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English Honors Class Reflects on the Impact of 9/11 on U.S. Literature and Culture

stack of books

The course will look at the ways that civil rights, law and public perceptions of immigrants have been deeply affected by 9/11.

Contact: Professor Persis Karim, persis.karim@sjsu.edu.

Many Americans believe or have claimed that “everything changed” after September 11, 2001. Does American literature, culture, and society reflect this change?

While around the U.S. this coming week, Americans will be remembering, commemorating, and re-living the events of September 11, 2001, a group of SJSU’s brightest students will be reflecting on the larger impact of that historic day on American culture and society. A group of 13 honors students from the Department of English and Comparative Literature, taught by Professor Persis Karim, have started their semester by reading and analyzing literature produced immediately after 9/11 and in the years following. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. and the United Airlines crash in Pennsylvania will be revisited in the media through stories and remembrances of survivors and those who perished in the attacks, including a plethora of images seared on the minds of Americans of all generations. Students in the  honors seminar, many of whom were in middle school on that fateful day, will attempt to understand how 9/11 altered their generation and the larger cultural landscape of the United States.

Students in “Literature and Culture after 9/11” are currently reading literature (poetry, prose and fiction) written in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, such as a compilation called, Afterwords: Stories and Reports from 9/11 and Beyond as well as novels, essays, and historical documents (such as excerpts from the 9/11 Commission Report). Some of the novels that students will read include Jonathan Franzen’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Don Delillo’s Falling Man, and Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children all of which have now become part of the canon of American literature that describes 9/11 and its impact. Students will also read literature authored by Americans of Muslim, Arab and Middle Eastern heritage, including Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land, as well as excerpts from Afghan-American writing such as Bay Area writer Tamim Ansary’s West of Kabul, East of New York written and published immediately after 9/11.

The course will look at the ways that civil rights, law and public perceptions of immigrants have been deeply affected by 9/11. The class will also read Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun a journalistic account of an innocent Arab-American man living in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina who gets caught up in the anti-Muslim fervor of the post-9/11 years. In addition, to written texts, the class will view several documentaries and will view news specials that commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  The class will respond on their class blog: “9/11: Through the Looking Glass.” Their first assignment next week is to post a response to the coverage of the ten-year anniversary and some of the reading they are doing. The class has established a Facebook page which serves as a place for student comments, insights, and a class resource of articles, websites, and information about the upcoming 9/11 anniversary.

The objectives of the class are to understand how a major historical event continues to reverberate in our society and to shape the ways we view ourselves as Americans, and to perhaps reflect on the events of 9/11 with an attention to the many perpectives, experiences, and continuing effects it has both nationally and internationally. A public forum to assess the impact of 9/11 will be hosted later this month with members of the legal, cultural, and journalistic community.