Anne Auten on the Importance of Women’s Literature
The University Honors and Scholars Program recently spoke with Anne Auten, assistant director of the University Honors Program, about her Honors seminar and her passion for women's literature.
By Maren Carter
When asked why she chose to teach a course on women’s literature, Anne Auten responded, “I am fascinated by women — women writers, in particular — who have responded to and challenged their respective historical, social and cultural milieu through transgressive literary works. The 19th century was defined by massive change, especially in regards to gender issues and women’s roles and representation.” As Auten learned more about marginalized writers of the past who had to use pseudonyms or the names that were given to them by their enslavers, she felt shock, rage and also inspiration because, “Nevertheless, they persisted.”
An NC State graduate herself, Auten received a degree in English language and literature and a minor in French in 2006, receiving her Master’s degree three years later, where she focused her graduate studies on gender and sexuality in 19th-century British literature. She also began her teaching career at NC State in the Department of English, and she joined the University Honors Program in 2017 as an assistant director.
Over the past 15 years, Auten has taught a wide range of subjects, from composition and contemporary media studies — like teaching a course concentrating on the first installment in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series — to creative nonfiction. Auten places an emphasis on student autonomy through creative endeavors and project-based learning. In all of the courses Auten teaches, she tries to “facilitate an exploration of authenticity, nuance and empathy.”
Studying writing pedagogy led Auten to learn about American educator Mike Rose’s student-focused teaching approach and bell hooks’ philosophy of mutual vulnerability between students and teachers. Prioritizing students’ individual development and encouraging the growth of critical thinking skills are elements of teaching that Auten took with her into her own classroom. “Embracing vulnerability has remained instrumental in my course design. How do I expect my students to take intellectual risks and feel more empowered if I am not willing to grow with them?”
Auten chose works that she loves when selecting supplemental reading material to study in her course. She describes the literature as “texts [that] explore the development of identity, resistance and freedom, especially through the lens of liminal and/or marginalized populations.” She cited the Franz Kafka quote, “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us,” and says that she feels each text in the course succeeds in this effect because of the challenging nature of the reading material.
Being able to interact with students in different capacities inside and outside of class is what Auten loves most about being a part of the University Honors and Scholars Program, including going on exploratory trips with students and being an advisor and mentor in both formal and informal contexts. She expressed gratitude for what her students teach her about humanity, referencing becoming “more patient and less exacting,” and even becoming a Swiftie — “I am a recent Taylor Swift convert thanks to them.”
“I hope that students leave my courses with a greater awareness of the utility of literature and its inherent interdisciplinarity. Most importantly, though, I hope they feel more empowered and confident in their abilities as thinkers, writers, [and] creators.”
Students in the University Honors and Scholars Program can enroll in Auten’s Honors seminar, HON 202-001: Transgression & Transformation in Women’s Literature, in the fall.