English 62: 20th Century American Literature

Shelley Reid, Austin College

"20th Century Book-Ends" Spring 1999

Texts and Assignments

Connect also to the Syllabus page.


The Heath Anthology of American Literature, vol. II (Lauter et al.), The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald), The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (Alexie), Best American Short Stories of the Eighties.

Reading Assignments

Reading Assignments in this class have been selected to help individual students and the class community reach several goals. We will, as a class studying American Literature of the 20th century, in the late 20th century, be asking some general questions:

It is likely that class discussions will not cover all the material on the syllabus with equal care and depth. However, all assignments have been chosen (and the anthology will prove a good reminder of what has been "left out") to converse with one another and aid the literature student in comprehending the movement of literary trends. The wider-than-coverable selection of texts should also provide good options for student-led discussions as well as for writing assignments. Students bear some responsibility for insuring that texts which they find particularly complex or difficult, or those that are found to be surprisingly interesting, receive attention in class discussion or through the electronic discussion list.

There are no reading quizzes on the syllabus. There is no scheduled midterm, and the final exam is currently designed to emphasize ideas over information. You could therefore very well complete this class with some success having read significantly less than all the assigned work. I hope you will not choose that option. However, if flagging class discussions or under-supported writing assignments signal the need for quizzes or exams to provide sufficient motivation, they will reluctantly be instituted.

Finally, if you're "not getting it," whatever "it" is, please don't wait until the last minute to ask for assistance. It's likely that you're not the only person having difficulties -- we will be covering difficult material and keeping a tight schedule -- so your concerns may help other people find their way out of the fog, too. Writing assignments in this course are designed to develop a set of linked skills; to progress from short queries to longer investigations to more sophisticated readings of texts within the discipline's conversations; to take full advantage of opportunities for conversation, feedback, and revision; and to allow individual students to explore topics, texts, and approaches.

Writing Assignments

Discussion Starters: Four times during the semester, we will begin the class with small discussion-group meetings. Each group member should come to the meeting with photocopies for the group of their Discussion Starters: 2­4 questions about texts or topics under consideration, one connection thought, and 1­3 claims about texts or topics (4-6 points/questions total).

Discussion Starters will be scored on a 10 point scale, evaluating their general thoughtfulness and usefulness to the group. Occasional assignments which demonstrate unusual insight or provoke intense and productive discussion will receive top scores; any assignment that is incomplete or that poses only the most general, surface-level ideas will receive lower scores. Discussion Starters -- yours or those of other classmates -- may certainly be developed into longer analyses or essays.

Point Analyses: Three times this semester you will turn in a brief, tightly focused analysis of a point or question that caught your imagination. Your approach may be personal, text-based, theoretical, comparative, evaluative, argumentative, expository, or any combination of the above. Your discussion may also start with (but should go beyond) a topic addressed in class, in a discussion group, or in a published article. Thoughtful reflection will be emphasized over mechanical perfection or stylistic conformity. PAs may later be developed further into longer essays.

Essays: You will write two formal essays, 5­8 pages each, on topics of your choosing. You should focus on one or more of the texts we are reading as a class; if you wish, you may (but aren't required to) include references to critical material, historical texts, and/or any other reading you've done beyond the syllabus that helps illumine or deepen your own arguments.

To best help you assimilate the kinds of information we're encountering in this class, it is suggested that you choose a different approach for each essay. If possible and productive, one of your essays should be an in-depth investigation of a single author and/or text, challenging yourself and your readers to make sense of multiple layers of textual and cultural meanings. To balance out the reading strategies, the other essay will benefit from being a broader synthesis, connecting three or more authors/texts as a way of developing your own theories about and/or understanding of American literature. You may choose either approach for the first essay.

Formal essays must be typed, double-spaced, with 1­1.5 inch margins; one "page" is approximately equal to 250 words regardless of typefont or margin size. Essays should be titled (cover page not necessary). MLA citation style is expected, as is college-level proofreading. Hand all essays in in a plain cardboard folder, accompanied by your notes, rough drafts, and photocopies of any outside sources you rely on. Late papers may be penalized (see Space-Time Continuum sheet). For more information, see the About Essays sheet (below) with details on the Revision Policy (attached).

Final Exam: The final will be a take-home essay-exam, comprehensive in that it will require you to think synthetically about the texts and issues we covered throughout the semester. Length requirements and question types will be discussed in detail in the latter part of the term.

Final Grades will be equally divided (20% each) over the five main components of this class: each of the two essays, the final exam, the three Point Analyses, and overall class participation (including the Discussion Starter assignments and any optional e-mail participation). In general, improvement over the semester will work to your advantage; try not to be discouraged if your initial efforts are less successful than you had hoped.

If you need special assistance or assignment modifications to complete the requirements for this class, they will be provided upon request.

About Essays: English 62

In grading essays, I usually base my evaluations on your efforts in the following four categories:

Thesis/Focus: have you chosen and developed a strong, arguable (not merely descriptive) point, and set boundaries to limit your analysis? does your essay maintain its focus on this and/or other very closely related ideas? do you make an attempt to explain the usefulness/pertinence of your argument for your reader (so what?), and/or explain how your analysis contributes to an ongoing discussion within American literary studies? do you acknowledge, allow for, and/or debunk opposing views or multiple alternatives?

Evidence: do you provide specific evidence from the text(s) at hand, from your personal experience, or from other sources for each facet of your argument? do you balance quotations and summary/paraphrase, and work the evidence smoothly into your own sentences and arguments? do you clarify how each piece of evidence directly contributes to the support of your argument(s), and address possible readers' objections? with textual arguments, do you supply evidence from several different points, including those that are less-than-obivious? when using critical essay sources, do you accurately characterize the author's position(s), and fairly represent his/her argument's strengths and weaknesses?

Structures & Presentation: have you organized your thoughts into a logical sequence, and made that sequence clear to your audience/reader? do the intro and conclusion connect smoothly with your reader? do you subdivide complex arguments into manageable pieces that lead a reader along your thought-paths step by step? does your essay read easily from word to word, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph? have you eliminated distracting mechanical errors and rewritten troublesome sentences?

Insight: does your essay reveal something -- large or small -- about the text(s) that increases a reader's understanding (of the story, of himself/herself, of cultural/historical issues, of traditions or assumptions important to the discipline)? do your analyses draw connections, reveal patterns, or highlight motives that weren't immediately visible to a casual reader? do you apply your own personal experience appropriately where necessary, and anticipate your reader's response to your arguments?

* * * * *

Workshop Days: Twice during the semester, prior to the due dates for your formal essays, we will spend time during class providing initial feedback on your essay drafts. This is an opportunity rather than a hard-and-fast assignment, but you should take as full advantage of it as possible. Aim to have at least a partial draft of your essay ready, with a plan for completing it, for others to respond to. If you are unable to provide a draft, provide as much information as possible: your planned arugments, the insights you already have, and any questions you’re still working on.

Essay Check List: Your essay folder should contain all early notes & drafts, your final copy, any peer comments on your draft, your post-script (below), and photocopies of any outside sources you’ve cited.

Post-Script: After you complete each final draft, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper (typing not required):

Revision Policy: You may, if you choose, revise one of the two formal essays you write this semester to receive a higher grade. To receive credit for the revision, you must arrange a Revision Conference with me within one week after the essay has been handed back to you. At the Revision Conference, I will ask you to explain your detailed plan for changing and improving the essay; your planned alterations need to go beyond fixing surface errors to address underlying problems with structure, support, coherence, or analysis. (If you need to schedule an additional conference beforehand to ask questions about my comments or expectations, please do so.) You must complete the revision within two weeks of the essay's return to you. When you hand in the revised essay, your folder should also contain all previous notes and drafts, any comments, and a new post-script.

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