Nigeria to Vietnam, Iran to the Dominican Republic, students in Emily
Davis’ world literature classes at the University of Delaware have
traveled the globe through the pages of books written by and about
Now, the students are sharing their own and the authors’ experiences
with other interested readers on an original website called “Moving Fictions.”
The site, created by a class last fall semester and refined and
expanded this spring by a capstone class for English majors, focuses on
more than two dozen books—with plans to continue adding more.
For each work that’s highlighted, the students have included such
features as plot summaries, discussion questions, author biographies and
research that provides historical, political, cultural or geographic
context as well as an examination of the book’s relevance to current
“One thing that’s really powerful about literature is that you have
to sit with it,” said Davis, associate professor in the Department of
English. “Unlike reading a headline or a social media post about an
issue like immigration, you have to spend time with literature.”
And, she said, especially because migration is such a critical and
controversial topic throughout the world today, she hopes that her
students and others will make use of literature to think about the
subject on a deeper level.
“We all hear a lot of political arguments about migration, but I
wanted to look at writers who deal with these issues in a much more
thoughtful and complex way,” she said.
For senior Kyna Smith, that process meant conducting research on the
Nigerian-Biafran War of the late 1960s in order to understand the
background of the book Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi
Adichie. In the students’ final presentations at the end of spring
semester, Smith discussed her contributions to the “Further Research”
section of the website.
“When studying any work, breaking it down into important components
[such as the historical setting] allows you to better connect to the
material and understand how the book relates to the real world,” she
said. “This has made my world view far more extensive.”
Will Eichler went through a similar process to understand the long
history of conflict in Vietnam, as he read and wrote about The
Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen.
As opposed to writing a standard research paper, Eichler said,
working on the website “allowed for a broader research style, which
included things such as historical context as well as literary research
and the inclusion of films about the same topic as the novel.”
He and others in the class also said that knowing their work would be available to the public was especially gratifying.
“I hope visitors to ‘Moving Fictions’ can learn more about not only
the books and their cultural context, but also the vastly important
historical connections and contemporary relevance those stories
contain,” said student Jasmine Edwards, whose final presentation
examined the book Nervous Conditions by Zimbabwean author Tsitsi
In addition to their literary research, students learned the
technical and design work that a website requires, said Davis, who
credited UD Library professionals for the help they provided. The site
has maintained a consistent and uniform look thanks to student Hunter
Southall, who created a style guide for her classmates to follow.
Work on the website is expected to continue with future classes.For
fall 2019, Davis said, students will expand the content and also begin
an emphasis on outreach, as she hopes to engage with interested
community groups, libraries and schools.
The next group of students will include English education majors,
whose class projects might involve developing lesson plans using
migration literature for specific age groups, Davis said. It’s all part
of one of the project’s fundamental goals.
“Often, the humanities have to argue for their relevance,” Davis
said. “I thought it would be good for my students to see the public
impact that literature has and to see the contributions literature can
make to the current discourse on an issue like immigration.”
Article by Ann Manser; illustration by Jeffrey Chase
Published June 27, 2019