Latin American Literature

Tomás F. Crowder-Taraborrelli
Tomas’ blog:
Office, office hours: Maathai 414, Mondays and Fridays 3:00- 4:00 p.m.
Class Website 
This course is a survey of twentieth-century Latin American literature. The fact that many of these readings are grouped under this category reveals that we have a need to organize knowledge in a way that is industrious and geopolitically convenient. Although it is undeniable that some of the authors featured in this course have found inspiration in each other’s writings and shared long conversations about national identity, cultural heritage, social reform and liberation, most of them carried on with their work in blissful remoteness.
To begin the study of Latin American literature is to enter a universe of literary innovation, cultural critique, philosophical ruminations, jealously, and the often eluding quest to establish a continental movement to amend the painful legacies of colonialism, racism and underdevelopment. Jorge Volpi, one of the writers included in the reading list for the course, recently wrote:
What do we, Latin Americans, share in exclusivity? More of the same: a language, catholic traditions, Roman law, a few customs of an uncertain indigenous or African origin, and the resentment, now turned into jokes, against Spain and the United States? Is that all? After two centuries of independence, is that all? Seriously?
The literary works I’ve selected for this course make great demands both on readers and scholars. They demand open-mindedness, passionate reflection and the luxury to continue exploring the historical allusions made in these narratives after the course is over. In the last decades, an analytical dialogue has deepened the study of literary texts with writings from multiple disciplines: sociology, psychology, history, philosophy, and art history just to name a few. Academics often refer to these often-interdisciplinary texts as “theory”. I have included several influential “theoretical” texts in our reading list in an attempt to show you the pleasures and pains of “applying” what could appear to be “esoteric” formulations to the interpretation of literature.
A main motivation in this course is to attempt to answer Volpi’s open-ended question (quoted above). I hope that during our classroom discussions will be the beginning of an educated response to his insolent query.
I recommend you purchase your books on Powell’s books website right after you read this syllabus! Please purchase the same editions I have listed. Keep in mind that you must attend class with your personal copy of the books not a digital version in your computer (when possible). If readings are posted on Brightspace, please bring a hard copy to class.
Aira, Cesar. How I Became a Nun. New York: New Directions, 2007 (optional).
Arlt, Roberto. Mad Toy. Transl. McKay Aynesworth. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002 [electronic version
available from Ikeda Library].
Bellatín, Mario. Beauty Salon. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2009 (required text).
Bolaño, Roberto. Distant Star. New York: New Directions, 2004 (required text).
Carpentier, Alejo. The Kingdom of This World. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006 (required text).
Lemebel, Pedro. My Tender Matador: A Novel. New York: Groove Press, 2004 (required text).
Lispector, Clarice. The Hour of the Star. New York: New Directions Books, 1992 (Sixth       Printing) (required text).
Pacheco, Jose Emilio. Battles in the Desert & Other Stories. New York: New Directions, 1987 (required text).
Schwelbin, Samantha. Birds In The Mouth. Electric Literature, 2012 (kindle edition on Amazon, optional)
Zamba, Alejandro. Bonsai. First Melville House Printing: October, 2008 (required text).
• To understand some of the key literary figures and movements in Latin American literature
• Learn to read closely short-stories, poems, novels and literary criticism essays
• Gain knowledge about historical events that shaped the continent’s literary movements and the life of some of their key authors
• Analyze a literary text through the lens of philosophical or critical theory essays
• Write short academic essays about literature
• Journals (25%)
The purpose of the journals is to help generate ideas and to give the students an informal arena in which to state reactions to the works they read, to record initial explications of key passages, and most importantly, to help students think about the work in relation to other works discussed in the course. I will check the journals periodically.
• 2 Papers (25%)
Two 5-6-page essays with research (secondary sources) focusing on a poem, essay or work of fiction we have discussed in class.
• Class presentation (30%)
Presentations should cover literary criticism, or an article regarding an author, his or her work, or a particular aspect of the development of Latin American literature in the twentieth century- 10 minutes in length
• Class participation and attendance (20%)
• Unannounced quizzes may be given to insure the class is reading the assigned material 
WEEK 1:  February 9th and 11th
 Introduction to Latin American Literature and Literary Criticism
Tuesday: Introduction to the Course. Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature, “Culture”, “Literature”, “Creative Practice” (Brightspace).
Wednesday: Carlos Velázquez, La marrana negra de la literatura rosa. Translated by Jake Edelstein (Soka alumni).
WEEK 2: February 16th and 18th
Latin American surrealism and historicism
Tuesday: Miguel Angel Asturias, Legends of Guatemala. “Legend of La Tatuana” (on Brightspace).
Thursday: (cont.) Roberto Fernández Retamar, Calibán and Other Essays, “Calibán: Notes Toward a Discussion of Culture in Our America” (on Brightspace)
WEEK 3: February 23rd and 25th
Tuesday: Roberto Arlt: Mad Toy, translated by Michelle Aynesworth (electronic copy available through the library) 1-85.
Thursday: Roberto Arlt: Mad Toy, translated by Michelle Aynesworth (electronic copy available through the library) 85-170.
WEEK 4: March 1st and 3rd
A Caribbean master
Tuesday: Alejo Carpentier. The Kingdom of This World. Part One (1-90)
Thursday: Alejo Carpentier. The Kingdom of This World. Part Two (91-180) .Terry Eagleton, “Political Criticism” (on Brightspace)
WEEK 5: March 8th and 10th
A paper revolution- the literary avant-garde
Tuesday: Jorge Luis Borges. Selected short stories (on Brightspace)
Thursday: Jorge Luis Borges. Selected short stories (cont.). Michelle Foucault. The Order of Things, “Preface” “Las Meninas” (on Brightspace)
WEEK 6: March 16th and 18th
WEEK 7: March 22nd and 24th
Magical realism and the boom
Tuesday: Gabriel García Márquez, Strange Pilgrims, “Prologue”, “The Saint”, “Miss Forbe’s Summer of Happiness” (on Brightspace)
Thursday: Pablo Neruda, The Poetry of Pablo Neruda, “The Heights of Macchu Picchu” “America, I do not invoke your name in vain” “Canto General of Chile” (on Brightspace)
WEEK 8: March 29th and 31st
The fantastic
Tuesday: Todorov, The Fantastic, “Definition of the fantastic”, “The uncanny and the marvelous” (excerpt on Brightspace) Julio Cortázar, Selected short stories (on Brightspace): “House taken over,” “The distances,” “The Idol of the Cyclades” “Blow-up,” “Letter to a young girl in Paris.”
Thursday: Julio Cortázar, Selected short stories (on Brightspace).
WEEK 9: April 5th and 7th
Gender and sexuality
FIRST PAPER DUE ON THIS TUESDAY! (5 pages) Bring hard copy to class!
Tuesday: Rosario Ferré, The Youngest Doll, “The Youngest Doll” (on Brightspace).
Thursday: Clarice Lispector. The Hour of the Star.
WEEK 10: April 12th and 14th
Violence and sex
Tuesday: Alejandro Zambra, Bonsai. Reading marathon [location to be announced].
Thursday: Samantha Schwelbin. Birds in the Mouth (selection, kindle). Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, “Cultural Criticsim and Society” (on Brightspace)
WEEK 11: April 19th and 21st
Love and death
Tuesday: Mario Bellatín. Beauty Salon.
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, “The house, from cellar to garret. The significance of the hut” (on Brightspace)
Thursday:  Rodrigo Ray Rosa, Dust on her tongue, “Dust on her tongue”, “Privacy”, “The Burial” (on Brightspace)
Jorge Volpi, “Ars Poetica”, Mayra Montero “That man, Pollack” (on Brightspace)
WEEK 12: April 26th and 28th
Bolaño and literary, deadly, social clubs
Tuesday: Roberto Bolaño. Distant Star, part One.
Thursday: Roberto Bolaño, Distant Star, part Two.
WEEK 13: May 3rd and 5th
Tuesday: Pedro Lemebel. My Tender Matador. Part One
Thursday: Pedro Lemebel. My Tender Matador. Part Two.
WEEK 14: May 10th and 12th
Oral presentations if needed
SECOND PAPER IS DUE (6 pages, date to be announced!)
WEEK 15: FINALS WEEK! May 18th to May 24th


Adorno, Theodor W. “Cultural Criticism and Society.” Prisms. MIT Press, 1981.

Asturias, Miguel Angel., and R. Kelly. Washbourne. “Legend of La Tatuana.” Legends of Guatemala = Leyendas de Guatemala. Latin American Literary Review Press, 2011.

Bachelard, Gaston, and M. Jolas. The poetics of space. Penguin Books, 2014.

Bellatin, Mario. Beauty Salon. City Lights Publisher, 2009.

Bolaño, Roberto. Distant star. Vintage, 2009.

Borges, Jorge Luis, and Pierre Macherey. Jorge Luis Borges. Freeland, 1978.

Carpentier, Alejo. The kingdom of this world. Macmillan, 2006. 1-180.

Lispector, Clarice. The Hour of the Star. New Directions, 1992.

Cortázar, Julio, and Paul Blackburn. Blow-up, and other stories. Pantheon Books, 2013.

Ferre, Rosario. The Youngest Doll. University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Lemebel, Pedro. My tender matador. Grove Press, 2003.

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Strange Pilgrims. Vintage, 2006.

Neruda, Pablo, and Ilan Stavans. The poetry of Pablo Neruda. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

Retamar, Roberto Fernández. Caliban and other essays. University of Minnesota Press, 2005. 1-170.

Rosa, Rodrigo Rey. Dust on her tongue. City Lights Books, 1992.

Schweblin, By: Samanta. “Birds in the Mouth.” PEN America, 18 Nov. 2011,

Todorov, Tzvetan, and Richard Howard. The fantastic: a structural approach to a literary genre. Cornell Univ. Pr., 2007

Velázquez, Carlos. La marrana negra de la literatura rosa. Sexto Piso, 2013.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and literature. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Zambra, Alejandro. Bonsai. Melville House, 2012.

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