Syllabus & Policies

Pop Culture in Literature:
American Culture in Cross-Cultural Contexts
An Alabama Prison Arts and Education Project Course

Instructors: Stacey Dearing & DeElla Wiley
Program Coordinator: Kyes Stevens

Address: Department of Psychology
226 Thach Hall
Auburn University, AL 36849

 Meeting Day & Time: Monday & Wednesday (Possibly Friday) 9 am – 11 am

 Course Objectives: This course will introduce students to twentieth century literature which address American popular culture in cross-cultural and multicultural contexts. By reading and thinking about texts which address popular culture from comic books to zoo animals, from modern gods to an airborne toxic event, and considering the complex ways in which pop culture influences, address and challenges issues of race, culture, class, and gender, students will attempt to answer the questions: “What constitutes dominant/pervasive pop culture icons?” and “how does pop culture serve to enhance or challenge other cultures?” Together we will critically analyze pop culture, exploring the underlying assumptions and their wider implications. Consideration of the historical, cultural, religious, economic and political elements that surround each written piece will help students to contextualize and inform their reading, as well as help them consider how literature and the literary form are valuable tools for disseminating specific political and social messages through pop culture icons. Through the exploration of pop culture within the assigned texts, we will attempt to answer the question, “What is culture?”

In order to improve their writing, each week students will write informal, one-page response and reaction to the texts they have read. Each student will also create an essay (3-4 pages) critically analyzing a specific piece of pop culture (a song, actor, comic, book, movie, TV show/character, etc) which is significant to them. This essay may explore issues of culture, culture crossing, stereotyping, political messages, the underlying message of the piece, etc. This paper MUST do more than state why the writer enjoys the piece. DO NOT write about your favorite song simply because you like it. Instead, think about issues which the song addresses which are significant to you, or messages that challenge you or even bother you. More information on this assignment will be provided on a separate sheet, and we will discuss possible topics and examples in class. Students will turn in a one-page proposal for their essay topic. (For more information, see assignment sheet).

 The class is designed for students of all education levels, but the instructors suggest that only students who enjoy reading, writing and discussing literature and culture take the class.

Requirements: In order to receive a completion certificate, a student MUST complete the following requirements. Extra-ordinary circumstances and emergencies will be taken into consideration:

  • Attend all classes
  • Participate in class discussions
  • Turn in 4 reading responses
  • Turn in 1 essay proposal
  • Turn in one 3-4 page essay which critically analyzes the significance of one piece of pop culture, an aspect of meaning which the writer has inferred from the piece, and how that meaning has affected the writer in a significant way.


DeLillo, Don. White Noise. New York: Penguin, 1986.

Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead, 2007.

Gaiman, Neil. American Gods. New York: Harper, 2003.

Martel, Yann. Life of Pi: a Novel. New York: Harcourt, 2001.

Class Format:

This class meets twice each week for two hours. Students will have read their assigned pages and will have written a one-page response to their reading when they arrive in class. During the class meetings, students and instructors will discuss the themes and issues in the texts, the historical and cultural contexts in which the texts were written, and the class’s interpretations of the texts. Students are expected to participate in discussions. The instructor will collect the reading responses each week and write comments on them before returning them the following week.

No grades will be assigned.

 Reading Response:

The weekly reading response is a chance for you to express your thoughts about the reading assigned for that week. You might, for instance, highlight the aspects of the work you enjoyed or disliked and explain why, bring attention to aspects of the work that were especially interesting or troublesome, note writing techniques that helped or hindered the writer’s success, relate the work to your own experiences or the world around us, etc. There are no rules for this assignment, except I expect your work to be roughly 1 page, and I hope to see your thoughts about the reading (rather than a summary of the reading).


All students will be loaned copies of the texts that must be returned on the last day of class.  All photocopied materials will be yours to keep.  All other materials (paper, pen, etc.) will be distributed on the first day of class.  You will only receive ONE of each item.  Please keep up with all of your materials. We only have enough to distribute one of everything to each student, and we cannot replace lost items.


 Hopefully we will be able to meet each week according to our schedule.  However, if for some reason the class is unable to meet, we will continue with the material from the missed class day during the next class meeting.  We will adjust the schedule accordingly, and also try to reschedule any cancelled classes.

 Everyone gets sick sometime, but we ask that if you are ill, please do not come to class for that day.

All correspondence goes through the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project, and will be read and approved by Kyes Stevens.

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