Classes: TR 2-3:20 pm, Fenton 179
Viewings: W 7-9:30 pm, Fenton 170
Office: Fenton 240; M 1-5, and by appointment; 673-3859
Web Page: www.fredonia.edu/department/english/simon
Introduction to African American Literature and Culture
About the Course Web Pages
This web site is designed to help you get as much out of this course as possible--you can use it to find out how you will be graded, what assignments are due and when, how to subscribe to the course listserv, what books are on reserve for your use in Reed Library, and how to use the world-wide web for research. Please get in the habit of checking back to these pages to keep track of changes to the syllabus, advice on papers and research projects, and to surf the ever-expanding list of links to interesting web pages related to the course. And please contact me anytime (see above for my coordinates) if you have ideas about how to improve these pages or the course as a whole.
This course will examine works by African American novelists, poets, dramatists, filmmakers, musicians, and essayists in terms of the intellectual and political concerns of their periods and locations. The course is organized into four geographical units: country, city, nation, world. Careful attention will be paid to relationships between works in the various genres and media. We will repeatedly ask: in what ways do these artists speak to each other? where do their representations consistently come into tension? how do they interact with the concerns of the dominant society around them, and when do they refuse to do so?
This course has been approved for Part IIB of the GCP and is part of the core of the minor in African American Studies. As such, it provides an introduction to two disciplines: on the one hand, you will gain a firm footing in the practice of literary and cultural criticism, and on the other, you will become familiar with the humanities wing of the discipline of African American Studies.
You may choose to take this course for honors credit as part of the new Honors Program in the English Department. If you are interested in doing this, please come to my office hours during the first two weeks of classes for more information.
Texts. There are four books in the bookstore for you to purchase:
As noted in the schedule (click on this link--or on the links at the top and bottom of every page on the web site--to view this page), there will be several film viewings on Wednesdays at 7 pm in Fenton 170 over the course of the semester. Films to be shown include Beloved, Black Is ... Black Ain't, The Body Beautiful, The Bombing of Osage Avenue, Daughters of the Dust, Do the Right Thing, Down in the Delta, Menace II Society, Sa-I-Gu, Slam, and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song.
There are also primary and secondary readings on reserve at the circulation desk of Reed Library; click here or on the links at the top (and bottom) of this (and every) page for details.
There are several components to your grade in this course.
Attendance/Preparation/In-class Participation (15%). Regular attendance is crucial to your happiness and success in this course. If there is absolutely no way for you to avoid missing a class, please contact me ahead of time or soon after your absence. Just as important as showing up on time, of course, is coming to class prepared and focused. I will expect you to have read what has been assigned for a given date at least once (and preferably more than that!) by the time we begin to discuss it in class. After all, this is a discussion rather than a lecture course, and you can't discuss a work well if you haven't read it carefully. Hence, although I will provide some context and background for our reading, the bulk of class time will be spent in small or large group discussions.
Your grade for this segment of the course will be based on a combination of your attendance and your preparation/participation in class and on the listserv. As a rule, more than three absences (whether excused or unexcused) will hurt your participation grade, and more than six absences (whether excused or unexcused) will lead to a course grade of E.
Listserv Participation (35%).
To participate in the course listserv (i.e., to send to and receive messages from the rest of the class by email), you must first join it. To do this, send an email message to "firstname.lastname@example.org" with the subject line blank and the command "join en24001" in the body. Almost immediately after you send this message, you should get a confirmation reply from the machine that handles subscriptions to the listserv (save this message; it has important instructions for using the listserv). Once you are subscribed to the list, you can then send a message to the entire class by composing a normal email message, but rather than addressing it to an individual, addressing it instead to "email@example.com"--the machine will then send that message to everyone subscribed to the list. Receiving messages, then, is as simple as checking your email. Call me or stop by my office if you need help at any step of this process; also, you should probably find the troubleshooting guide in the "What If...?" section of my EN 209 page useful for handling most technical difficulties.
This listserv will be your space; I will keep my own input to a bare minimum (thus, most of my announcements can be found on the news page, links to which are also at the top and bottom of every page on the site). Although you may use the listserv in any number of ways, you must use it in the following ways:
Critical Response Paper (20%). Your four-to-six-page critical response paper should be on a topic of your own choosing, with enough focus and specificity that you can craft an argument and explore your ideas, readings, and interpretations in a persuasive manner. Your topic should relate specifically to the readings and films we've encountered thus far in the "country" and "city" sections of the course, or should take up issues raised in the weekly units within each section. The best way to come up with a topic is to look carefully at the questions you've been asking thus far and decide which work best as potential starting points for a short paper; often, these will be questions that you do not yet know how to answer. The best papers are usually those in which the writer attempted to discover something through the writing process and was able to share that discovery effectively. Potential paper topics and approaches are scattered throughout the "More!" page, which is designed to put each weekly unit in context and suggest directions for further exploration. By 10 pm Monday, October 11, you must submit a proposal over e-mail to me in which 1) you state what question you want to answer and why it interests you, or what issue you want to address and why it is important to you, or what topic you want to explore and what you hope to find out about it, and 2) what text(s) or film(s) you will be focusing on in particular. I will get back to you by the following evening, and your paper will be due at 5 pm Monday, October 18.
Final Essay (30%). In the final essay, which should be between eight and twelve pages in length, you are to develop an argument on a course-related topic or question that you are most interested in pursuing in some depth and detail. You are responsible for choosing a topic or question, revising and focusing it, writing a polished proposal that clearly explains what your project is and persuades your readers of its importance and interest, deciding what works to focus on and what research to embark on, developing an argument based on your interpretation of those works and your research, writing a draft of an analytical/persuasive essay, and revising it before turning it in. The preliminary, ungraded proposal for the final essay is due on Friday, November 5; the polished (and printed-out) proposal is due no later than 5 pm Friday, November 19 (or over e-mail before you leave for Thanksgiving break) and will be graded on its clarity and persuasiveness; the final essay is due on Monday, December 13. I will comment on your proposals over email and be available to meet with you to discuss your project over the last few weeks of the semester (and, indeed, well before them). In addition, see the overview and the "More!" pages for preliminary identifications of the main themes and issues in the course, along with suggestions for further exploration that may help you generate and develop your ideas.
EN 240: Intro to African American Lit and Culture, Fall 1999
Created: 8/23/99, 3:00 pm
Last modified: 11/18/99, 6:18 am