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What does Chaucer have to do with rap, or medieval Canterbury to do with modern London? What does a pilgrimage have to do with high school? More than you might think. We call Chaucer the "Father of English Literature," but that label turns him into a literary relic. Sure, some of the Canterbury Tales are funny (bawdy, even), but this isn't really leisure reading. Many contemporary writers -- like poet Patience Agbabi and YA novelist Kim Zarins -- are working to change that preconception. These writers have found Chaucer's Tales to be fruitful sources of literary inspiration, reworking his stories and characters into new and compelling forms.

In so reworking Chaucer's stories, they're following in his footsteps. For Chaucer did not invent "English Literature" out of whole cloth. Rather, much of Chaucer's "genius" lies in the way he reworked older stories within a new, Middle English poetic idiom, sending up Virgil and Ovid or retelling a Boccaccio story. In this class, we'll follow that literary trail from Virgil through Chaucer to Ababi and Zarins, watching how each storyteller reworks their predecessors and considering the literary relationship between earlier and later narratives.

Expect to work intensely with the cultural and linguistic nuances of both Chaucer's Middle English (especially but not solely his Canterbury Tales) and two modern retellings: Patience Agbabi's multicultural, Britain-centric Telling Tales and Kim Zarins' YA novel Sometimes We Tell The Truth. Because much of this class has to do with the way poetry sounds, in Middle English and in  spoken word poetry, also expect to spend much time learning (with copious in-class help!) to read Middle English aloud, fluently, and with inflection and passion. Finally, expect to do both formal and informal written work (including but not limited to the traditional essay), including a substantial final project. Creative writers who wish to follow in Agbabi and Zarins's footsteps may produce a creative-critical piece as their final project.

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