Teaching the Novel and Short Fiction  

As a privileged instrument of creativity involving the relationships between our 
experiences and our awareness of those experiences, the novel manifests itself in 
a variety of psychological, historical, sociological, political, autobiographical, 
speculative, and sentimental ways.  The novelist looks at the world through a 
creative screen, even through a kind of magical kaleidoscope that dismembers, 
deforms, and recomposes a reality rendered iridescent by his or her vision:  
a genuine chemistry takes place in which the substance of observed, lived, or 
imagined reality becomes, through a kind of poetic transubstantiation, a new 
substance, one which is unlike any other:  the novelistic substance itself.  But 
how do we re-capture the power and wonder of this substance for our students and 
for ourselves as instructors?  How do we balance the author’s depiction of life 
and the world and our interpretation of that depiction?  How do we train the mind 
to enjoy and communicate with the various forms of this literary experience and 
to share the experience with others?  And what about the intimately related 
challenges of teaching short fiction?

If we consider the novel as a narrative in prose dealing with people and their 
actions in a certain time and in a certain space, all of which conveys a certain 
vision on the part of the author; if we utilize close reading of verb tenses, 
adjectives, phrases in apposition, choice of nouns, point of view, and so forth 
to focus on even only one of the defining aspects of the genre, we can forge a 
host of questions enabling students to come to grips with the central issues, 
themes, and challenging questions that rest at the foundation of the interconnecting 
elements of virtually any great novelist’s work. But that is just one way that we 
could try to approach the many challenges we face when trying to teach the novel, 
regardless of the language in which we may read and discuss it with our students.  
Is this kind of approach similarly appropriate for the teaching of short fiction?  
What of the changing perspectives of the author, the characters, the reader, 
whether in the novel or in short fiction?  How does the incorporation of literary 
theory affect these questions?  What does our study of pedagogy or of second 
language acquisition reveal about effective approaches to studying fiction? 

This issue of Academic Exchange Quarterly offers several articles devoted to 
practical and theoretical experiences, methods, and assessments that enable the 
teaching of the novel and short fiction to be a genuinely meaningful and effective 
educational experience for students and instructors—especially in an age when 
requiring 100-150 pages of reading a week is considered by many in the profession 
to be too much for students who attempt to read fiction in English, let alone who 
face the challenges of being able to read and analyze it in a foreign language.  
Moreover, these articles are a reminder of how fiction challenges us to confront 
ourselves, to evaluate our basic assumptions about knowledge and belief, language 
and reality, and intellectual and emotional authority, in short, our culture, our 
ideological commitments, and the human condition. 

Dr. Lew Kamm, Chancellor Professor
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth