2024 Seminar Offerings - University of Houston
Skip to main content

This year, Common Ground Teaching Fellows have the option of three exciting seminars. You will be asked to rank your seminar in order of preference. Please note that while every effort will be made to place you in your first or second choice seminar, space constraints mean we cannot guarantee you your preferred options. 


How to Get Disowned, Offend People, and Possibly Alienate Yourself…Or Not:
Writing with Passion, Discrimination, and Inclusiveness*

Seminar Leader: Dr. Hayan Charara

Even before the death warrant issued against him by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Salman Rushdie had a reputation for being able to offend everyone at a party within five minutes of his arrival. True or not, such a feat is certainly impressive, especially when accomplished not with malice but charm. It's even more admirable when the opinions and ideas that warrant such a reputation are made with passion, discrimination, and inclusivity. 

Readers can forgive any poem, story, or memoir its taboo or off-putting subject matter if they believe in the speaker's conviction  (passion), have faith in their judgment (discrimination), and trust that they are doing their subject justice (inclusiveness). Together, these three “virtues”, as outlined in Carl Dennis' essay "The Voice of Authority," make for persuasive writing that complicates and even offsets the impulse to take offense. 

In this seminar we will read masterful examples of such writing, with the goal of writing and workshopping pieces of our own (in any genre—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama) that take on “touchy” subjects with the three “virtues” in mind.  
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 
Dennis, Carl. "The Voice of Authority"
Lawrence, D.H.  Lady Chatterly’s Lover 
Morrison, Toni.  Beloved
Oates, Joyce Carol. "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"


Home and Homecomings
Seminar Leader: Dr. Marina Trninic

By twists and turns, sometimes homesick, sometimes willfully delaying his return, Odysseus finally lands on Ithaca after twenty long years to find he barely recognizes what should be familiar.  Arriving at the gates of his own house, he is a stranger who must face yet more perilous tests to be allowed to sleep in his own bed. Odysseus must come home twice: physically and psychologically. 

What can we glean from Odysseus' journey about home and homecoming more generally? What can we learn about the push and pull of home on our hearts? What makes homecoming or feeling at home so elusive for some? How does a physical location – a place, an address, a house, its architectural features – become a home? How do homes define us, our individual identities, our ever-evolving relationships? How do the places we live in retain and cohere our disjointed memories? 

Homer, The Odyssey
Ernest Hemingway, “A Soldier’s Home”
Toni Morrison, Home 
Lorna Dee Cervantes, “Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway” and “Uncle’s First Rabbit”


You Can’t Save What You Don’t Love: Ecological Writing as an Act of Hope
Seminar Leader: Dr. Kimberly Meyer

“People protect what they love, they love what they understand, and they understand what they are taught” said Jacques Cousteau, which might explain why the earth is currently in the dire predicament it is in. Humans are largely cut off from their roots, and often no longer have intimate access to nature. In this seminar, we will explore literature that encourages readers to begin finding their own small ways back to understanding the natural world, so that they might then love it and protect it and, by educating future generations, maybe even save it. 

We will begin with Octavio Butler’s prescient novel, Parable of the Sower, which imagines a disintegrating world due to the effects of climate change—an eerie echo of the current moment. With that framing text in mind, we will turn to poetry and essays that document an attention to the natural world as it still exists, and a love for it that might forestall such a dystopian end. And we will try to pay attention ourselves, and write our own poems or short essays—hopeful acts of resistance to catastrophe.
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

The Comfort of Crows (excerpts), Margaret Renkl
Braiding Sweetgrass (excerpts), Robin Wall Kimmerer
Teaching a Stone to Talk (excerpts), Annie Dillard
You Are Here: Poetry In the Natural World (excerpts), Ada Limón


Scandalous Plays
Seminar Leader: Dr. Max Rayneard
Fake or real, justly or otherwise, scandals have destroyed and curtailed the careers and lives of countless politicians and public figures. From Oscar Wilde to Richard Nixon, Matt Lauer to Kathy Griffin, Al Franken to Aunt Becky from Full House, scandals serve as warnings to the powerful: be exemplars or society will make examples of you. That is the theory, anyway. If our age of information bubbles and echo chambers has improved anything, it’s the efficiency with which the powerful foment moral consensus and weaponize outrage in their own interests.
In this seminar we will grapple with the concepts of “scandal” and the “scandalous” through the lens of plays both ancient and contemporary. We will encounter patricide and incest, prostitution and exploitation, sexism and colonialism, sacrilege and suicide, political intrigue and infidelity. We’ll ask how scandals correct or corrupt a society’s course. What can we learn from scandals about the moral consensus or the lack thereof in a given historical moment? What do scandals teach about the ways social values change over time? And how do playwrights deploy theatre’s power to outrage audiences while simultaneously challenging their impulse to clutch their collective pearls?
Sophocles. Oedipus Tyrannus.
Shaw, George Bernard. Mrs. Warren’s Profession
Churchill, Caryl. Cloud 9.
Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horseman.
Miranda, Lin Manuel. Hamilton.