Faculty Profile

Sharon O'Brien

Professor of English and American Studies, James Hope Caldwell Professor of American Cultures (1975)

Contact Information

obrien@dickinson.edu

Denny Hall Room 316
717.245.1497
http://users.dickinson.edu/~obrien/

Bio

Sharon O'Brien teaches interdisciplinary courses in the American Studies and English Departments, looking at the multiplicity of American cultures through the lenses of race, class, gender, and ethnicity. The author of a biography of Willa Cather and of a family memoir, she is now teaching and writing memoir and personal essay. Teaching and research interests include the politics of memory; illness and narrative; and lifewriting.

Education

  • B.A., Radcliffe College, 1967
  • M.A., Harvard University, 1969
  • Ph.D., 1975

2015-2016 Academic Year

Fall 2015

AMST 202 Workshop in Cultural Analysis
Intensive workshop focused on theoretical approaches to the interpretation of social and cultural materials. The course provides an early exposure to theories and methods that will be returned to in greater depth in the senior year. Intended to develop independent skills in analysis of primary texts and documents.

ENGL 219 Creative Writing: Memoir/Essay
May include memoir, creative nonfiction, screenwriting, biography, novel writing, graphic novel, playwriting, “genre” fiction (e.g., detective, sci-fi), subgenres of poetry (e.g., visual poetry), subgenres of fiction (e.g., Magical Realism), and other forms of non-analytical writing not routinely offered.

Spring 2016

AMST 200 Health, Illness and Narrative
What is it like to experience illness in America? This course will focus on narratives of illness in contemporary American culture. We will explore the ways in which our culture shapes the experience of illness, at differences among “healing,” “cure,” and “recovery,” and at the importance of breaking silence . To what extent, we will ask, do certain forms of illness acquire stigma in American culture, and why? How has the American cult of “positive thinking” affected the lives of people experiencing illness? What role do forms of creative expression—fiction, memoir, essay, film – play in shaping the experience of illness and healing? How, and why, have definitions of what is “illness” changed over time? Our reading will include books such as Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals; Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors, William Styron, Darkness Visible, and Miriam Engelberg, Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person. Films will include Wit. We will read narratives by health practitioners as well as by patients.

AMST 301 Contemp Amer Fiction
Cross-listed with ENGL 339-03. In this course, we will be exploring how contemporary American writers use the genres of memoir, novel, and short story to explore the complexity, multiplicity, and variety of American identities – and hyphenated American identities -- in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Identity is not a single category; all of us “inhabit” many identities, some of which we may need to hide, some of which we may need to express. Identities can shift over time, identities can be hyphenated, multiple, contradictory. Identities can stretch across nations, religions, languages, cultures; they can be hyphenated, not singular, as many immigrants to the United States maintain ties to a homeland or to an inherited culture. In this course we will focus on literature portraying immigrant lives, racial and gay/lesbian “passing,” intersexuality, and cross-cultural and racial adoption. We will be reading such writers as Jhumpa Lahiri, Edwige Danticat, Alison Bechdel, and Jeffrey Eugenides. We will ask such questions as: How do writers tell stories that negotiate between worlds? How does their work engage with issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, diaspora? What literary or narrative techniques do the writers use to make their stories powerful?

ENGL 339 Contemp Amer Fiction
Cross-listed with AMST 301-01. In this course, we will be exploring how contemporary American writers use the genres of memoir, novel, and short story to explore the complexity, multiplicity, and variety of American identities – and hyphenated American identities -- in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Identity is not a single category; all of us “inhabit” many identities, some of which we may need to hide, some of which we may need to express. Identities can shift over time, identities can be hyphenated, multiple, contradictory. Identities can stretch across nations, religions, languages, cultures; they can be hyphenated, not singular, as many immigrants to the United States maintain ties to a homeland or to an inherited culture. In this course we will focus on literature portraying immigrant lives, racial and gay/lesbian “passing,” intersexuality, and cross-cultural and racial adoption. We will be reading such writers as Jhumpa Lahiri, Edwige Danticat, Alison Bechdel, and Jeffrey Eugenides. We will ask such questions as: How do writers tell stories that negotiate between worlds? How does their work engage with issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, diaspora? What literary or narrative techniques do the writers use to make their stories powerful?