ENGL 337-01 African American Literature Fall 2003 TR 9:55-11:10 a.m. Newton 206
Dr. Beth McCoy Office: Welles 232A Office phone: x5299
email: firstname.lastname@example.org Home phone: 224 0255 (no calls after 9 p.m., please)
Office Hours: TR 11:30-12:30 and other times as arranged between student and instructor. In all cases, I strongly encourage you to make an appointment before dropping in. My office gets extraordinarily busy; it is not unusual for students to show up and find six or seven people in front of them. If you make an appointment, I can reserve time for you.
Course Description (from Undergraduate Bulletin):
"A study of works by representative African-American writers from the mid-19th century to the present in their cultural and social contexts. The course will cover a variety of genres." As you will see, we will be shifting that description in some places, fulfilling it some places, challenging it in some places. What you need to understand from the beginning:
• This is a 300-level English course, which requires at least 15 pages of writing. This
writing will be informal AND formal, according to disciplinary conventions. This writing will also include writing about scholarly and theoretical material that is often seen as "subordinate" to "the literature."
• This is a course intended for but not limited to English majors. Some of what we will be doing,
then, may be discipline-specific, which can be strange if one is unfamiliar with the theories, conventions, and practices of English majors. But because African American studies seeks to question disciplinary boundaries, some of what we do can be strange if one is familiar with the theories, conventions, and practices of English majors.
• This is a course that cannot be, should not be, and, indeed, is not about learning about "African
American literature" or "people of African descent" as objects of study. This is a course that requires a relational approach to the literature, the subject matters (of which there are many), and our class community.
Learning Outcomes: By semester's end, you will
• locate, obtain, critique, and synthesize recent scholarly approaches to African
American literary and cultural studies, and, by definition, American and global cultural studies;
• developed (from subject to topic to thesis) an extended, argument-driven formal essay;
• have understood first-hand the difficulties and rewards of attempting to build conversations
about aesthetic and political issues, including talking about race as an "intellectual proposition" (Joyce Middleton's term). This means to talk not just about experience (e.g,, what happened to me) but more importantly about cognition: how the science fiction/social fact of 'race' organizes the way human beings think and know, and how that 'fact'/'fiction' is rooted in the seemingly neutral epistemological traditions and philosophies of the so-called West.
Liggins Hill, Patricia, ed. Call and Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition. Houghton Mifflin Co; ISBN: 0395884055.
Butler, Octavia. Bloodchild and Other Stories. Seven Stories Press; ISBN: 1888363363.
Parks, Suzan-Lori. The America Play: And Other Works. Theatre Communications Group; ISBN: 1559360925
Assignments: All assignments must be completed in order to pass the class.
1. Critical response papers: There are three of these papers due throughout the semester; it is your responsibility to watch the syllabus. (Please note that two of them require additional reading: I will supply one essay for you, but for the other reading, you will have to spend several weeks in advance reading a comic strip). These papers, though informal, are designed to challenge you to think specifically and adventurously about some of the larger issues framing the class. They expect you (and reasonably so, I think) to be able to make and develop meaningful connections among widely ranging texts. 25% of your grade.
2. Scholarly article assignment: Those of you who have worked with me before will recognize this as a more humane version of the dreaded but beneficial annotated bibliography assignment.
What does a scholarly article look like? Well, a scholarly article is one that appears in a scholarly journal or edited volume, is relatively long (often 15-20 pages), uses some of the specialized vocabulary of the discipline, is refereed by a board of editors/scholarly readers, and features the paper trail (works cited, bibliography, footnotes,endnotes) of the writer's sources. Ironically, those of you who are not English majors are likely more familiar with scholarly material than many English majors. Finding the articles can be both the easiest and the most difficult parts of this assignments. DO NOT limit yourself to the scant periodicals and books available in Milne. First, doing so will make you compete with all the other students for a few volumes (and, yes, your peers can indeed do unfair, nasty things like hide volumes, etc.). Second, you'll likely be missing some of the better, more interesting articles out there. Third, you'll be making more work for yourself in the long run because you'll have to lug this stuff all over the library in search of a working copier. Therefore, I highly recommend starting early and using on-line databases and Interlibrary Loan (ILL copies stuff for you, for free, and thus does not eat up your printing budget). And besides, I don't really want to read the same two articles over and over and over.
Once you've got the article, what do you do with it? Well, first you have to read it. I say this every semester, and no one believes me: you can't put off reading the article until the last minute, either. Why? You'll likely have to read the article more than once (*gasp!*).
What articles do you need? Well, you need one on the work of Suzan-Lori Parks and one on the work of Octavia Butler. Note that you may not be able to find articles that directly deal with the two books we are working with.
Now,the actual writing part: On On Tuesday, 30 September, you will hand in a copy of each article's first page along with a well-developed and specific paragraph of summary (single-spaced) that outlines:
a. the MLA bibliographical citation. An example: Awkward, Michael. "Negotiations of Power: White Critics, Black Texts, and the Self-Referential Impulse." American Literary History 2.4 (Winter 1990): 581-605.
b. the source's major controlling argument/assertion (you may have to reconstruct this);
c. the main points supporting that assertion;
d. your critical response to the article. Does it make you think of things, make connections you wouldn't have thought through on your own? Does it connect with other issues or texts that we have dealt with this semester? What works well in the article? What works less well? DO NOT SKIMP ON THIS PART (this is the part of the assignment that students most frequently skip or subordinate). You are capable of (and indeed are required to) make a critique that is more explicit and thought-out than "I liked/did not like this article" or "this was long" or "there are many big words here." Though I will not be counting words per se, your paragraphs will need to be at least 400 words to convey the requisite components. NOTE: ATTRIBUTION IS KEY IN YOUR SUMMARY. I MUST IN EVERY SENTENCE BE ABLE TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOUR REPORTING OF THE AUTHOR'S ARGUMENT AND YOUR OWN IDEAS.
Along with the two write-ups, you will also hand in a one-page, single-spaced cover essay that informally reflects on the process of this assignment and what, if anything, you learned from it. 25% of your final grade.
3. Formal essay: Five pages, typed, double-spaced. Using work by Suzan-Lori Parks or Octavia Butler as your primary text, discuss how the novel engages/develops/interrogates/intervenes in a critical issue that we have discussed/read about/that you have been thinking about throughout the semester. In your conclusion, you will want to discuss in detail why/how what you have argued is important. For the most part, you will develop your own topic into a well-organized, thesis-driven essay. 25% of your final grade.
4. Class participation: Includes attendance, active participation in class and in small group work. Class participation means that you work actively to stretch yourself intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually AND that you work actively to contribute to the class's overall movement. This might mean, for example, moving from merely your position during class discussion to striving to promote dialogue between yourself and other students). I TAKE THIS GRADE VERY SERIOUSLY. If attending class is the bare minimum of a student's responsiblity, how can someone who doesn't do the reading and/or doesn't talk in class get anything more than a "C" (and that's being generous)? 25% of your final grade.
If you plan on doing any of the following things, you should probably drop this class:
1. Remaining in your comfort zone and not talking in class and justifying the silence by saying you are 'just the type of person who likes to sit back and listen to what everyone else has to say.' Certainly, listening is a premium in this class and is a crucial human skill. But real listening only happens in an exchan ge. Letting everyone else do the talking means that you're not really listening because you are busy keeping yourself safe. Of course, this 'safety' is an illusion. Go read the bumper sticker on my door, a bumper sticker that a student gave me. It features a quote by Audre Lorde, and it says "Your silence will not protect you."
2. Remaining in your comfort zone and not talking in class and justifying the silence by saying you areafraid of offending others, especially "students of color. " To paraphrase Toni Morrison, to do this is not at all an act of graciousness; rather, it is an act of violence that function to protect privilege.
3. Remaining in your comfort zone and not talking in class and justifying the silence because you assume that you don't know enough to participate in class and other people (especially those who talk) do. To approach the class and the work in a way that suggests that one can speak only about what is already known is not only dangerous, but it's also intellectually lazy. beth here gives mini-homily about 'not knowing,' guilt, responsibility, and the crucial critical question (now that I 'know' this: what happens?).
4. Remaining in your comfort zone and not talking (or talking in class) because you assume you know way too much about what you think this class is about and are "bored." This presumes that American culture and its assorted inheritances of race, class, gender, sexualities, cultures, aesthetics, politics, spiritualities etc. are so self-evident that any one person can comprehend them all, and that the way those things are currently packaged for us is sufficient or even desirable.
5. Complaining when everyone does talk that it's a waste of time and inefficient.
6 Spending your valuable intellectual and emotional energy assessing who's working harder than anyone else; to whom beth is supposedly paying more attention to, etc. etc. etc.
7. Remaining so married to New Critical formalism* and/or to the ways that you may have been taught previously that you see as a 'tangent' any meaningful, principled discussion that doesn't necessarily mention the word "theme" or "symbolism." Just because the normative educational culture of a nation afraid more than anything else that its students will learn to think divides classroom activity into binaries of 'on-task' and 'off-task' doesn't mean that that is a useful or even humane way of doing things.
*New Critical formalism is a way of reading and thinking about literature conceptualized by the Fugitives, a group of white Southern intellectuals (among them John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, etc.) during the early twentieth century. Though it has its roots in larger European traditions, it was developed by the Fugitives as a sort of antidote to the political and social trends they saw around them in the time and region in which they worked and thought. According to New Criticism, works of literature are self-contained art 'objects' that exist independently of the world around them; art objects have no link to the reader's feelings, to the historical context in which the objects were produced, to the author's intentions or biography. All that matters, according to the New Critics, is what goes on inside the text (yes, they imagined that there is an absolute division between inside and outside the text), hence their concentration on close reading and the development of terms such as 'image' and 'symbol.' Though New Criticism is now largely out of favor as a critical technique, you will note that its assumptions and tools are rather familiar to you as students--the theory provided much of the language with which you were taught to engage literature as early as middle school and the kinds of terms that the Regents and AP exams required you to use [It may also seem paradoxical that in a partial way, the New Critics democratized literary study by believing they could provide everyone with one standard, knowable set of 'tools']. Of course, you were also taught to employ historical context, author's intentions , biography, and your 'own feelings' etc.--but when students show alarm that we're "not talking about the literature enough," the New Critical part of their disciplinary training is showing. It's important to know this because the "political and social trends" that the Fugitives sought to evade or combat through New Criticism included modernization, racial desegregation, and the challenging of conservative faith traditions.
Grading Breakdown from the Undergraduate Bulletin: A range: excellent; B range: very good; C+/C: satisfactory; C-: minimal competence; D: marginal; E: failure. In grading individual assignments, I use splits (e.g., C+/B-) to calculate as closely as possible your grade (in almost all cases, this only helps you). As you improve during the semester, expectations for your work go up as well.
Daily Schedule: This may change at any time; your continued attendance is therefore crucial.
T 26 Syllabus and introductions. Come prepared to talk about the following question: Who are you? Why is this an important question to answer at the beginning of a class where many non-black students say they come to learn "about" African Americans?
R 28 Who are you?" continued. Read: Barkley Brown essay and Cleeton/Gross essay. " Turn in a 2-page, single-spaced response paper that addresses the following questions: What does non-African American literature cover? What do you expect non-African American literature to be about? Where did you get those expectations? What does it turn out to be "about" in your classes? Why am I asking this question at the beginning of an African American Literature survey? Please be specific; remember, I cannot get inside your head. Additionally, please append a serious, respectful, one-paragraph account of what happens in a typical English department class period.
T 2 Bernice Johnson Reagon, "The Songs are Free" video shown in class today.
T 9 Call and Response, Jacobs, from Incidents, 432-468 Start reading the material for the response paper due on T November 4.
T 16 Call and Response, Garnet, 264-272; Delany, 473-489, Stewart, 395-404.
T 23 Catch-up day.
T 30 Dunbar, "Lager Beer" (handout), "A Cabin Tale" (handout). Scholarly article write-up package due in class today.
T 14 No class; fall break
R 16 Call and Response, Giovanni, "For Saundra," 1555, and "Ego-Tripping," 1559; Clifton, "the making of poems," 1536. Also, Reed, "I am a Cowboy in the Boat of Ra," 1655; "Beware: Do Not Read this Poem," 1658. . For today, read Ueno, "Japanimation: Techno-Orientalism, Media Tribes, and Rave Culture" (photocopy) and turn in a 2-page, single-spaced response paper that addresses the following questions: Using some key texts, we spent some time talking about cultural appropriation in class. Though Ueno's article may seem to engage subject matter "not related" to our class, it is nevertheless useful and quite relevant. How does Ueno's article add extra dimensions to our conversation--things that all of us have to think about and negotiate Additionally, please start to read Call and Response, Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun—you will be held responsible for this reading on R November 6.
T 4 Call and Response, Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun. Today, turn in a 2-page, single-spaced response paper that addresses the following questions: For this short paper, you will take as your primary text the comic strip "Boondocks" by Aaron McGruder. To get the strip, go to www.boondocks.net (this is the official site and includes 'fan' mail, etc.) or straight to http://www.ucomics.com/boondocks/ if you just want the comic strip. This essay is due on , but it is your responsibility to start NOW, as I will have expected you to have read "Boondocks" consistently for several weeks. How does studying "Boondocks" jibe with the other literature we are reading in this class? Please note that I'll just get a massive headache if the papers say "oh, they're all about 'oppression' or someone's 'plight.'
T 11 Parks, “Imperceptible Mutabilities of the Third Kingdom.”
T 18 Butler, "Preface," "Positive Obsession," and "Furor Scribendi."
T 25 Butler, “Bloodchild.” continued.
T 2 Voluntary conferences on final paper.
Final Exam for this class, during which you will turn in your final paper: T 16 December, 8-11 a.m.