International scholars learn US literature at its roots

Seventeen globe-trotting professors were in Louisville this June and July for an intensive summer institute of scholarship and travel organized by the University of Louisville’s College of Arts & Sciences and funded by the U.S. State Department.
International scholars learn US literature at its roots

The participants attended the June 12-July 25 Institute on Contemporary American Literature presented by the Department of English and UofL's Commonwealth Center for the Humanities and Society, directed by English professor Aaron Jaffe. The U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs funds the institute as part of a broader initiative to help promote a better understanding of the United States abroad by improving the quality of teaching and curriculum used in academic institutions overseas.

“We covered a lot of great material: John Ashbery, Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, Junot Diaz, Jennifer Egan, Percival Everett, Allen Ginsberg, Mat Johnson, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-rae Lee, Ben Lerner, Harryette Mullen, Suzan-Lori Parks, Thomas Pynchon, Adrienne Rich, Vanessa Veselka, and Daniel Woodrell,” said Prof. Jaffe. “The scholars return to their home countries with cutting edge ideas about literary studies and American literature and often implement these ideas in their syllabi, departments, and curricula.

“It’s the kind of experience that makes UofL stand out from other places and that exists nowhere else.”

The 2015 scholars were from Armenia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Montenegro, Nigeria, Pakistan, People’s Republic of China, Poland, Rwanda, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Their schedule included intensive seminars, tours and events in Louisville, as well as trips to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C. Highlights included meetings with several prominent writers whose works the scholars study during the institute. Louisville activities included visits to cultural attractions, dramatic performances, bookstores and social events in addition to seminars with authors, professors and publishers.

Topics and extensive readings covered major figures from traditional and modern U.S. literature through works in fiction, nonfiction, poetry and drama.

Their schedule was designed to add context to their studies. For example, the Cincinnati trip included the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, linked to the scholars’ study of literature about slavery. The Washington visit included the National Museum of the American Indian, relating to American Indian literature.

Institute scholars were among 40,000 people participating each year in U.S. Department of State exchange programs that seek to promote mutual understanding and respect between people of the United States and other countries. During the 14 years UofL has been its host, the institute has brought more than $3.5 million in federal grant funds to the university.

For more information, contact Tracy Heightchew at 502-852-8977 or check; for general information on U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs, check