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This course will investigate the representation of catastrophe by examining narratives of the plague pandemics, which collectively killed more than 200 million people. The goal will be to understand the strategies writers use to inform people of catastrophic risk — and specifically why those strategies succeed (or fail) to inspire action. Readings will include selections from Procopius’s History of the Wars, Boccaccio’s The Decameron, Hodges’ Loimologia, Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, and other lesser-known accounts.
Note: Download the document below for a list of class readings.
Jeff Encke taught writing and criticism at Columbia University for several years, serving as writer-in-residence for the Program in Narrative Medicine while completing his PhD in English. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Black Warrior Review, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Fence, Kenyon Review Online, and Salt Hill. In 2004, he published Most Wanted: A Gamble in Verse, a series of love poems addressed to Saddam Hussein and other Iraqi war criminals printed on a deck of playing cards.