My teaching, like my research is informed by a syncretic, creative approach to writing and literary studies. By examining regional genre writers, my research contributes to an emerging debate about the cultural importance of popular literature in American society. Social commentaries in Post-WWII crime novels by women crime writers provide masculine alternatives to patriarchal detectives in Hardboiled fiction by men of the 1930s.
Students develop close-reading skills through crime stories by looking at gendered character traits, and how those affect romantic or familial relationships that become violent. By looking at visual aids that complement or adapt literature, my classes visually map narrative techniques that aid in understanding thematic commentaries advocating for tolerance.
My research project, Talented and Expendable asserts women crime writers during and after WWII created social commentaries that modified victimized femme fatales in detective fiction by men. Laura Hunt, the protagonist of Vera Caspary’s text Laura (1942) is an assertive, defiant woman who posits male characters as domestically intrusive. Caspary’s femme fatale manipulates wealthy men, also resisting the investigation of a police detective.
Further, in The Price of Salt (1950) by Patricia Highsmith, same-sex couple Carol and Therese become subversive protagonists that resist patriarchal authorities by evading a private detective’s surveilling antagonism. Women genre novelists, unlike men who wrote crime fiction, were concerned with the social liberties of domestic women struggling against patriarchal men who attempted to stifle their independence.
Visual aids in class can help students develop an understanding of narrative elements. In crime novels especially, a character’s psychological mood can be seen in their movements through urban space, as with the serial killer Dix from In a Lonely Place (1947) by Dorothy B. Hughes. I use Google Maps to show my students West Hollywood, tracking Dix’s movements as he searches bus stops for young women leaving work at night. His offer of a free meal at a drive-in hides his intentions of murder, later dumping his victim’s body in one of LA’s natural canyons. A violent WWII veteran who kills women creates awareness for students of a common protagonist used by writers in 20th century crime novels.
Character mapping also develops knowledge of how space within a mid-20th century metropolis can be used to a white man’s advantage to exert virile power over white women. To assess their understanding of a masculine anti-hero in a crime novel, I assign short stories requiring students to develop their own fictional, gendered protagonists moving through a city.
Students leave my classroom having synthesized connections of character personalities to how community or society perceives those gendered traits. Like my research, students produce creative connections through aesthetic mediums to develop a more inclusive arts community by looking at underrepresented, marginalized writers in literary history.