syllabus

Critical Reading and Writing: Fiction & Nonfiction
Topic: Why, America?
Professor Josh Roiland
Office: JRC 345

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means” – Joan Didion

“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships, or fears” – Alice Walker

TEXTS
Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things
Gish Jen, Typical American
Jospeh Kelly, Ed., The Seagull Reader (short stories)
Tom Wolfe, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers
Cheryl Glenn & Loretta Gray, The Harbrace Writer’s Handbook 2nd Ed.

Course Description
As you can tell from the course title at the top of this page, this is not simply a literature-intensive class, nor will it strictly focus on writing. Reading and writing are so deeply intertwined, that, to cultivate the craft of one would be impossible without the other. One becomes a better writer by writing, but also by reading good literature. And one gains a better grasp of what one reads, when, as the above quote by Joan Didion underscores, one writes about it. Per the mission of English 111, we will focus on exploratory and self-reflective writing, as opposed to thesis driven work. Though often necessary, thesis driven composition can stifle young writers by placing too much emphasis on proving a point, rather than exploring possibilities. We will write to learn. We will think on the page. My goal is for all of us to investigate the personal relationships between literature and self, through reading, discussion, composition, revision, and introspection.

Course Objective
Simply stated, this course’s goal is to enhance your already-developed critical reading, thinking, and writing skills. We will work hard to explore what we know and how we know it. We will accomplish this goal by reading a myriad of rich and thought-provoking texts, discussing our readings and ideas inside (and outside) of class. And writing personally, reflectively, and argumentatively about the impression the texts and discussion have made on us.

Course Theme
In a general sense, the theme Why, America? will frame much of our discussion in this class. Many of our texts refer to America directly in their title or subtitle, but the word contains vastly different meanings in each case. The same will be true in our class: We all define and experience America differently. Please note how the punctuation of this theme allows for several different interpretations.

Course Requirements
Daily reading & writing
Group Discussion
Possible quizzes & presentations
Writing Workshop Participation
4 Essays (3 drafts each)

Course Evaluation
Paper 1: 15%
Paper 2: 20%
Paper 3: 25%
Paper 4: 20%
Group Discussion/Workshop Participation: 20%

                              Reading & Writing Schedule

                              Week 1
Monday
No class – Labor Day
Wednesday
Introduction/Welcome
Friday
Ernest Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”
Invisible Man 1-14*
Harbrace Ch.1

                              Week 2
Monday
Culture of Fear Intro, Ch.1, Ch.2
Wednesday
Culture of Fear Ch.3, Ch.5
Friday
Culture of Fear Ch.6, Ch.9
Harbrace Ch.2

                              Week 3
Monday
Paper 1.1 Due
Writing Workshop
Wednesday
Louise Erdrich, “Red Convertible”
Paper 1.2 Due
Friday
John Updike, “A & P”
Joyce Carol Oates, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been”
Harbrace Ch.3

                              Week 4
Monday
American Childhood 1-50
Paper 1.3 Due
Wednesday
American Childhood 51-100
Friday
American Childhood 101-155

                              Week 5
Monday
American Childhood 156-204
Harbrace Ch.27, Ch.28
Wednesday
American Childhood 207-255
Harbrace Ch.29, Ch.30
Friday
Paper 2.1 Due
Writing Workshop

                              Week 6
Monday
Sherman Alexie, “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”
Paper 2.2 Due
Wednesday
Jamaica Kincaid, “Girl”
Sandra Cisneros, “House on Mango Street”
Harbrace Ch.13
Friday
Alice Walker, “Everyday Use”
Paper 2.3 Due

                              Week 7
Monday
Invisible Man 1-97
Wednesday
Invisible Man 98-161
Friday
Invisible Man 162-230

                              Week 8
Monday
Invisible Man 231-355
Tuesday
Common Text Event
Wednesday
Invisible Man 356-382
Friday
No Class – Fall Break

                              Week 9 MIDTERM
Monday
Invisible Man 383-479
Wednesday
Invisible Man 480-534
Friday
Invisible Man 535-581
Harbrace Ch.7

                              Week 10
Monday
“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
Harbrace Ch. 7
Wednesday
Paper 3.1 DUE
Writing Workshop
Friday
Flannery O’Conner, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily”
Paper 3.2 Due

                              Week 11
Monday
Watch: Crimes and Misdemeanors
Wednesday
Watch: Crimes and Misdemeanors
Paper 3.3 Due
Friday
Joan Didion, “On Morality”
Tim O’Brien, “The Things They Carried”
J.D. Salinger, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”

                              Week 12
Monday
Radical Chic 1-82
Wednesday
Emma Goldman, “Defense”
In-Class Writing Assignment
Friday
Raymond Carver, “Cathedral”
Jhumpa Lahiri, “The Third and Final Continent”

                              Week 1
Monday
Typical American 1-120
Wednesday
No Class – Thanksgiving Break
Friday
No Class – Thanksgiving Break

                              Week 1
Monday
Typical American 123-246
Wednesday
Paper 4.1 DUE
Writing Workshop
Friday
Typical American 247-296
Paper 4.2 Due

                              Week 1
Monday
TBA
Wednesday
TBA
Friday
Paper 4.3 Due
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

A Note On…

A Note on Asking Why?
The word why, in my opinion, is the most powerful word in the English language. It derives its power from the response generated in those who are asked it. Be it parents, teachers, politicians, etc., the word why grates and nags because it requires critical thinking, articulation, and honesty. We are a fast-paced culture that thrives on instant gratification, convenience, and economy. Why? entrenches itself against all these notions. It requires us to slow down, work hard, and perhaps – almost certainly – be displeased with the results we find. The benefits to this discomfort, however, far outweigh the inconvenience. Asking why allows us to travel beneath the surface, beneath the generalizations, easy answers, and half-truths. It allows us to get to the heart of the heart of the matter – to learn things others may not want to know. Asking Why? is a powerful tool that makes people nervous (think of your parents continually quelling youthful questions with the authoritative: Because I said so!) because once you find the answers you will then be in the position of power.

A Note on Respect
As I’ve noted, our class will function mainly as a discussion group (a hyper-analytical book club with writing assignments, if you will). Whether we meet in small groups or as a whole class, it is imperative that we treat everyone’s opinions with respect, empathy, and concern. No doubt we will, at times, get into heated debates in the classroom – this is great, this means we are passionate and engaged with our topics – but these debates must always remain civil and thoughtful. When emotions run high it becomes easy simply to dismiss other points of view, but in doing so we learn nothing. We must listen to the other side (if for no other, than to develop arguments against it), and try to understand why those in opposition to us feel the way they do. Civilized intellectual discourse is what college, and life for that matter, is all about, and more often than not, we will learn more from listening than from shouting.

A Note on Assignments
Upon receiving a writing assignment, small or large, do not immediately configure your thought process according to its parameters. Instead of asking me what I want, ask yourself what you would like to discuss. What interests you about the topic? What excites you? What makes you angry? Determine these answers first, and then proceed to figuring out how to incorporate your thoughts and feelings into the requirements of the assignment. These are your assignments; therefore, you should dictate what goes into them.

A Note on Embarassment
Do not worry about sounding silly in your essays. In all likelihood, you’ll look back on the writing you did as a first and second-year student and laugh, or maybe cringe. That’s good; it will mean that you have continued to grow as a thinker and writer. Our course is not an assembly line, where, after several key stops, a polished and finished product (you, the writer) appears. Rather than production, think of this class as design, where you come up with new, creative ideas, and then test them out. Some will work, others will not, but this class, like college in general, is not a means to an end. It is a means to exploration of thought – and there can be no end to that.

A Note on The Center for Writing
Writing is a solitary task, but paradoxically it cannot be done alone. Even the best writers seek the opinions of those they trust most. Our Writing Workshops will give you the opportunity to give constructive feedback to your group members, while receiving it yourself. I, too, will discuss your writing with you, gain your insight, and give you my suggestions. At the same time, I would highly suggest – to even the most polished writers – to visit the Center for Writing regularly. Located in JRC 361, you can drop in any time, or make an appointment (962-3651) to meet with peer consultants who have extensive training in helping others through the writing process. Whether you are brainstorming for paper ideas (and they need not be only for this, or other English classes), having trouble with organization or flow, or simply want to see if all your arguments make sense, the Center for Writing is an invaluable resource to you – and it’s totally free. (Note: the consultants will not edit or proofread your paper – that is your job – but they will be happy discuss strategies for doing so effectively).

A Note on Grading
Do not be consumed by your grades. Thoughtful feedback, not judgmental grading, will help you become a better writer. Grade obsession often stifles creativity and compels students to pander to a higher authority (i.e., me, the teacher). This ideology runs counter to everything our class will celebrate. Take risks! Explore! And heed the words of author and critic James Baldwin: “It is very nearly impossible…to become an educated person in a country so distrustful of the independent mind.” It will serve you better to concern yourself with originality of thought rather than outcomes of performance.

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