Living and loving the literature of Los Angeles

When Scott Bryson signed on as assistant professor in English at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, he was a little more than disoriented.

"I really didn't want to move," says the Texas native in a hearty accent of his transfer in 2000. "I'm not much for the urban atmosphere." It didn't take him long, however, to come up with a way to get to know his new surroundings.

Dr. Bryson is teaching his third semester of Writing about Los Angeles Literature at the college, composed largely of first-generation female students. The course grew out of his interest in place-based literature and a desire to acclimate to his new environment. It enrolls 20 first- and second-year students in reading, writing, and critical thinking exercises - with a bit of a local twist.

Bryson uses books written and set in Los Angeles. In addition to regular assignments, his students work in small groups on one of the texts, dissecting and compiling the L.A. references for the class website. By semester's end, each group will have published a page that offers an extensive secondary bibliography, links to biographical information about the author, a plot summary, and a log of maps or pictures of L.A. sites encountered in the readings.

The website (http://update.msmc.la.edu/english/LAliterature/f02), which contains a wealth of information from past projects, awaits its next installment from this spring's students.

But right now they're out scouring libraries, the Internet, and the city itself for facts. They expect to have their pages published online by the end of the month. Bryson hopes the website will continue to grow and evolve into a top Internet resource, and forecasts that it may encourage more interest in LA literature.

Meanwhile, he is simply trying to engage his students in reading and writing and turn them on to their rich local surroundings. "We work both in and out of the classroom, and the students tend to respond really well."

Nancy Cabrel, one of his former students, says she "felt like a reporter attempting to piece together a story." She now thinks of herself as a more capable writer and researcher. Amanda Romero was glad to be part of the class's creation. "It's a challenging but gratifying adventure," she says.

Translating his focus on environmental literature to L.A. has been no easy task for Bryson. "But I'm already growing to love the place. It's got its own urban-type of nature."

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