William Shakespeare and Toni Morrison top authors on college reading lists

Author William ShakespeareAn analysis of Questia’s data on 438 literature assignments in 143 courses in 30 colleges and universities across the United States has identified the top 10 authors on campus in 2013. Nine are dead, nine are white, seven are European, and six are male. Topping the list is William Shakespeare, the English dramatist and poet. He is widely considered the greatest playwright who ever lived. And he is the author of one of the assigned texts in 77 courses.

Shakespeare’s assigned texts include: Othello in 16 courses, Macbeth in 11 courses, The Tempest in 10 courses, Hamlet in 9 courses, King Lear in 8 courses, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet in 5 courses,  Julius Caesar in 5 courses, Anthony and Cleopatra in 5 courses, The Merchant of Venice in 3 courses, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2 courses, The Taming of the Shrew in 1 course, Titus Andronicus in 1 course, and Cymbeline in 1 course.

In second place is Toni Morrison, the American writer. Her fiction is noted for its poetic language, lush detail, emotional intensity, and sensitive observation of American life as viewed from a variety of African-American perspectives. And she is the author of an assigned text in 23 courses.

Morrison’s assigned texts include: Beloved in 11 courses, The Bluest Eye in 6 courses, Song of Solomon in 3 courses, Sula in 1 course, Jazz in 1 course, and Paradise in 1 course.

Tied for third place with an assigned text in 14 courses are Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, and the unknown Anglican bard who composed Beowulf.

Here’s the top 10 list of authors on college reading lists in 2013:

Top authors on campus

As you can see, Morrison is the only living, black, American female who is one of the top four authors on campus this fall. The other three are dead, white, European males (DWEM).

DWEM is a derogatory term that refers to the disproportionate academic focus on contributions to historical and contemporary Western civilization made by European males. Critics of the traditional curriculum like Rene Swanson have argued in academic journal articles like “The Living Dead: What the Dickens Are College Students Reading?” that “There’s a dirty little secret in the multicultural halls of American universities: dead white males are alive and well. Although many contemporary African-American, Latin, and Asian authors are being introduced, a close look at college reading lists and publishers’ best sellers reveals that classics remain an essential part of the English curriculum at most schools and a top choice for book buyers.”

So, Morrison’s position as one of three Americans and four females in the top 10 list of authors is a sign that some progress has been made in the two decades since Swanson wrote her article back in 1994. So, it’s worth taking a closer look at Morrison’s work.

Morrison was born in 1931 in Lorain, Ohio, as Chloe Ardelia (later Anthony) Wofford. She graduated from Howard University with a B.A. in 1953 and from Cornell with an M.F.A. in 1955.

Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), is the story of a girl ruined by a racist society and its violence. Song of Solomon (1977; National Book Award) established her as one of America’s leading novelists. It concerns a middle-class man who achieves self-knowledge through the discovery of his rural black heritage. Her later fiction includes Beloved (1987; Pulitzer Prize), a powerful account of mother love, murder, and the legacy of slavery; and Jazz (1992), a tale of love and murder set in Harlem in the 1920s. Her other novels are Sula (1973), Tar Baby (1981), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), and Home (2012).

Among Morrison’s other works are the essay collections Race-ing Justice, En-Gendering Power (1992) and Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992); several children’s books, including The Big Box (2000), written with her son, Slade; a play, Dreaming Emmett (1986); a song cycle, Honey and Me (1992), written with André Previn; an opera libretto, Margaret Garner (2003); and, in collaboration with Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, Desdemona (2011), a dramatic and musical reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s Othello. Awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature, she was the first African American to win the coveted prize. Morrison, who was an influential editor at Random House for nearly two decades, has been a professor at Princeton since 1989 and was the founder (1994) of the Princeton Atelier, a writers’ and performers’ workshop.

In 2013, only Shakespeare is on more college reading lists than Morrison.

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