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Preparing for grad school

Hi, all. I just finished up my BFA in dramatic writing--playwriting, specifically--at NYU. I'm entering NYU's MA program in English and American literature in the fall. (Don't worry--I have a scholarship--I'm not paying anything.) My undergrad advisors knew nothing about English, so this community played a huge role in helping me apply without making a complete ass of myself.

So, what materials do you folks think would be good for a non-English major preparing for graduate English study to read over the summer? Remember, I've had no formal training in the novel or poetry--only drama. Recently, I read Peter Barry's Beginning Theory, a survey of literary theory. But I face a steep learning curve, in terms of both literature and criticism. Any suggestions? I've got to get a serious head start. Thanks!

By the way, for anyone who's doing the CUNY Language for Reading program this summer, so am I--in French.


May. 14th, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC)
Congrats again on NYU! When I was visiting schools, I asked a professor how I should prepare the summer before entering school, and he recommended reading secondary sources and strengthening your theoretical approach to literature. He pointed out that you're going to be introduced to lots of primary sources in your courses, so it's more important to focus on how you will interpret them before entering school.

Thus, I think you're on the right track by reading Barry's Beginning Theory. I have also heard that Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction is a good way to learn about various schools of theory. I would also recommend Jonathan Culler's Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Rather than giving a history of different schools, he talks about the implications of theory on how we consider language, meaning, identity, performance, etc. I've found it to be really useful in helping me think about literature in its bare essentials and consider the questions at the core of all our future work: what do we mean when we call something "literature"? What is the relationship between literature and language? What determines meaning? Plus, since I'm hoping to take a class with Culler in the fall, it kind of counts as homework for me. :)

Beyond the most general of books on theory, I would recommend finding 2 or 3 seminal theoretical works or comprehensive lit histories on the time period you're going to study. I'm focusing on 19th century American women's literature, for instance, so I'll be reading Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers, a comprehensive history of U.S. women's writers. I also reread A Room of One's Own and will be getting into Butler's Gender Trouble. I'm not planning on going too in-depth, considering the likelihood that my interests will change once I'm in the program, but I'm just trying to get my lit juices flowing after several years out of the classroom.

My last recommendation is to figure out the top journals in your time period and begin reading them with some regularity. Not only will this help you see the directions in which your field is heading, but you'll also be familiar with journals to target when you're ready to publish articles.
May. 18th, 2009 03:17 am (UTC)
Eagleton's book is fantastic. He's a very clear, very engaging writer--funny, too.


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