21L.315 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate

Prizewinners: Nobelistas


Course Meeting Times

This course meets in the second half of the semester.

Sessions: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Class Description

This Sampling course, worth six instead of the typical twelve credits, drew attention to the thirteen female Nobel laureates. As the MIT Literature website explains, Samplings serve students looking for “a less intensive, more discussion and reading oriented way of continuing literary study.” Secondly, “they allow the Literature Faculty to offer occasional subjects that cannot be permanently and regularly offered. Finally, they are a site of experimentation—a way of trying out new authors and new themes.”

This version of “Prizewinners” looks at women writers who have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. There have been thirteen so far:

  1. Selma Lagerlof (1909)
  2. Grazia Deledda (1926)
  3. Sigrid Unset (1928)
  4. Pearl Buck (1938)
  5. Gabriela Mistral (1945)
  6. Nelly Sachs (1966)
  7. Nadine Gordimer (1991)
  8. Toni Morrison (1993)
  9. Wislawa Szymborska (1996)
  10. Elfrieda Jellinek (2004)
  11. Doris Lessing (2007)
  12. Herta Müller (2009)
  13. Alice Munro (2013)

We will read novels or stories by five fiction writers—Gordimer, Morrison, Lessing, Müller, and Munro—with particular attention to narrative patterns in the texts, the socio-historical context of each writer, and critical reception of these works. Questions about how the Nobel Prize functions and is understood and about how Literature relates to the other Nobel subject areas—Peace, Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Economic Sciences—will feature in our discussions too.


Response Papers (2 total) 30%
In-Class Presentation 10%
Essay 30%
Participation 30%


1 Introduction  
2 Nadine Gordimer  
3 Nadine Gordimer (cont.)  
4 Toni Morrison  
5 Toni Morrison (cont.)  
6 Toni Morrison (cont.) Response paper 1
7 Herta Müller  
8 Herta Müller (cont.)  
9 Doris Lessing’s stories Response paper 2
10 Alice Munro  
11 Alice Munro (cont.)  
12 Alice Munro (cont.)  
13 Submission of final essay Final essay

How to Succeed in 21L.315 Prizewinners

  • Come to class. Each student will be allowed 1 excused absence (i.e. discussed in advance). For each additional absence your letter grade will drop by a third. Two latenesses count as one absence.
  • Bring the assigned text to class and be prepared to discuss with the group. If you have not completed the reading or feel otherwise unprepared, it is far, far better to come to class than to miss the discussion.
  • A conference with me is required before the end of our course. These are useful for brainstorming response papers and the final essay, clarifying issues in the reading, or preparing for an in-class presentation.
  • Hand your materials in on time. Lateness will result in lower grades, dropping by a third per day.
  • Ask for an extension (because of illness, family crisis, or other equally difficult circumstances) well ahead of the due date.

Know Your Resources

  • Learn exactly what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. This is the Literature Section’s policy 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, direct phrasings, and images / media 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 in the Writing and Communication Center, and the MIT Website on Plagiarism.
  • Use the Writing and Communication Center, which offers free professional advice to MIT students about oral presentations and about all types of academic, creative, and professional writing.
  • Students with Disabilities that might affect their work, in or out of class, should check with me as soon as possible (privately after class or by email).
  • Student Support Services (S^3): If you are encountering academic difficulty of any kind, be sure to take advantage of the resources at S^3. “If you are dealing with a personal or medical issue that is impacting your ability to attend class, complete work, or take an exam, please discuss this with Student Support Services (S3). The deans in S3 will verify your situation, and then discuss with you how to address the missed work. Students will not be excused from coursework without verification from Student Support Services.”
  • Research & Library

Finally: Devices. Please turn off electronic devices unless we need them for that day’s work. Any use of cellphones or other devices for communication with the world outside the classroom will signal that you are mentally absent, and you will be counted absent for that day.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
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