Romance Novel Course & Unsuitable

Romance Novel Course & Unsuitable

I’m happy to confirm that with Katharine Dubois (aka Katharine Ashe), I will indeed by teaching a course on The Romance Novel at Duke University Spring 2015.

This is an undergraduate course, taught from the History Department and part of Duke’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Certificate. However, we will be opening some events to the wider community.

Working with our Forum for Scholars and Publics and the support of other departments and programs at Duke, we will host a series of events around the theme of Unsuitable, primarily student-driven events in which we will invite authors and scholars to join us in discussions, when we will open the classroom to everyone interested. Our event title UNSUITABLE was coined in discussions with scholars across multiple departments on campus as we pulled this together, when we repeatedly came back to the memories so many people had of being told that romance, in particular, “wasn’t okay to read”, in whatever way they first encountered that message. (Not smart enough, trashy, etc.) Some people often also remembered hearing similar judgments for other things they liked, such as comics or cosplay or writing fan fiction, and our discussions kept growing the more we met with professors and program administrators here. We believe our resident dramaturg, Jules Odendahl-James, in Theater Studies, may have first used the word Unsuitable in a way that really resonated with us and became the title for our site and for these events, as well as our Twitter handle for this (@UnsuitableDuke).

We have been thrilled and even stunned at the widespread support and enthusiasm for this course from so many people we met with here at Duke, from deans to program directors to artists and scholars.

The course itself will have a website, where you can check out events (here), but I will try to keep people informed of the events open to the community also on this site. The first such event is October 20, 5 pm. (You can find out more here and I’ll post another announcement soon.)

This brings me to another point: we are very honored by the interest the community has expressed in this course and delighted to engage beyond university walls. Duke University, too, has a strong desire to engage widely, to lower the walls between academia and the rest of the community, which is expressed in the creation of the Forum for Scholars and Publics (one of our major sources of support, as noted above).

That said, while our writing informs everything we do, “the hat we are wearing” here is one of professors. Our goal is to support the intellectual inquiry and creative endeavor of our students. The content of the site will be student-driven, as will our discussions.

Since we have received a lot of inquiry about this course, I’m happy to share our course description.

HST 248S.01, The Romance Novel

This course explores the history, development and form of the modern commercial novel through a study of the most popular fiction in the world today: the romance novel. Throughout the semester we will analyze the romance novel’s role in popular American culture, its rise to dominate fifty percent of the U.S. publishing market, and the dramatic changes that have occurred in the past several years in the publishing industry, largely driven by changes in romance fiction. We will examine romance in its context in the larger publishing and entertainment industries, how creative projects become commercial products, and the gender politics of both the reception and rejection of romance—a women-driven and controlled industry—in the broader culture. We will address issues of female agency as well as models of femininity and masculinity that often seek to define and constrict creative work in the commercial world. We will engage, in short, in a critical, active discussion of a massive cultural phenomenon that is often overlooked in university studies.

Simultaneously, this course teaches the tools to better understand writing as an act of entrepreneurship and how to make a viable, successful career out of creative endeavor. Our studies include the choices a writer must make in shaping her or his career in publishing (publication with a traditional publisher? self-publish? ebook only? print distribution?), marketing (branding, social media, packaging, networking, platform), and the development of an artistic career with conscious intent through the determination of long-term career goals and the establishment of a plan to reach them. Students will begin work on their own novel as their major project for the course.


 Katharine Dubois and I have worked hard over the past year to bring this course to Duke and will doubtless be working even harder as we get it off the ground. We’re excited to teach it and excited to be able to open so many of the events to the wider community. We owe a huge thank you to the Forum for Scholars and Publics, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, the History Department, Dean Lee Baker, my own department of Romance Studies for releasing my from other duties to teach this course, and many individuals within these programs and without who invested fully in helping us develop this course. We also owe a huge thank you to the writers and scholars who have agreed to take part, and will be posting more about those as we finalize dates and our syllabus.

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