By Gianluca Russo
Mention of Donald Trump and his presidency no doubt evoke strong emotions in many, whether for or against his policies. While some have chosen to refrain from any discussions that may result in conflict due to the current political climate, others have chosen to embrace it for their own opportunity. One of them is Casey Ellis, adjunct professor at Westchester Community College.
After a previous professor’s departure, Ellis was asked to teach ENG 200 – American Literature to 1865. While the course had been laid out, he knew he needed to find an interesting way to get students to sign up for the fall semester. “Because I’m an adjunct and because electives don’t fill up, I needed to do a lot of advertising for the class to make sure it runs,” he says.
It was then that he came up with the perfect slogan for his class flyer: “Make American Lit Great Again.”
“Donald’s slogan was definitely contemporary and eye-catching, so it seemed like it might be guaranteed to catch the attention of anyone who might actually look at flyers,” he explains.
As expected, the flyer worked and students began taking interest in the class. No need to worry, however, as Donald Trump and modern day politics won’t be a focus point for the course. “While contemporary politics and such may come up in discussion, it’s not totally structured around that. Basically, what it tries to look at is … how does the literary history of the 18th and 19th centuries continue to inform the present moment for how we imagine the American literary task? We’re trying to look at how various strands and motifs have existed in the United States and how they continue through today.”
Still though, American literature? Many students might find the class to be more boring than fun, especially as it is an elective and not a required course. Ellis assures, however, that the class will be just as intriguing as the poster. “What I would say to them is that there is so much more to it, like any literary period,” he says. “It’s so much richer than causal perception, and that’s why Poe is on the poster. It’s interesting that students don’t perceive him as a large part of American literature when he was very much part of the literary scene. There’s a lot more to it that is more relevant and interesting to students than they would imagine from their perfectly understandable awareness of it.”