Saturday, October 3, 2009

Syllabus for American Literature, Fall 2009

Class Syllabus and Schedule for American Literature
(African-American Focus)

Class meets on Monday, 18:00-19:30 (Library)
Alternate meeting time: Tuesday, 11:20-12:50 (My Office)

This is still a preliminary syllabus and is subject to change if circumstances warrant it. Before offering you a final syllabus, I would like to see how the first few weeks of class go. This syllabus is also posted on my website and will be updated as needed:


For Fall 2009, we will cover several short works (poems, stories, and essays) by both prominent and lesser-known African American writers. Most of these works will be found in African-American Literature: an Anthology, which will be on reserve in the library by October 16.

For Spring 2010, we will read longer works. For future reference, I am considering the following books (but probably will not assign all of them): Black Boy (Richard Wright), Native Son (Richard Wright), Invisible Man in its entirety (Ralph Ellison), The Color Purple (Alice Walker), Excerpts from The Autobiography of Malcolm X (Malcolm X and Alex Haley), and Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston). Since you may be signing up for the spring semester, please let me know if there are any other books by African American writers that you would like me to consider. Just make sure that there are two copies in the Library, one for me and one for reserve.

Teaching methods will likely include the following: class discussion and exercises, lecture, guest speakers, film and music, reader’s theater, optional outside lectures and events (for example, The American Corner), and written final exam.

Written Final Exam* = 50%
Two short response papers = 40%
Class participation = 10%

*An oral exam will be optional. If your score on your written exam is good, then you will not need to participate in an oral exam. If, however, your score is borderline, then we will set up an oral exam during the exam period in January.

Regular attendance is highly recommended, for we will likely be discussing some background material that does not appear in the texts. In addition, 10% of your grade is based on class participation. If, for any reason, you must be absent, please ask a colleague for any class notes or handouts. Also, check the website for updates.
Submission of response papers:

You must submit your two short response papers on time; please let me know in advance if you are having difficulties writing your papers so that we can work out any issues that you may be having as a non-native speaker and writer of English. Some of you have attended American universities, so you understand how American professors are obsessed with perfect English and deadlines. Often, we bring our Americanisms overseas with us, forgetting that you are writing in a foreign language. Please gently remind me from time to time.

Your response papers must be typed and double-spaced (with your name, course name, and date in the upper left-hand corner). Please staple your pages together.

If you wish, you may e-mail your response papers to me electronically, as a Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) attachment. Please, do NOT submit any other kind of file! Also, do not submit your work in the body of the e-mail message; incorrectly electronic submissions will be rejected.

If you submit electronically, I will read it on the computer and make comments directly on screen. I will return your work and my comments electronically. In any case, please bring a typed version of your papers to class because you will likely be sharing your responses with your peers.
Textbook and other materials:

African-American Literature: An Anthology, Second Edition, Eds. Demetrice A. Worley and Jesse Perry, Jr., Lincolnwood (IL): NTC Publishing Group. 1998. The textbook will be available for reserve at the library front desk by October 16.

For the readings, read and try to answer the questions at the end; they will help toward your understanding of the literature. If you have any questions/concerns, e-mail or see me after class or during my office hour.

The Piano Lesson, a play by August Wilson, which will also be on reserve.

“Battle Royal” (Chapter One from Invisible Man), by Ralph Ellison--a classic of African-American Literature. I believe there are several copies in the library; I also have a copy.

Please bring writing supplies to class, including a notebook, loose paper for in-class writing, and pencils or pens, so that you don’t find yourself in the embarrassing position of having to beg your colleagues for supplies.
Semester folder:

You are responsible for keeping your in-class exercises, class notes, handouts, syllabus, and graded response papers well-organized and bringing them to class each week. You will create some writing and notes this semester; thus, I recommend that you buy a folder or ringed notebook so that organizing your materials will be easy and effective. Bring all your cumulative work with you to every class.

The following is a preliminary schedule, subject to change if circumstances warrant it. This schedule is also posted on my website and will be updated, changed, and expanded as needed: Check the website often, for I will be posting new materials at least once a week.
Week 1:

Introduction to Course. Questionnaire and preliminary syllabus. Historical overview of African-American Literature. “Motherless Child,” anonymous, 2-3, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” anonymous, 19-20.
Week 2:

Chapter 1, The Folk Tradition. “The Knee-High Man Tries to Get Sizable,” retold by Carl Carmer, 4-5; “How Buck Found His Freedom,” anonymous, 6-7; From “The Eatonville Anthology,” Zora Neale Hurston, 8-10.
Week 3:

Chapter 1, The Folk Tradition (continued). “People Who Could Fly,” Julius Lester, 11-14; “The Steel-Drivin' Man,” A. Philip Randolph and Chandler Owen, 15-18 (Song lyrics); “Stagolee,” Julius Lester, 21-30 (“Stagger Lee” lyrics [Lloyd Price, 1959] and background on the Stagolee character and the true incident that inspired this story (See here.) Chapter 2, Language and Literacy. “The Goophered Grapevine,” Charles W. Chesnutt, 36-46 (also online).
Week 4:

Chapter 2, Language and Literacy (continued). “See How They Run,” Mary Elizabeth Vroman, 47-64; “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (also known as the “Negro National Anthem”), James Weldon Johnson, 65-66.
Week 5:

Chapter 2, Language and Literacy (continued). “I Done Worked!” Lottie Jackson as told to Sherry Thomas, 67-73; Excerpt from The African Garden, Alice Childress, 74-79; “The Creation: A Negro Sermon,” James Weldon Johnson, 80-83. (Also online)
Week 6:

Chapter 3, The Blues—Pain and Survival. “The Blues I'm Playing,” Langston Hughes, 91-103. “The Weary Blues,” Langston Hughes, 133-135; “It's the Law (a Rap Poem),” Saundra Sharp, 104-106; “Sonny's Blues,” James Baldwin, 107-132.
Week 7:

The Blues–Pain and Survival (continued). Response Paper #1 due. The Piano Lesson (drama), August Wilson (on reserve). You will read the play and see the film.
Week 8:

The Blues–Pain and Survival (continued). The Piano Lesson (drama), August Wilson (on reserve).
Week 9:

The Blues–Pain and Survival (continued). The Piano Lesson (drama), August Wilson (on reserve).
Week 10:

Chapter 4, Slavery–Time of Trial. “The Slave Mother,” Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, 149-151. “Runagate Runagate,” Robert Hayden, 154-157; “Letter to His Master,” Frederick Douglass, 158-162; “An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America,” Henry Highland Garnet, 163-169; “Nat Turner's Confession,” Nat Turner, 170-175.
Week 11:

Chapter 5, Standing Ground. “I, Too,” Langston Hughes, 192-193; “Willie,” Maya Angelou, 203-205; “An Address Delivered at the Opening of the Cotton States' Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, September 1895,” Booker T. Washington, 206-210.
Week 12:

Chapter 6, Identity. “All About My Job,” Alice Childress, 267-270. “Battle Royal” (Chapter One from Invisible Man), Ralph Ellison.
Week 13:

Chapter 7, Dreamers and Revolutionaries. Response Paper #2 due (Topic: The Piano Lesson). “To Mississippi Youth,” Malcolm X, 310-316; “I Have a Dream,” Martin Luther King, Jr., 317-321. Video of the speech as Reverend King delivered it on August 28, 1963.
If you have any questions/concerns, e-mail or see me after class or during my office hour.

Also, if there is ANYTHING in this syllabus or ANYTHING I say in or out of class that you don’t understand, please ask me, either in person or via e-mail. This includes definitions of words, cultural references, slang, historical facts, etc.

In the U.S., we have a saying: “The only stupid question is the question left unasked.”

So please ask. That’s why I’m here.

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