COOL CLASSES: “Literature of the Civil Rights and LGBTQ Rights Movements”

A Peace, Justice, and Human Rights Program course on literary works that take political positions.

Class name: “Literature of the Civil Rights and LGBTQ Rights Movements”

Taught by: Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology Anne Balay


Here’s what Balay had to say about her class:              

Often, we are taught to value literary works that distance themselves from political positions. Works considered great have to eschew anything read as propagandistic or didactic. At the same time, if humans want to bring about change, we need to use our imaginations—we can’t do anything that we can’t imagine. There’s that saying: you can’t hit a target you can’t see. Literature, I would argue, has been pivotal in helping us imagine different ways of being, thus instigating revolution.

In this class, we read texts that changed the world, and analyze why and how they did this, focusing on two revolutions of the long 20th century: civil rights struggle and LGBT rights struggle. We end by turning to literature written for young adults, thinking about censorship, sex, children’s experience, idealism, and ethics. This course is not about high art, it’s about good art.

I got my Ph.D. in an English department (at the University of Chicago).  Cultural Studies and various forms of interdisciplinarity have shaped English literary study, but there is still an assumption that political books—ones that convey explicit messages or have measurable effects—are somehow inferior to those that rise above the world in which they are set. In my research and writing, I have challenged that assumption, and this class is part of that project.

See other courses offered by the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights Program.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.