Scholars from 18 countries — including Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Nigeria, Pakistan and Zambia — are now studying American literature through a University of Louisville program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. This is the ninth year the university is hosting this Institute on Contemporary American Literature. Over six weeks, participants who teach the subject in their home countries are reading and discussing a range of works including those by Adrienne Rich, Don DeLillo and August Wilson.
“This helps us break down stereotypes about the U.S. among foreign educators who are going to have an influence probably over thousands of young people who are getting an education about the U.S. in their own country,” he says.
The program includes readings from an array of well-known and emerging writers, Byers says.
“We study work by Alan Ginsburg and Toni Morrison,” he says, “but also work by younger writers Junot Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and then African-American dramatists Suzan-Lori Parks and Lynn Nottage.”
Participants also get to meet writers from Kentucky and others throughout the country through trips to Santa Fe, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Byers says this opportunity is something so rare for many of them who work with very few resources.
“An awful lot of people around the world are teaching American literature from Xeroxed copies,” he says. “In some cases they’re lecturing about writers that their students don’t have an opportunity to read.”
In the era of globalization, many foreign policy watchers have been calling for more cultural exchanges between the United States and other countries.
PHOTO: Participants of the 2009 Institute