Taylor Swift’s songwriting will be the subject of a new literature course at the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) this fall, joining literary giants like Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath and Robert Frost.
Titled “The Taylor Swift Songbook,” the course will include coverage of the artist’s albums Red (Taylor’s Version), Folklore, Evermore and Lover, according to the university’s website.
Students will address topics such as gender, authenticity, and the authorship of a writer’s texts, as well as the ways in which readers and fans impact how artists and writers work and produce. Professor of English Elizabeth Scala, who will be teaching the course said, “I want to take what Swift fans can already do at a sophisticated level, tease it out for them a bit with a different vocabulary, and then show them how, in fact, Swift draws on richer literary traditions in her songwriting, both topically but also formally in terms of how she uses references, metaphors, and clever manipulations of words. I’ll be showing students that these operations and interpretive moves one makes when reading her songs are appropriate to all forms of writing.”
Scala believes part of what makes Swift’s songs a good canvas for a literature course is that she is “such an autobiographical and topical songwriter,” adding that many motifs that she deploys have counterparts in literary traditions. “Poetry and storytelling emerged as literary forms sung and accompanied by music,” says Scala. “All of the interesting contexts for literature are alive in her work right now.”
For Scala, a Taylor Swift course is a new way to keep formalist literary criticism alive and thriving. “I think it’s important to connect the curriculum to the present, but I’m not willing to cede the past. This is my way of sneaking the older material back in with relevance.”
UTA’s course follows one offered by New York University, which developed a course based on Swift’s status as a creative music entrepreneur, along with the songwriters who have influenced her.
Swift received an honorary doctor of fine arts from NYU back in May and delivered a moving speech at its commencement ceremony. Swift was hailed as “one of the most prolific and celebrated artists of her generation.”
She said during her speech, “Learn to live alongside cringe. No matter how hard you try to avoid being cringe, you will look back on your life and cringe retrospectively. Cringe is unavoidable over a lifetime. Even the term ‘cringe’ might someday be deemed ‘cringe.’ I promise you, you’re probably doing or wearing something right now that you will look back on later and find revolting and hilarious.”