Contemporary Literature (TRU3044)

StaffDr Natalie Pollard - Lecturer
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The aim of this module is to introduce students to a range of contemporary prose and poetry published in America, Britain, and South Africa. Students will explore: • The meaning of the term ‘contemporary literature’, and its development out of earlier literatures. • The aesthetic, historical and socio-political dimensions of writing post-1970, and the predominating issues and themes that inform it. • The prevailing climate in the publishing world today, and its relation to questions to literary value. • Current critical and theoretical writings that will foster research-enriched readings of contemporary literary texts. • A diverse range of fiction and poetry that provides insights into the social transformations in late 20C and early 21C manifestations of nationality, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, community, class.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an ability cogently to interrelate literary movements and literary styles across the 20-21C
  • 2. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the aesthetic, historical and socio-political dimensions across a range of specific works of contemporary literature
  • 3. Demonstrate an informed ability to analyse the historical and geographical contexts of contemporary literary works effectively, including their publishing contexts and interactions with popular culture.
  • 4. Conduct critical interpretations that engage intelligently with the ‘real world’ context of the discipline (the place and mode of publication, a text’s intersections with different media – art, film, broadcast, live events)

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 5. Demonstrate effective skills in creative and critical thinking; written and verbal communication, debate and argument; and close textual analysis and research in written and oral work
  • 6. Demonstrate an ability persuasively to interlink the concerns and modes of expression of contemporary literatures with issues in the contexts of global culture and intellectual history.
  • 7. Demonstrate an ability cogently to analyse relevant theoretical ideas through creative pairings of literary texts with theoretical or philosophical works

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. Through seminar work, demonstrate effective communication skills,; and an ability to work both individually and in groups
  • 9. Through essay writing and the project, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and an ability to write clear and correct prose
  • 10. Through research for seminars and written work, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis.

Syllabus plan

The module will begin with an Introductory seminar entitled: ‘What is Contemporary Literature?’ In it you will explore points of similarity and difference between the contemporary era and earlier writing in the 20C using specific literary examples - some experimental, some more traditional. We will also explore the question: ‘Where is Contemporary Literature?’ in the context of global/world literature. The first week will also form an introduction to the relevant critical theory informing the study of contemporary literature. Your readings for the module will progress in a chronological fashion, starting with the literary and cultural issues of the 1970s, and ending at the present day. You will focus on novels, poetry, short stories and (some) film. The module will direct attention to literatures from America, Britain and Ireland, and South Africa. A provisional sample of the shape of the course is outlined (readings are likely to change from year to year):

1. Introduction: What (and When) is Contemporary Literature? - Vladimir Nabokov, short stories      

2. Memory and Time - Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day

3. Race and Gender - Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

4. British, Irish and American Poetry: Speaking to You – W.S. Graham; Paul Muldoon; John Ashbery

5. Politics and the Imagination - Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

6. South Africa: Voices & Spaces - selection of poetry & Zoe Wicomb, The One that Got Away (short stories)

7. ‘Black British Poetry’ – including Linton Kwesi Johnson; Jackie Kay, Imtiaz Dharker; Daljit Nagra

8. Betweeness: Forms and Persons - J.M. Coetzee, Diary of A Bad Year

9. Sex(ualities) and Structure - Ali Smith, selection of short stories

10. ‘Trans-local’ Fiction - Anne Enright, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch

11. Contemporary Literature selections published in magazines and journals this fortnight


Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled L&T activities33Teaching is by one 3-hour seminar, incorporating tutor-led and student-led activities. Typically, the tutor’s presentation will take 30-40 minutes, followed by questions, and structured discussion. Each week one or two students will lead 10 minutes of class discussion, OR give a 10 minute presentation. These activities will be formative peer-assessed exercises. Seminars will therefore involve a variety of learning and teaching methods, including group-work and tutor- and student-led discussion.
Guided independent study33Study group meetings and preparation
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (Independent)
Guided independent study164Reading, research and essay preparation

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Draft of 1 of the pieces of the Contemporary Project1,000 words1-7, 9-10Oral/written feedback
Draft of the essay 1,000 words1-7, 9-10Oral/written feedback
Presentations/Student-led discussion10 minutes1-8, 10Oral/written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay503,000 words1-7, 9-10Written feedback
Contemporary Project503,000 words. A series of 3 short writing assignments (1,000 words each)1-7, 9-10Written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 3,000 wordsEssay 3,000 words1-7, 9-10Referral/deferral period
Contemporary ProjectProject 3,000 words1-7, 9-10Referral/deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Indicative basic reading list (try Amazon secondhand or Abebooks online – don’t order as a ‘print on demand’ or facsimile – these are often both expensive and unreliable):


* Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972; London: Harcourt, 1974)

* J.M. Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year (London: Harvill Secker, 2007) **

* Anne Enright, The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch (2002) **

* Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (London: Faber, 1989) **

* Vladimir Nabokov, The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov (Knopf/Vintage) OR Collected Stories (Penguin) OR any collection containing the 5 short stories on the reading list for week 1

* Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye (London: Vintage, 1994) **

* Ali Smith, The First Person and Other Stories (London: Penguin 2009)

* Zoe Wicomb, The One that Got Away: Short Stories (Cape Town: Umuzi, 2008)


Other primary material (primarily poetry) will be made available on ELE

** longer fictional works that will require reading ahead

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative Web based and electronic resources: ELE: JSTOR Project Muse Youtube

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Key words search

English Literature, Contemporary literature, British, American, South African, Coetzee, Anne Enright, Paul Muldoon, John Ashbery, David Foster Wallace, Ishiguro, Toni Morrison, twentieth-century literature, twenty-first-century literature, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, Modernism