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James Franco will serve as a scholarly springboard into contemporary literature this coming Spring. | Courtesy of Aphrodite-In-NYC/Wikimedia Commons

Do you want to submit a Snapchat story or a book review written “James Franco-style” for a class assignment?

Next spring, Penn students will have the chance to do just that. The class, taught by English Department professor Jean-Christophe Cloutier, is titled “Recommended by James Franco (Mostly)”.

According to the course description, the class will use James Franco’s literary recommendations as a “springboard for surveying representative texts from the 20th and 21st centuries, with an emphasis on the more recent works.”

Cloutier said the inspiration of his class comes from his conversation with students and his analysis of Franco’s reviews. As a faculty fellow at Stouffer College House, Cloutier mentioned that James Franco’s name appears frequently in conversations about literature and culture. Moreover, Cloutier finds Franco’s involvement in contemporary literature valuable.

“Not only does he have degrees in literature — he studied at Yale and now at NYU — but he is also a writer himself,” Cloutier said. “He is a poet; he is a novelist; he is a short story writer; he directs and adapts cannoized literary works. I don’t see any other celebrity of his popularity status doing the same thing. Franco also made his life an art project.”

For Cloutier, Franco is an important figure to frame the course about contemporary American literature around.

“He has made a big part of his celebrity culture to celebrate and embrace the literary world. Because he also writes reviews of novels as they come out, he has a kind of a critical conversation, an ongoing critical conversation with contemporary authors, especially with the contemporary American tradition,” Cloutier said.

For Cloutier, Franco’s book reviews and book list act as an important way for him to investigate the public life of contemporary American literature. “If you look at Faulkner, Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy, basically they look a lot like Franco. They’re white men. It’s an interesting reified certain view of American literature — maybe a cannoized one,” Cloutier said.

The course will also emphasize non-white and female authors left out of Franco's recommendations. The first reading is "Invisible Man," an African-American novel by Ralph Ellison not recommended by Franco, to launch discussion about the invisibility of non-whites in many spheres of American culture.

According to Cloutier, people today read through many interfaces simultaneously, which makes it hard for writers to obtain visibility.

“That’s why it’s interesting that someone like Franco uses his celebrity status to bring visibility to certain writers like Gary Shteyngart,” Cloutier said.

According to Cloutier, he designs the class assignments in a way that will make them relevant to contemporary culture. One assignment requires students to post a Snapchat story.

Cloutier said that he thinks a Snapchat story will allow students to have a more comprehensive relationship to the course and their own life. “Hopefully what we are going to get are very unique ways of thinking, interpreting, reflecting on these works of literature and art,” he said.

Another assignment for the class is to write a review of one of the assigned texts — but to do it in Franco’s style, which, according to Cloutier, often includes many professional and personal experiences inside the story. “Because all of these things are available now, that’s why I’m using them as part of the assignment,” Cloutier said. “There is no denying that that’s the world we are living in now, so why not try make it part of the course?”

“I’m interested in allowing for the spontaneous and the accidental and the real to make it inside the assignments.” Cloutier said.

Despite the course title, Cloutier emphasized that the class will always focus “on the literature and on the films, short stories, poetry, graphic novels that are going to be part of the contemporary moment.”

“So in a way I’m kind of using him [James Franco] as a foil but also as a very proactive one,” Cloutier said, “in order to interrogate really important questions about who gets to have visibility today and who gets to have their stories adapted and told and what kinds of stories are we interested in seeing and reading about, and he has helped popularize that.”

“I’m not expecting a posse of James Franco fans,” Cloutier said, “but if it’s a way that will allow more people to be interested in reading literature, I’m all for it.”

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