In The Souls of Black Folk (1903), the great cultural critic W. E. B. Du Bois wrote that "...the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line." A century after Du Bois penned those words, most Americans would agree that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the color line remains one of our most pressing social issues. In this course, we will explore the terrain of race in America by reading the works of writers of color and others concerned with the issue of race, by viewing films that address racial issues, and by writing to explore how the fictions and facts of race condition all our lives, social and civic, private and public. We will consider the complex question of racial identity, test the givens of history by uncovering histories that have been more elusive or more thoroughly suppressed, and explore how writing and reading can both reflect and challenge racial categories, hierarchies, and perceptions. We will read the work of such writers as Suzan-Lori Parks, Toni Morrison, Sandra Cisneros, James Baldwin, Louise Erdrich, Amy Tan, Chang-Rae Lee, Jhumpa Lahiri, and William Faulkner, among others, as we consider the story of race in its peculiarly American dimensions. We will also view films such as Skins, The Long Walk Home, and Crash. Both the reading and the writing of members of the class will be the focus of class discussion and workshops. Students explore race and ethnicity in personal essays, pieces of cultural criticism or analysis, or (with permission of instructor) fiction.
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street. London, UK: Vintage, 1991. ISBN: 9780679734772.
Erdrich, Louise. Love medicine. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1993. ISBN: 9780060975548.
Faulkner, William. Go Down, Moses. New York, NY: Vintage, 1991. ISBN: 9780679732174.
Mitcham, Judson. The Sweet Everlasting. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780820327822.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York, NY: Vintage, 2007. ISBN: 9780307278449.
Parks, Suzan-Lori. "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World." In The America Play and Other Works. New York, NY: Theatre Communications Group, 1994. ISBN: 9781559360920.
Lunsford, Andrea. Easy Writer. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's Books, 2008. ISBN: 9780312556273.
Skins. Directed by Chris Eyre.
Crash. Directed by Paul Haggis.
Lone Star. Directed by John Sayles.
You will be expected to have completed the assigned reading on the day it is to be discussed in class. Short, informal in-class writing assignments will help you stay disciplined about getting the reading done.
The major writing for the course will be three essays of about 7-8 pages each, along with a few shorter writing assignments. One of the essays will be a response to one or more of the texts we read, in a form of your choice—imitation, reflection, critical analysis. The other two assignments will be essays related to the material of the course—personal memoir, autobiography, investigation, or other nonfiction narrative or persuasive essay.
I will not assign grades for your essays while the semester is in progress. At the end of the semester, you will prepare a portfolio of all the writing you have done in the course, including your essays and your Reader's Notebook, so that I can review your work in order to give you a grade for the course. In deciding on semester grades, I will consider the quality of your writing, the degree and consistency of your effort throughout the semester, the success you demonstrate in revising your written work, how actively you participated in class discussion and workshops and the quality of your classroom contributions. The primary determinant will be the quality of your writing. I will let you know if at any time your performance in the course would merit a grade below C, and I am of course happy to talk with you at any time about your work and your progress in the course.
Keeping in Step
Our schedule is tight, so all written work must be handed in on time. No exceptions, unless for real and serious emergencies, in which case you should get in touch with me at once. Extensions for emergencies will be granted only once per student per semester. Your responsibility in the class is to be not only a writer and reader, but also to serve as a reader and responder for other members of the class. It is essential, then, that you attend class faithfully and come to each class fully prepared to participate in discussions of assigned reading and in writing workshops. Lateness for class, if extreme or chronic, will be counted as an absence. You must notify me as soon as possible when a real and serious emergency keeps you from attending class. More than three unexcused absences will result in your course grade being lowered; more than five absences will result in a failing grade. So don't take casual cuts, and come to class faithfully and on time and prepared to participate fully in class activities. All required work (reading and writing assignments, assigned revisions, notebook and in-class writing) must be completed satisfactorily in order to receive a passing grade for the course.
MIT Literature Statement on Plagiarism
Plagiarism—use of another's intellectual work without acknowledgement—is a serious offense. It is the policy of the Literature Faculty that students who plagiarize will receive an F in the subject, and that the instructor will forward the case to the Committee on Discipline. Full acknowledgement for all information obtained from sources outside the classroom must be clearly stated in all written work submitted. All ideas, arguments, and direct phrasings taken from someone else's work must be identified and properly footnoted. Quotations from other sources must be clearly marked as distinct from the student's own work. For further guidance on the proper forms of attribution, consult the style guides available at the Writing and Communication Center and the MIT Web site on Plagiarism.
|SES # ||TOPICS ||KEY DATES |
|1 || |
Ellis Cose, "Our New Look: The Colors of Race"
Robin D. G. Kelley, "The People in Me"
|Reflections on racial identity due |
|2 || |
Chang-Rae Lee, "Coming Home Again"
Lenore Look, "Facing the Village"
Amy Tan, "Mother Tongue"
Geeta Kothari, "If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?"
|3 ||Suzan-Lori Parks, The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World || |
|4 ||Sherley Ann Williams, "Meditations on History" ||Proposals due for first essay |
|5 ||Proposal conferences || |
|6 || |
James Baldwin, "Notes of a Native Son"
Richard Rodriguez, from Brown
|7 ||Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye || |
|8 ||The Bluest Eye (cont.) ||Essay 1 due |
|9 ||Workshop of essays || |
|10 ||Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine || |
|11 ||Love Medicine ||Revisions of essay 1 due |
|12 ||Film, Skins ||Proposals for essay 2 due |
|13 ||Proposal conferences || |
|14 ||Library session || |
|15 ||Film, Crash ||Essay 2 due |
|16 ||Workshop of essay 2 || |
|17 || |
A collection of short stories
Maxine Hong Kingston, "No Name Woman"
Zora Neal Hurston, "Sweat"
Alice Walker, "Everyday Use"
|18 || |
James Baldwin, "Going to Meet the Man"
Leslie Marmon Silko, "Lullaby"
Toni Cade Bambara, "Medley"
Lan Samantha Chang, "San"
|19 ||Silent reading session || |
|20 || |
William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses
Proposals for Essay 3 (not written, but described to the class
|Revisions due for essay 2 |
|21 ||Proposal conferences || |
|22 || |
Go Down, Moses
Online workshop of essay 3
|Essay 3 due |
|23 ||Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street || |
|24 ||Judson Mitcham, The Sweet Everlasting || |
|25 ||The Sweet Everlasting (cont.) || |
|26 ||Film, Lone Star ||Revisions for essay 3 due |
|27 ||Course summary and evaluations || |
|28 ||Last class: tea and celebratory reading at Rebecca's ||Complete portfolio due |