What kind of reception did you get when you first proposed teaching a literature course based on romance books?
Sarah: I haven't yet convinced my department to let me teach a class on romances (I'm hoping to change that in about two years), so I'm going to leave this question and the other teaching questions for Eric.
Eric: Well, I cheated. There was already a course on the books called “Popular Literature: Romance.–? Eight years ago, a colleague of mine insisted that we list it as an option in the popular literature series; she just never wanted to, you know, actually teach it! Anyway, I told my department chair that I wanted to take on that course and make it a survey of all the various sorts of “romance,–? from ancient Greek romances to medieval chivalric ones up through Byatt's Possession, and I really meant to at the time (grin). But by the time I started prepping the class, I knew I wanted it to be about popular romance, only. My department chair quirked an eyebrow when he heard the news, but other than that I've never heard a word of criticism, or even skepticism, from my colleagues. Maybe the courses on avant-garde poetry bought me some slack, but DePaul has been incredibly supportive of all my work on romance.
What books are on your students’ syllabus for this class?
Eric: You can find the syllabi at a website I put up for other teachers, called “Resources for Teaching Popular Romance Fiction.–? The first part of the course has been a historical survey, with E.M. Hull's The Sheik, Georgette Heyer's The Grand Sophy (I'd rather teach Devil's Cub, but it's out of print!), Mary Stewart's Madam, Will You Talk?, and then The Flame and the Flower. After that I jump to more recent books from a variety of subgenres: I try to teach a romantic suspense (I've done Mr. Perfect), a paranormal (I've done Hunting Midnight), an historical (I did Beverly Jenkins' Something Like Love, which is also an African American romance), a regency (I've done Julia Quinn and Mary Balogh so far), and a contemporary (I've taught a variety of Crusie's novels, along with Bird's The Boyfriend School). Next year I want to vary the offerings in each category, add an inspirational (I hadn't read any when I did it the last time–"newbie, remember?) and add an erotic romance, if my wife agrees, my conscience approves, and the classroom dynamic will support it. (It could be a bit creepy: one middle-aged, male English professor in front of a room of 35 female students and maybe, maybe, one or two male ones. On the other hand, when my all-female senior seminar last quarter got to choose their own novels for the last weeks of class, we ended up having a great discussion of Emma Holly's Menage.)