There are three assigned books — The Grapes of Wrath, Waiting for Nothing, and A Cool Million — and several articles and excerpts from books.  All of these materials can be found as pdf documents (links on this page).  The books are also available at the NYU bookstore.

Written work

Posts: There are 12 reading assignments, two per week, and for each set of readings there’s a required blog post .  The posts should be about 600 words long.  They can be a personal response to the readings, an analysis, or an interpretation, or you can do a little research and work that into your response.  If you use outside sources, provide a link to the source.  Avoid posts that simply summarize the reading or that give opinionated reviews (I liked it, or didn’t).

Comments: For each post assignment, write a comment on someone else’s post of about 100 words.  Think about the kind of comment you’d find helpful. Compliments are nice, but it might be more useful to offer a contrasting view, or further illustration of the writer’s point, or a suggestion for further reading.

Due dates: The blog posts are due Monday night and Thursday night, and we’ll discuss both sets of posts in class on Friday.  The comments on other people’s posts should be done within a day or two of the original post, while the readings and discussion are fresh in your mind.

Schedule of Assignments

Mon., Oct. 26
1. Writers on the Road

Read the following selections, then post a response that deals with the material as it relates to the travel theme. There’s more than enough to write about here, so don’t digress to discuss tangentially related topics.  You can write about one of the selections, a recurring theme in several, or a comparison-contrast.

Sherwood Anderson, Puzzled America: Introduction“At the Mine Mouth”; and “Revolt in South Dakota
Nathan Asch, The Road: Forward and chapter 1
Erskine Caldwell, Some American people, selected chapters
James Rorty, Where Life Is Better, Preface, ch 1, ch 3 [the whole book is here]

Thurs., Oct. 29
2. Women on the Road

Read the following selections, then post a response that deals with the material as it relates to travel themes or whatever else strikes you.

Lorena Hickok, One Third of a Nation
Louis Adamic, My America, “Girl on the Road”
Lauren Gilfillan, I Went to Pit College, “No Comrade

Mon., Nov. 2
3. Waiting for Nothing

Read Tom Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing. The book is available at the NYU bookstore, and it is also available online: Waiting for Nothing.

Also, please read “Pity the Poor Panhandler,” “Autobiography” and the Afterword.  (Another online version is here.) Remember, as always, to write a comment on someone else’s blog.

For further reading (optional):

“Kromer’s Waiting for Nothing” (a brief explication)

On the Fritz: Tom Kromer’s Imaging of the Machine
Politics and Rhetoric in the Novel in the 1930s

Thurs., Nov. 5
4. Travel novels

Read the following selections, then post about a recurring theme or focus on one or two of the readings.

Nelson Algren, Somebody in Boots

Boxcar Bertha
Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory

For further reading (optional):

“Woody Guthrie and His Folk Tradition,” by Richard A. Reuss
Anderson, Hungry Men
“Out of Work, Out of Luck: Edward Anderson’s The Hungry Men,” by Morris Dickstein

Mon., Nov. 9
5. Words & Images

Read the following selections, and for the post, please try not to digress too much — engage in a discussion of these photo-text books and the issues they raise. You might find it helpful to focus on a comment from one of the articles about the photo-text books.

Lange and Taylor, American Exodus
 (more images here)
Caldwell & Bourke-White,You Have Seen Their Faces (more images here)
Wright and Rosskam – 12 Million Black Voices: A Folk History of the Negro in the United State (some images and text here)
Goodwin, James: The depression era in black and white: Four American photo-texts (read the first few pages, then skip to the section on Lange and Bourke-White; read the last section on Evans for Thursday)

Video: Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lighning
Morris, Errol. “The Case of the Inappropriate Alarm Clock.” New York Times
Raban, Jonathan. “American Pastoral.” New York Review of Books
Cooney, Balancing Acts, ch 6 (note pages 173-182)
Ilf and Petrov’s Great American Road Trip

Thurs., Nov. 12
6. Agee-Evans

Read and post on these three excerpts from Agee and Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.  (If the reading gets too tough, skim a little.  The entire book can be found here.)

The photos for the book can be seen here.  For a more comprehensive look at Evans’ work on this project, follow this link.
Goodwin, James: The depression era in black and white: Four American photo-texts (read the last section on Evans)


Video: The Hungry Eye
Trilling, Lionel.  “Greatness with One Fault in It,” Kenyon Review
Frazier, Ian.  “Let Us Now Praise James Agee.” New York Review of Books
Sante, Luc. “The Eye of Walker Evans.” New York Review of Books
Allen, Henry. “The Great Voyeur.” New York Review of Books
Larsen, Erling. James Agee (pp 26 – 32)
Quinn, Jeanne. “The Work of Art: Irony and Identification in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Crank, Jame. “A piece of the body torn out by the roots”: failure and fragmentation in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Rabinowitz, Paula. “Voyeurism and Class Consciousness: James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

Mon., Nov. 16
7. Grapes of Wrath

Read The Grapes of Wrath, chapters 1 – 21. That’s a lot of reading, so you may need to skim some chapters.  The book is available at the NYU bookstore.  There’s an online version here.   Here is a chapter-by-chapter summary of the novel to help you get the whole picture and to decide which chapters you want to focus on.  You might take a look at one of the many scholarly articles on the book, such as those listed in the optional section, or bring something else into the discussion.  There’s more than enough to write about, so avoid digressing and try to focus on a significant travel theme or something related to previous class discussions.  And don’t write about the turtle.  Remember to make a text link to any outside sources you use. As always, in addition to your own post, write a short comment on someone else’s post.


Steinbeck, Harvest Gypsies, ch 1 – 3
Samantha Baskind.  The “True” Story: Life Magazine, Horace Bristol, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
William Howarth.  The Mother of Literature: Journalism and The Grapes of Wrath
Michael J. Meyer, The Harvest Gypsies
Rick Marshall. Steinbeck’s Cognitive Landscapes in “The Grapes of Wrath”: The Highway as Commentary on 1930s Industrialization
Reloy Garcia.  The Rocky Road to Eldorado: The Journey Motif in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath
Jason Spengler. We’re on a road to nowhere: Steinbeck, Kerouac, and the legacy of the great depression
Nicholas Visser: Aaudience and Closure in the Grapes of Wrath
John R. Smith.  Making the cut: Documentary work in John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath
Ken Eckert. Exodus Inverted: A New Look at the Grapes of Wrath

Thurs., Nov. 19
8. Grapes of Wrath, cont.

Read The Grapes of Wrath, chapters 22 – end. That may be a lot to read, so feel free to skim some chapters and focus on others. For the post, you can write about anything related to the book, but try to take a different approach from your previous post on the novel, and see the optional readings.

Thurs., Nov. 27: Thanksgiving

Mon., Nov. 30
9. A Cool Million

Read the entire novel and post about it. (The book is available at the NYU bookstore, and an online version is here.) It’s a strange book, so it might help to check out an article or two on the bibliography of online articles about the novel. As always, remember to comment on someone else’s blog.

Thurs., Dec. 3
10. Tourism in the 30s

Berkowitz, A “New Deal” for Leisure-Making Mass Tourism during the Great Depression
Agee, The American Roadside
Wild, Double-Crossing America, intro

Optional: Jakle, Automobile Travel Between the Wars, from The Tourist

Mon., Dec. 7
11. WPA guides

Read Andrew Gross’s “The American Guide Series: Patriotism as Brand-Name Identification” and also a selection of the online editions of a WPA travel guide.  Many of them are available through the Internet Archive.  Post about the article as it relates to what you find in the guide.  As always, remember to comment on someone else’s blog.

The Federal Writers Project (a resource page with lots of good links)
“Food Bloggers of 1940” (NY Times)
‘America Eats’: A Hidden Archive from the 1930s (NPR)
Kurlansky, The Food of a Younger Land

Thurs., Dec. 10
12. Movies

For this post, watch one of the Depression-era movies on the Movies page, and write about how it works with the travel motif or another theme we’ve discussed in class.  [NOTE: If you haven’t done the assignment yet, don’t pick “It Happened One Night.”  Too many students have chosen this one already.] As you’ll see on the Movies page, the film for this assignment can be one that was made during the 1930s, or one set in the 1930s, and it doesn’t have to be a film that features travel.  Most of the films on the list are available at Bobst, several are on You-Tube, and you can also get them through Netflix, etc.  If there’s a trailer for the post on You-Tube, you can add it to your post.  On the sidebar in edit mode, change the Format from Standard to Video, then copy the embed code and paste in the box labelled Embedded Video Code.