ENG 180: Narratives (The Short Story/Essay)

Fall 2015 (Module 1: August 25th – October 13th, 2015)
Professor Amy Butcher

“One of the greatest functions of art is to help us imagine what it is to be like not ourselves, what it is like to be someone or something else, what it is like to live in another skin, what it is like to live in another body, and in that sense to surpass ourselves, to go out beyond ourselves.” -Adrienne Rich

Course Description:
At its most basic, this course is designed to explore the influence and importance of storytelling, taking as its premise the idea that the art of storytelling extends beyond simple social behavior to instead create a mode of thoughtfully and intellectually engaging society and components of identity and culture. As such, students will read a variety of short stories and essays from both classic and contemporary writers, and together, we’ll discuss the ways in which their authors employ literary elements to evidence these historical, cultural, and social issues in an efficient and artful manner. In particular, we’ll ask of each text the following: how does the short story or essay transcend place and time to take on universal meaning, and what literary elements help shape it and, more importantly, help create meaning from art? In short: we’ll be trying to figure out how, exactly, short texts function and why, but it is my hope, more than anything, that you’ll use this class as an opportunity to consider, fight, and question the world around you.

Course texts:
The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff (ISBN 978-0679745136)
The Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, edited by Lex Williford and Michael Martone (ISBN 9781416531746)
Selected course readings, available on our Blackboard course site (all readings must be printed and brought to class)

Class Participation and Behavior:
This class depends and in fact thrives upon the individualized interpretation and thoughtful engagement of each and every student, and as such, class participation comprises a large percentage of the final grade. Many students make the unfortunate mistake of thinking that it is enough to attend class; on the contrary, I consider class participation to be the act of demonstrating yourself to be an actively engaged and enthused part of our classroom conversation. In short, there is no place in my classroom for intellectual apathy; it is not enough, in other words, to simply show up and warm a seat. I expect you to come to class with the day’s readings in hand, the reading completed in its entirety and with your full attention, and the pages marked to evidence passages you found relevant, thought provoking, significant, curious, or, especially well-written. I expect you, too, to look up all words or terms you’re unfamiliar with. Please note that I also expect all students to self-regulate; those who attempt to monopolize conversation, reiterate what other students have already said, or make inappropriate comments will be equally penalized in this area. One of the most integral skills we’ll aim to develop over the duration of this module is how to respond intelligently, thoughtfully, and nonthreatening to other people’s ideas and analyses, which is to say that while you’re welcome to disagree with your peers or with me, of course, please remember that all comments should be considerate, thoughtful, respectful, and grounded in close analysis of the text. In my experience, the best participants in a discussion-based literature course like this one not only listen to what their classmates have to say, but work to engage, build upon and complicate those sentiments, rather than simply waiting for their turn to speak or reiterating what has already been presented. In addition, because it’s my firm belief that an engaged and respectful student gives their full attention to the materials and the discussion at hand, I do not allow computers in my classroom without a note from the learning specialist. Finally, while I hope it goes without saying, an engaged and respectful student gives his or her full attention to the materials and the discussion at hand; your phone should not be on your desk, your laptop should not be open, and under no circumstances should you be texting or falling asleep in class. Repeated failure to do so will result in an F for class participation.

Leading Discussion:
Once during this module, you’ll work in partnered pairs to lead our class in a thorough and analytical discussion of that particular day’s reading (if there are two readings scheduled that day, you may elect to discuss one or both of them). Please note that while this discussion will ultimately involve the whole class, your primary goal is to guide us in your specific analysis and interpretation of the text. Students may begin with a brief author biography or career summary, but the discussion should largely comprise a guided critical and analytical close reading of the text; as a pair, you should work to identify key literary devices and passages, assert how you feel they contribute to the text’s overall significance or interpretation, and share what you feel the author is attempting to say or gesture towards. As a means of stimulating thoughtful and intelligent conversation, students should prepare in advance five or more questions to pose to the class that target key passages, ways of understanding or interpreting the text, and/or the use of literary devices; these questions should be relatively sophisticated and specific in scope and should aim to engage the text far beyond the surface level (IE: do not ask, please, “What happens in the story/essay?” and/or “Did you like it?”). While you are certainly encouraged to do some research, I expect students to formulate their own analysis and interpretation of the text; please do not employ Sparknotes or any other reading summary website. A handout—with relevant passages, questions for discussion, and any other information you feel might prove beneficial—is highly recommended but not required. These presentations should last for approximately 45-60 minutes. Groups are welcome to structure their time however they feel would be most effective—you might, for example, begin with asking the class to respond individually in a notebook to a question before guiding us in your particular interpretation, or else you might split the class into small groups halfway through the discussion to analyze a particular passage or moment. You’re also welcome to bring in any relevant audio or visual component if you feel it would be helpful; if you need help with anything, please do let me know and I’ll do my best to accommodate.

Critical Response Journals:
In addition to regular attendance and participation, students will complete weekly journal entries in response to one or more of the week’s assigned readings; these entries will always have a particular focus, as outlined in our syllabus. If there is more than one reading for a particular day, please choose to respond to only one. Furthermore, please note that these journal entries are not informal reactions to the texts or reflections on how the text mirrors your own life, but rather, a close analysis of the author’s precise use of language and a discussion of the present literary devices—metaphors, similes, hyperbole, etc.—and how they’re working to shape the story, a select passage, or your particular interpretation of the text. All entries must construct a coherent narrative, be scholarly in tone, employ complete sentences, and be grammatically correct and free of spelling and typing errors. Please refer to our in-class handout for further illustration of the level of engagement and effort I expect. These journal entries should be strictly 500-700 words in length and must be uploaded by the start of class (10:30am) on the day that it is due to our course Blackboard site. Because these journal entries are designed to foster intelligent conversation in class, no late journal entries will be accepted. As you’ll note, your critical response journal—of which there will be 8 entries in total—makes up a large percentage of your final grade, so failing to regularly complete and submit them will significantly affect your grade.

Final Exam:
This course culminates in a final exam that tests your understanding of key literary terms as well as your ability to identify and interpret select passages from the assigned reading. The exam is designed to show that you’ve completed all assigned readings, taken notes, and otherwise been an engaged, analytical, and critical close reader.

Reading Quizzes:
These will be unannounced and frequent and are designed to ensure that you’re keeping up with the reading and giving it your undivided attention. Please note that a low grade in this section can seriously damage your final grade; furthermore, if you are absent on a day in which a reading quiz is assigned, you will receive a 0%. 

Visiting Writers Series:
As students of this class, you are required to attend at least one Visiting Writer Series event and upload a 500-word reflection to our course Blackboard site by the final day of class. Students who cannot attend the below events because of a pre-scheduled conflict (IE: course or lab) should see me for an alternative event.

Absence and late work policy:
You are allotted two course absences, and I do not differentiate between excused and unexcused. Any additional absence beyond two will automatically result in the deduction of one subset from your final participation grade; that is, a B will automatically become a B- with the addition of a third absence. Any student who misses 4 classes or more will earn an F for this module. There are no exceptions. I consider it your responsibility to keep track of your absences, however I am happy to clarify should you seek assurance. If you are absent, please note that I still expect you to turn in any work prior to the start of class; late assignments are accepted only in extenuating circumstances and with my advanced approval; otherwise, this work will not be accepted. If you miss class on the day you are expected to lead discussion, you cannot substitute for another day or make up those points. Please remember that because lateness is, in essence, a disregard for our weekly appointment and a disruption to discussion, regular tardiness will not be tolerated and any student who is late beyond ten minutes will be marked absent for that day.

Please remember that I am a professional reader of words and will therefore immediately notice any changes in sentence structure, vocabulary, or content or language that simply does not sound like your own. If you are caught plagiarizing, you will fail the assignment and likely the course. Furthermore, as an instructor of this university, I am required to report all cases of plagiarism to the Dean of Academic Affairs; penalties include academic probation, suspension, and expulsion. Please don’t do it, don’t think about doing it, and don’t even think about thinking about doing it.

Students With Special Needs:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protections for persons with disabilities. Among other things, the legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you have, or think you may have, a disability (e.g., mental health, attentional, learning, chronic health, sensory, or physical), please contact Disability Services in Corns 315 or call (740) 368-3925 to arrange a confidential discussion regarding equitable access and reasonable accommodations. If you are registered with Disability Services and have a current letter requesting reasonable accommodations, please contact me as early in the semester as possible to discuss how your accommodations will be applied in our course. For more information, consult the Disabilities Services website, http://ldac.owu.edu/index.html.

Grading and Evaluation:
Each assignment will have its own specific criteria and will be discussed as the deadline approaches. However, as a general rule, A-level work is well-written or presented, incorporates original ideas alongside those discussed in class, and shows sophisticated critical thought and creativity with a level of effort that reaches far beyond the minimum requirements. B-level work exhibits a firm understanding of most of the key concepts discussed in class but doesn’t attempt to think beyond them, yet exceeds minimum requirements. C-level work adequately meets the minimum requirements without exceeding them and exhibits understanding of some of the key concepts, but struggles with others. D-level work fails to exhibit a grasp on most of the concepts discussed in class and does not meet minimum requirements. F-level work is inadequate, incomplete, or plagiarized. The final grade is determined by the following:

Participation 25%
Reading Response Journal 30%
Leading Discussion 20%
Reading Quizzes 5%
Visiting Writer Response 5%
Final Exam 15%

Course Schedule:

- Fiction -
Tuesday, August 25th: Class introduction, syllabus distribution and explanation, introductory discussion on storytelling and the concept of the human condition, in-class reading of Amy Hempel’s “Bogota” (handout); assignment: complete literary autobiography, pick up The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories and The Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, browse our course Blackboard site

Thursday, August 27th: Literary autobiographies due. Read Tobias Wolff’s “Introduction” (in The Vintage Book Of Contemporary American Short Stories); discuss “short story

Tuesday, September 1st: Group Tuesday: Journal Entry #1 Due. Read Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” (Vintage); discuss “fantastic literature,” “allegory,” “symbol” and “theme/motif"

Thursday, September 3rd: Group Thursday: Journal Entry #1 Due. Read Rick Bass’ “Field Events” (Blackboard); discuss “mood vs. tone,” “magical realism,” and “surrealism

Tuesday, September 8th: Group Tuesday: Journal Entry #2 Due. Read Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” (Vintage) and Robert Olmstead’s “Cody’s Story” (Vintage); discuss “parallelism,” “distance and involvement,” “gender studies,” “empathy,” and “sympathy

Thursday, September 10th: Group Thursday: Journal Entry #2 Due. Read Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain” (Blackboard) and Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” (Vintage); discuss “realism,” “irony” and “epiphany"

Tuesday, September 15th: Group Tuesday: Journal Entry #3 Due. Read Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” (Blackboard); discuss “satire” and “synesthesia

Thursday, September 17th: Group Thursday: Journal Entry #3 Due. Read Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” (Vintage) and Sandra Cisneros’ “My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn” (Blackboard); discuss “point-of-view,” “onomatopoeia,” and “stream-of-consciousness

- Essay -
Tuesday, September 22nd: Group Tuesday: Journal Entry #4 Due. Read Dylan Nice’s “Teeth” (Blackboard) and Brian Doyle’s “Leap” (Touchstone); discuss “creative nonfiction/essay” and “metaphor

Thursday, September 24th: Group Thursday: Journal Entry #4 Due. Read Jo Ann Beard’s “Werner” (Blackboard); discuss “dialogue” and “simile

Tuesday, September 29th: Group Tuesday: Journal Entry #5 Due. Read Jo Ann Beard’s “The Fourth State of Matter” (Touchstone); discuss “characterization” and “foreshadowing

Thursday, October 1st: Group Thursday: Journal Entry #5 Due. Read Ted Koser’s “Small Rooms In Time” (Touchstone) and Heal McKnight’s “The Hard Part of Community College” (Blackboard); discuss “setting,” “parallelism” and “hyperbole

Tuesday, October 6th: Group Tuesday & Group Thursday: Journal Entry #6 Due. Read Ryan Van Meter’s “If You Knew Then What I Know Now” (Touchstone) and Ryan Van Meter’s “First” (Blackboard); discuss “form” and “voice

Thursday, October 8th: In-class screening of Ramin Bahrani & Werner Herzog’s “Plastic Bag”

Tuesday, October 13th: Final exam

Thursday, October 15th: No Class (Fall Break)