English 379W: American Women’s Writing
Fall 2002; Section 1 (TTh 12:30-1:45, McIver 329)
Office: McIver 202; 334-4696; firstname.lastname@example.org
Hours: Th 1:45-3:30; by appointment and by chance
Description: This course aims to sample a wide range of American women’s literary work. As part of our survey of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries we will consider such questions as: What is the relationship between politics and aesthetics in American women’s writing? Can a political text also be “good”—that is, aesthetically satisfying? What do we mean by “good” writing or “literature”? What questions do American women of the past consider that remain important to us—writers and reader—today? How does American women’s writing vary according to the writer’s class, race, religion, or historical moment? Classes will include an occasional lecture but student participation and discussion will direct our focus. NB: This is a survey course, which means that a central goal is to provide you with as much exposure to a range of texts as possible, not to cover in class everything on the syllabus. Although we will do a lot of reading, it will not be possible to discuss everything on the reading list, nor will we cover everything in the same detail. If you have a favorite reading for a particular day, be sure to make explicit your desire to explore that text.
Student Learning Outcomes: At the completion of this course students will:
Assessment: One-page (250-word minimum) writing assignment per week, with a major revision (2000+ words, including research) at the end of the term; possibly a group presentation. Weekly assignments: 35%; revision: 35%; participation in classroom activities: 30%, including regular attendance and contributions to discussion, satisfactory completion of impromptu quizzes and in-class writing assignments, participation in regular informal group presentations, and on-time completion of reading assignments. Writing assignments are due at the beginning of class on Tuesdays. We will set up a workshop schedule for assessing your writing by the whole class. At the end of the course you will turn in a portfolio of all your work—essays (with my comments on them), quizzes, in-class writing assignments, any presentation materials—which will form the basis of your final grade, so save everything. See the separate page below for additional portfolio instructions. Because I want you to concentrate on process and improving your writing rather than on focusing on your grade, I will not give formal grades until the end of the semester. I will make comments periodically on your essays; you will also receive feedback from other students and a more formal assessment from me around mid-semester. Students who wish to have a graded assessment before this time should make an appointment to meet with me (bring your portfolio).
Attendance Policy: Because the in-class work represents nearly a third of your grade, it is crucial that you attend class and participate. Students absent for more than 2 classes for any reason may be dropped or have their grade lowered at the instructor’s discretion.
Academic Honor Code: Students are expected to adhere to the University Academic Honor Policy. See the UNCG Graduate Bulletin and the Policies for Students handbook.
Required Texts (in bookstore):
Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Kilcup, Karen L. Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: An Anthology
Walker, Alice. Possessing the Secret of Joy
Special note for majors and
other interested students: The English Department has established a listserv that we hope you
will join. From your regular e-mail account (either on campus or at home), send
an e-mail to: email@example.com with this message: subscribe english-L
firstname lastname (substitute your first and last name for those terms in the
message). For example: subscribe english-L Jane Doe.
Week 1 (8/20): Introduction; Gender, Ethnicity and American Identity
1. Introduction. Native American and Judeo-Christian origin stories
2. Mary Jemison; Sigourney, “Indian Names,” “Niagara,” “The Western Emigrant”; Child, “Adventure in the Woods” (All primary readings other than Cisneros, Jacobs, and Walker are from our anthology.)
Week 2 (8/27): Advice Writing and Material Culture; Reading Race and Class
1. Introduction to Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers; Child, “Introductory Chapter,” “General Maxims for Health,” “Education of Daughters”; Harper, “Fancy Etchings”; E. Dickinson, “Black Cake” [L835, 835a]
2. Dodge, “Sunday Afternoon in a Poor-House”; the Lowell Offering writer, “A White Dress”; Larcom, “Weaving”; Davis, Blind Tom”; Sojourner Truth; Dodge, “Miss Maloney on the Chinese Question”
Week 3 (9/3): Utopian and Dystopian Writing; Death, Sentimentalism, and Emotion
1. Child, “Hilda Silfverling”; Betsey Chamberlain, “A New Society”; Harper, “We Are All Bound Up Together”
2. Cary, “My Grandfather”; Johnson, “The Tenas Klootchman”; Piatt, “The Funeral of a Doll”; E. Dickinson, Letters to Susan on the death of Gilbert [L868, 871]; S. Dickinson, “Miss Emily Dickinson of Amherst” (obituary)
Week 4 (9/10): Women’s Humor; Aesthetics and the Woman Artist
1. Jacobsen, “The Wooing of Rachel Shlipsky”; Fern, “Aunt Hetty on Matrimony,” “Soliloquy of a Housemaid,” “Hungry Husbands,” “Fashionable Invalidism”; Holley
2. Woolson; Sui Sin Far, “What About the Cat?”; Piatt, “The Fancy Ball”; Harper, “Songs for the People”
Week 5 (9/17): Northeastern Regionalism
1. Cooke fiction, all; Jewett, “The Town Poor”; Freeman, “Old Woman Magoun”; Larcom, “A Little Old Girl”
2. Jewett, “The Passing of Sister Barsett”; Hopkins, “Bro’r Abr’m Jimson’s Wedding; Alcott, “Transcendental Wild Oats”
Week 6 (9/24): Life-Writing
2. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Week 7 (10/1): Life-Writing; Women and Nature
1. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
2. Jewett, “Woodchucks”; Larcom, “Flowers of the Fallow”; Thaxter, “Woman’s Heartlessness”; Cleary, “Dust Storm”; Dickinson, Poem 986 (“A narrow fellow in the grass”) and 1466 (“One of the ones that Midas touched”); Reese, “Drought,” “White Flags,” “Crows,” “White April”
Week 8 (10/8): Mystery and Thriller; Western Women’s Writing
1. Spofford, “In the Maguerriwock”; Hopkins, “Talma Gordon”; Cary, “The Sea-Side Cave”
2. Foote, “Pictures of the Far West”; Cleary; Zitkala-Ša; Austin, “The Walking Woman” [PORTFOLIOS DUE]
1. No class; fall break
2. Elliott, “An Ex-Brigadier”; Piatt, “The Black Princess”; Reese, “A War Memory”; Harper, the Aunt Chloe poems: “Aunt Chloe” to “The Reunion”; Lazarus, “The South”
Week 10 (10/22): Southern Women’s Writing; Sexuality
1. Freeman, “Two Friends”; Chopin, “Lilacs,” “The Storm”; Dunbar-Nelson, “A Carnival Jangle”
2. King, “The Balcony,” “The Old Lady’s Restoration”; Dunbar-Nelson, “Sister Josepha”; Cooper
Week 11 (10/29): Children’s Literature; Race and Ethnicity Encore
1. Fern, “The Baby’s Complaint,” “The Boy Who Liked Natural History,” and “A Peep Underground”; Wiggin, “The Tale of a Self-Made Cat”; Cary, “Three Bugs”; Larcom, “March,” “A Little Old Girl”; E. Dickinson, Letter to Gilbert Dickinson [L712]; Thaxter, “The Sandpiper’s Nest”
2. Watanna, “Two Converts”; Wolfenstein; Mena, “The Vine-Leaf”; Johnson, “As It Was in the Beginning”; Lazarus, “The New Colossus”
Week 12 (11/5): American Women and the World
1. Possessing the Secret of Joy
2. Possessing the Secret of Joy
Week 13 (11/12): American Women and Home
1. The House on Mango Street
2. The House on Mango Street
Week 14 (11/19): Contemporary Nonfiction
1. Heimel, Goodman, Lorde (handout)
2. DRAFT OF REVISION DUE; writing workshop
Week 15 (11/26):
1. conference day
Week 16 (12/3): Contemporary Poetry
1. Clifton, Olds, Kumin, Hacker and others (handout)
2. conclusions; FINAL PAPER AND PORTFOLIOS DUE
Beginning with day 1 of week 2, you will write an essay of at least 250 words (typed or word-processed, double-spaced, 11- or 12-point font) each week on one or more of the texts that we have read (preferably one that we have not discussed in class). The essays will be due on a staggered time schedule, and we will discuss your writing daily in class, either in small groups or as a whole group. Write about any theme, issue, character, or stylistic device that you like. The only constraint is: each essay should begin with a very short (no more than two or three lines) quotation from the text that you have chosen to discuss, responding directly to that quotation. Be sure to date and paginate individual essays, and put your name on every page. Also, put the word count—EXCLUDING THE QUOTATION—at the end of every paper.
In these essays I am not looking for any “right answers,” but rather for the development of your own ideas over a period of time and for a self-critical appraisal of the work that you have done, especially in the revised essay. That is, writing these short pieces all in one sitting will not be productive, for it will not reveal the development over time that regular daily writing will do. In addition to correctness and clarity, thoughtfulness and an engagement with the materials and with your own ideas should be your aim. Don’t be afraid to criticize or praise an author for his or her ideas. You may also choose to be critical of some of the conclusions at which we arrived in class discussion; be sure to quote (very briefly, giving appropriate page references in parentheses after each reference) from the text under discussion in order to support and illustrate your ideas. You can even criticize yourself for a perspective you held earlier that has changed as you have read and thought more about your subject. Give each essay a title, as well as providing a title for the final revised essay.
On the second day of class I will give you a date to have your work discussed by the entire class (I’ll conduct a lottery). You should bring with you 28 copies of your essay to distribute for the discussion. Unless I have your folder, you should bring it with you to every class. As you prepare for these workshop discussions, please read carefully the “Guide for Evaluating Writing” on the next page. I expect that you will take seriously not only improving your own writing but also helping your classmates improve theirs. Although it is often difficult to critique our own writing, one of the best ways to do so is to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of others’ work.
For the concluding revision you’ll
select the weekly writing assignment that interests you most and revise (and
expand—to at least 2000 words) your ideas in the light of your other essays and
readings. This essay should consider more broadly the issues that you have
raised over the semester. The revision will also include a research component
in which you will look for current discussion about and/or images surrounding
an issue raised by the writer(s) on whom you are focusing. For example, if you are writing about Lydia
Maria Child’s or Frances Harper’s narratives about racism, you could seek out
contemporary newspaper articles or editorials, photographs in magazines, or
music that deals with that subject. In
your revision, then, you will discuss how today’s creative women (and pop
culture more generally) handle the same subject as their predecessors. You should take a critical look at this
connection: Do the current “texts” with which you are dealing reflect any
advance on the earlier writers’ thinking?
Do they complicate or question their predecessors’ ideas in any
significant way? What do the images or
themes from today tell us about American culture as a whole? Sometime in the first half of the semester
I will give you more detailed instructions about this revision, but you should
be thinking about it from the beginning; our handout and discussion of Alice
Cary’s poem and Molly Ivens’s essay on the first day will provide a model. The
headings listed on the syllabus suggest a few of the topics that you might
ponder, but there are many others:
women’s communication and the use of silence; the body (including cultural
interventions into and expectations surrounding women’s bodies, such as
reproductive technologies, piercing and tattooing, and fashion); and women,
humor, and power. The conclusion of
your essay will outline some concrete suggestions for how we might approach the
problems explored by the writers (and, of course, by your essay).
A Guide for Evaluating Writing (your own and others’)
¨ focus or thesis: Does the essay have a focus or thesis? Can I express what I want to argue or explain in one sentence? Have I sustained attention to my thesis throughout the paper? Am I clear on how individual paragraphs relate to my thesis, and have I made these connections clear to my readers? Have I chosen an interesting, original, or ambitious subject?
¨ use of examples: Do I have enough examples? Do I use quotations from the text? Are these quotations too long? If I use paraphrase of the text, do I make the relevance of this paraphrase clear to my readers (i.e., how it relates to my argument)?
¨ analysis: Do I explain the significance of the textual examples that I give? Does my analysis add up? If I am conducting a comparison, do I make the comparison explicit or do I assume that my reader will make it? Do I respond to potential questions or objections to my point of view? Have I consistently asked myself why an author presents an idea (or character) in the way s/he does? Have I asked what are the effects of the piece of writing? Have I indicated specifically how the language of individual passages (especially my evidence/illustrations) supports my main idea?
¨ logic: Is my logic clear? Does it make sense to someone who does not understand (or agree) with my thesis? Do I explain my terms and assumptions? Is my introduction focused and my conclusion interesting?
¨ overall structure: What is my overall structure? Do I make it clear from the beginning? Do I remind readers about the shape of my discussion as I progress in my argument? Do I have a concise introduction and conclusion? If I appear to digress from the main discussion, have I explained why I have done so?
¨ paragraph structure: Are individual paragraphs well organized? Does each have a thesis sentence? How does this thesis sentence relate to the overall discussion?
¨ transitions between paragraphs: Do I provide readers with a sense of connection between paragraphs? Do I explain how individual paragraphs relate to my overall thesis?
¨ transitions between sentences: Do I integrate evidence, especially quotations, into my discussion smoothly? Do I provide readers with the context for quotations, rather than simply assuming s/he will understand the context? Does one sentence lead smoothly to the next?
¨ correctness: Are my grammar, syntax, and mechanics correct? Have I run spell-check?
¨ readability: Is my paper easy to read? Is my word choice accurate? Are my sentences too long or too short; do I vary my sentence structure? Is my paper enjoyable to read? Do I have elements of creativity in my style? Do I get to my point, avoiding rhetorical “clutter”?
¨ presentation: Have I put my name and page number on each page? Is the formatting correct (for example, are quotations of 4 lines or more indented 10 spaces)? Do I have a cover page? Overall, does the physical presentation add to or detract from my ideas?