Barring some unforeseen difficulty in ordering one or more of these books, these are what I’m planning to teach in the winter: Blackbird, Borrowed Time, Angels in America, Fun Home, In Her I Am, and Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties.

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