Approaches to Teaching LGBT Literature

by William P. Banks (Author) John Pruitt (Author)
©2018 Monographs VI, 136 Pages


In 1995, George Haggerty and Bonnie Zimmerman’s landmark volume Professions of Desire: Lesbian and Gay Studies in Literature—followed by William Spurlin’s Lesbian and Gay Studies and the Teaching of English (2000)—began addressing the esoteric discussions complicating the intersections among gender, sexuality, and other identity constructs within the English classroom. Given the perpetuation of heteronormativity in the educational system, Haggerty encourages instructors to help LGBT students "learn about the politics of oppression in their own lives as well as in the cultural context that, after all, determines what they mean when they call themselves lesbian or gay."
Approaches to Teaching LGBT Literature is designed to help teachers address what it means to teach LGBT literature. How can pre-service teacher educators prepare their students to teach LGBT literature? How should teachers introduce different bodies of students to these texts? Those interested in starting LGBT-themed courses and/or thinking about how LGBT literatures might fit into the broader undergraduate curriculum will benefit from this scholarship addressing the history and evolution of LGBT literature courses in different contexts and providing a diverse set of example courses, projects, and activities that would help an array of faculty to implement such courses on their campuses.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • 1. Approaching LGBTQ Literatures: Frameworks for Pedagogical Inquiry (William P. Banks / John Pruitt)
  • 2. Intersectional Pedagogies of Queer Literature: Teaching Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits (Timothy Barnett)
  • 3. “Keeping Us Visible”: Introducing and Teaching Latino and Latina Literary Characters in LGBTQ-Themed College Courses (R. Joseph Rodríguez)
  • 4. Designing and Teaching “Introduction to LGBT Literature” in the U.S. and Turkey From a Transnational Perspective (Serkan Gorkemli)
  • 5. Love Without Boundaries: Appreciating Contemporary Women Writers’ Challenges to the Binaries of Gender, Sexuality, and Textuality in Gender-Nonspecific Short Stories (Justyna Kostkowska)
  • 6. Biography Is the New Queer: Teaching Oscar Wilde and Henry James (Helena Gurfinkel)
  • 7. Write Your Life: Student-Created Anthologies as Discourse in Queer Literature Classes (Nicholas Alexander Hayes)
  • 8. Engaging Virtually With Parents of LGBTQ Children Through Literary Study: A Case Study of Shelly and Travis (Jamie Steckelberg)
  • 9. Teaching LGBTQ Literature Online, 1997–2017: A Personal-Curricular Reflection (Scott Lankford)
  • Contributors
  • Index

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1.  Approaching LGBTQ Literatures: Frameworks for Pedagogical Inquiry


In 1995, when George Haggerty and Bonnie Zimmerman were putting together the first book-length collection that explored what it might mean to teach lesbian and gay literatures—to “profess desire” in our college classrooms by daring to teach literary texts focused on sexuality—a colleague of Haggerty’s asked him if it were a good time to do so: “‘You know,’ he said, ‘the climate is just so bad right now, so rife with censorship, that you really should think twice before using a title like that’” (17). Rereading that collection a little over twenty years later reminds us how much and how little seem to have changed. Has there ever been a “good time” to talk about sex and sexuality in the context of teaching and learning? Has there ever been a bad time talk about sex and sexuality—and literature and film and art?

In answering that question, we offer this current volume, Teaching LGBTQ Literatures: Concepts, Methods, Curricula, which provides examples of how current teacher-scholars understand the project of teaching courses focused on LGBTQ texts. Included here are lengthy discussions of how and why collegiate faculty have chosen certain texts and or approaches in their teaching of LGBTQ literature courses, as well as some sample assignments, activities, and resources that they have found successful within their own classes. In asking these writers to frame their discussions around broader teaching concerns, we envisioned a collection that would move beyond, or perhaps more appropriately alongside, the often esoteric work of queer and poststructuralist theories that occupy so much of our professional literature on LGBTQ topics. Those theoretical pieces shape our practice in significant ways and have offered us and the other contributors to this collection invaluable frames for understanding our work. But as teachers ourselves who wonder what texts others ← 1 | 2 → are including in their LGBTQ literature courses, and in what order, and why, and how they’re struggling to engage students in meaningful conversations and ideas sparked by those texts, we also wanted to know what those theories look like when we have to bring together the conceptual and esoteric with the very practical, very embodied, often exciting, and sometimes disappointing experiences of classroom teaching.

The authors included here open the doors of their classrooms and invite us inside through discussions of their text selections, teaching frameworks, and assignments. In doing so, they open themselves and their choices up to critique, even as they demonstrate many of the reasons it can be so difficult to connect theory and practice in meaningful ways. What we see in these chapters are teachers like ourselves who can imagine innovative and exciting classroom spaces that value students and their potential, as well as classrooms where students often struggle to engage with texts and ideas that have rarely been part of their study of literature. While there has certainly been some movement in K-12 classrooms in the United States to include discussions of LGBTQ topics and texts (Blackburn and McCready 2009; Miller 2013; Hermann-Wilmarth and Ryan 2016; Linville and Carlson 2016), and while many LGBTQ students who enroll in our classes will have read some of these texts on their own, it remains a rare experience for primary and secondary students to study these texts as part of their school experience. The writers included here remind us that any innovation their courses may embody is also tempered by the significant amount of work still needed to help students develop robust and nuanced “sexual literacies” (Alexander 2008).

Queering and Querying Pedagogy

In framing the pieces that make up this collection, we begin by recognizing the somewhat limited but important work that has been done in queer(ing) pedagogy. These discussions have done much to shape the teaching choices that so many of us make when we develop and teach LGBTQ literature courses. For at least the past forty years, courses on gay and lesbian—and then “gay, lesbian, and bisexual,” and then “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender”—literatures have slowly but continuously become part of collegiate undergraduate curricula. The titles of these courses, and the texts included in them, have changed significantly with the growth and development of what we might now inclusively call Queer Studies, and that title history is itself a study in the history and emergence of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) people. Each new development signals the ongoing ← 2 | 3 → desire that we see at the heart of Queer Studies to be both inclusive and edgy—to recognize the complex and diverse bodies, performances, and identities that might fall under the broad umbrella of “sexualities and genders” and also to challenge what that umbrella can cover at any given historical moment. Therefore, each development also signals our collective failures at inclusivity and edginess, to enacting the complex and shifting realizations that queer pedagogies provide. Central to queer theories of language and culture is the recognition that boundaries and orientations must be continuously negotiated and renegotiated, so it should come as no surprise that a course that purports to study LGBTQ literatures in some canonized or sedimented form is simply hard to find. It slips and slides from us. Would we really want it any other way?

The course models, texts, and projects described in this collection represent applications of various queer pedagogies and theories, some of which the writers articulate, but much of which has become tacit for those of us in Queer Studies. Here, however, we’d like to recognize and name some of those practices, in part because doing so can demonstrate what continues to make the teaching of LGBTQ literatures challenging, exciting, and perhaps impossible—at least inasmuch as recent queer theories and pedagogies have encouraged us to be aspirational and unreachable. When José Muñoz (2009) encourages us to “cruise utopia,” to recognize queerness as “always on the horizon…as being viable only in the horizon” (11), it can be hard to imagine what we are supposed to teach here, today, in this particular course. But our work in our courses, particularly those situated in literary studies, holds the potential to engage queer lives and experiences across historical spectrums and frames, to recognize that there have been multiple horizons that queer pushed us toward, through, and beyond. For Muñoz and other queer thinkers, queer opens possibility and potentiality, resists finitude and closure. As such, queer pedagogies operate in spaces of “plenitude and fullness” (Salamon 2010, 24), spaces that must be (re)imagined. For Mary Armstrong (2008), this imagined space provokes large and shifting questions that many of us have used heuristically as we plan both our courses and our daily class meetings:

Queer pedagogy demands that we think hard about what makes the queer classroom queer, as well as what we wish to achieve when we try to imagine about queer positive educational spaces: What is the queer classroom? Who and what are these queer students, teachers, materials, and ideas? What effects do we hope queer pedagogy will have on students, instructors, and institutions? (87)

It might be easy, at a quick glance, to assume that some of the course models and literary selections that our contributors offer are not queer at all, but in ← 3 | 4 → fact embrace identity-driven, multicultural notions centered on “exposure,” but a more careful reading of the chapters here demonstrates that faculty teaching LGBTQ literatures are engaging deeply in the difficult work of imagining those “other voices, other rooms” that Truman Capote wrote of so elegantly half a century ago.

Ultimately, the writers in this volume realize much of the potential that Deborah Britzman (1995) explored in her ground-breaking article “Is There a Queer Pedagogy? Or, Stop Reading Straight,” and demonstrate that, while there has been a paucity of published scholarship on queer pedagogy in the twenty years following her article, several queer pedagogies have emerged among those of us teaching LGBTQ literatures. In this early article, Britzman grounded her analysis in two ethical principles that were and remain central to our work:


VI, 136
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (May)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. VI, 136 pp., 1 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

William P. Banks (Author) John Pruitt (Author)

William P. Banks (PhD, Illinois State University) is Professor of English at East Carolina University, where he teaches courses in writing, research, pedagogy, LGBT literature, and young adult literature. His essays on queer rhetorics and LGBT and young adult literatures have appeared in College English, College Composition and Communication, and English Journal. John Pruitt (PhD, Ohio University) is Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Rock County and editor of Wisconsin English Journal. His publications on LGBT pedagogy have appeared in journals such as College English and Teaching English in the Two-Year College.


Title: Approaches to Teaching LGBT Literature
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144 pages