English 132: GSLC in Ethnic American Literature

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Natasha Azank
English 132, Summer 2009

Gender, Sexuality, Literature, and Culture in Ethnic American Literature

Course Description:

It can be argued that ethnic American writing (and identities) often reflect a “borderlands” reality, or what Gloria Anzaldua calls “a constant state of transition”. In this course, we will examine texts from several genres (novels, short stories, poetry) by contemporary American writers from ethnically identified groups (e.g., Native American, African American, US Latino/a, and Asian American) in order to formulate a diverse view of the representations and constructions of male and female identities in 20th century ethnic American literature. How do race and ethnicity, as well as this fluid sense of identity shape and complicate the depictions of men and women as mothers, fathers, siblings, friends and lovers in this literature? To what extent do these authors sustain, subvert, or dismantle the dominant American stories or cultural myths that often define man and woman in rigid and oppositional terms?

We will consider how gender intersects with several themes at work in these texts, such as generational conflicts, the legacy of enslavement and genocide, language as a central to identity, assimilation versus the struggle to retain one’s cultural heritage, and the complex interplay of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. With close attention to each text’s cultural and historical contexts, as well as their artistic and formal aspects, we will examine the ways in which ethnic American writers both contest the central paradigms that have dominated American literature and also expand notions of American identity.

Course Requirements and Methods of Instruction:

Because this is an online course, all of our learning will come in the form of reading and writing. Your reading responsibilities will primarily consist of the assigned texts, the online materials provided through the course website, and the discussion board posts of your classmates; your writing responsibilities will include consistent postings to the online discussion board and one final paper.

A typical week in English 132 will be as follows:

MONDAY - WEDNESDAY: On Monday, log in to the UMass Online course website. Go to: www.amherst.umassonline.net. Enter your UMass OIT username and password (the same one you use for your Umail account). Click on the link for our course (English 132). On the homepage for our course, click on the folder for the week we are entering. Read the lecture notes and any other materials I've posted and begin to read the assigned pages from the week's text(s). Also, begin work on any individual assignments posted in the “Discussion” section of the website. NB: You can certainly begin reading the course texts before Monday of the week they are assigned, but my lecture notes and any additional assignments will not be accessible before Monday of each week.

THURSDAY: By 5:00 PM every Thursday (except for the final week of class), you will write and submit a 2-page (double-spaced) response on the assigned text of the week. These submissions will be public (meaning that they will be available for viewing on the course website), and they should demonstrate serious, thoughtful engagement with themes or issues raised in the course texts. Please avoid summarizing the text and aim for critical analysis and interpretation, since this is what you will need to do in your final paper. If you've finished your reading and writing before Thursday of any given week, you are welcome to post your weekly response early.

FRIDAY: In order to simulate a class discussion, every Friday, you will submit two short responses to two of your classmates’ longer submissions from the previous day (roughly 1 page each, double-spaced). I'll provide more details on what is required in both types of responses during the first week of our course.

I'll jump into these "threaded" discussions on occasion to add another opinion or moderate the discussion. In general, however, the discussion forum will be a place for you, as students, to step in and engage in respectful, open discourse with the other members of our (somewhat unique) classroom community.

FINAL PAPER: In addition to the requirements listed above, you will write one longer essay for the course. A 6-8 page essay will be due during the final week of our course. You will receive detailed instructions for this essay as the course progresses.

Grading Policy:

Grading for this course will be comprised of the following components:
40% - Final Paper
30% - (5) 2 page responses
30% - (10) 1 page responses

Each weekend, you'll receive a report from me informing you of your progress in the course and providing you with feedback on your short responses.

Required Reading:

We will be reading one book per week (in the order they are listed below), except for the last week of the course, during which you will be writing your final paper and reading some short poetry. Please purchase the following texts either online or at one of the area bookstores (since this is an online course, they have not been ordered at any particular store, but should be available at most used and new bookstores). Please let me know if you have any difficulty purchasing the texts.

Week 1 – Nella Larsen - Passing
Week 2 – Tomas River – And the Earth Did Not Devour Him
Week 3 – Judith Ortiz Cofer – Silent Dancing
Week 4 – Sherman Alexie – The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Week 5 – Bharati Muhkerjee – Wife
Week 6 – Poetry; Write final paper

Things to Keep in Mind:

  • Our course only lasts six weeks, yet it covers a full semester's material, which means that it will be a work-intensive experience. Expect to do more work on a day-to-day basis than you would in a course during a normal-length semester. With that in mind, it's essential that you plan out a viable work schedule for yourself early on and ensure that you don't fall behind.
  • This is an online course with no "real time" requirements (i.e. we don't have an official class time during which everyone must be online), but you are required to be involved in the course on a daily basis, just as you would be in a traditional course. You might think of it as a course that meets 4-5 times per week based on your individual schedule.
  • Another peculiarity of online courses is that you and I will not have the normal instructor-student interactions in the classroom. That does not, however, mean that I will not be available to answer your questions and discuss the course materials and work requirements with you. Anytime you have a question, please feel free to email me; I will be sure to respond as promptly and completely as possible.

Regarding Late Work and Plagiarism:
All work must be submitted on or before their due dates. Technical and computer problems will not be considered an acceptable excuse for late work (see below for technical assistance); therefore, submitting assignments right before their deadlines is highly ill-advised. No extensions will be given except in the event of an excused absence or illness verified in writing by a doctor and/or college official.

The University’s policies on plagiarism apply to ALL written work in this course, i.e., papers as well as postings to the threaded discussion board. To better understand the definitions and penalties for plagiarism, please visit the following URL:
http://writingprogram.hfa.umass.edu/student_resources/plagiarism_policy.asp

Technical Assistance:
If you experience technical difficulties accessing or navigating this online course, do any one of the following to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week:
-Go to the OIT help page at: http://www.oit.umass.edu/webct/campus-vista/students/index.html. Or, call the OIT Help Desk (M-F 8:30-5:00) at 413-545-9400


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