Saturday, February 10, 2007

Homework: by the time the bats' wings beat silver

Next week, we’ll be joined by Special guests Gene Yang and Tobias Wolff.

Our homework is to read and respond to Gene Yang’s graphic novel American Born Chinese as well as point the class to another comic or graphic novel online. Do this on our blog. Let’s have our responses posted by Monday night (deadline: when you see the flashing silver of bats’ wings as they return to roost under the big dish) so we all have a chance to read them on Tuesday. This is a class of writers, so feel free to flex your interpretive muscles when it comes to understanding how this book is working. Our goal, as always, when it comes to examining a work of literary art, is to ascertain how technical choices the author made supported and illuminated the character and story. I’m sure your posts will be longer than average, as you will have much to talk about.

Certainly, there will be questions of genre, and about how it pertains to this particular work. Why is this story a graphic novel? Graphic memoir? Could it be told to lesser or greater effect in another form? How do the visual and literary function in this work, and what does the author choose to render in image and word? Does the use of image suspend our disbelief as readers, by which I mean lull or doubtful minds, or does it engage our beliefs, by which I mean convince us by satisfying our doubts. Does image amplify or hinder conflict and tension? Does an image-based narrative have the same sense of time and progression as a text-based narrative? Is less left to the imagination by depicting the actual images and descriptions, rather than leaving them to the readers’ conjuring? Would you say this novel is told (depicted?) in the first-person point of view or the third? And are the perspectives of the different sections clear? Much time passes in the book; can you tell what the point of narration (immediate past, distant past, etc.) is? Would you say the story is present tense or past tense? Can a graphic novel be past tense? What role does myth play? How does Yang reveal the inner lives of his characters? Why does he start with the Monkey King? And there will be general questions of scene selection, character arc, stylization, pacing, structure, and so on. I’m not asking you to address these particular questions in your responses; just providing a sense of range in terms of all the interesting discussion points this work raises. I hope you enjoy the book a great deal, and we look forward to your thoughts.

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