English 379W: American Women’s Writing
Spring 2003; Section 1 (MW , McIver 227)
Office: McIver 202; 334-4696; email@example.com
Hours: MW 3-3:30, -5; by appointment and by chance
Description: What is “American women’s writing”? Does it differ significantly from literature authored by men, and if so, how?
How does American women’s writing vary according to the writer’s class, race, religion, place, or historical moment? Why did many important earlier women writers disappear from view in the first part of the twentieth century, and why did others remain important?
What questions do American women of the past consider that remain important to us—writers and reader—today? In seeking responses
to these questions, this
American women’s literary work, including Euroamerican, African American, Native American, Asian American, and Mexican
American authors from the Northeast, South, and West. We will focus our attention first on nineteenth-century American women’s
writing, but we will also consider how work by contemporary American women emerges (and diverges) from the writing of their predecessors. Classes will include an occasional lecture but student participation and discussion will direct our focus. Representative
Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, Zitkala-Ša, Lucille Clifton, Sandra Cisneros, Alice Walker. 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:
· have gained knowledge about the central themes, perspectives, and issues in an important field in American literature and literary theory and about the writing’s relation to current concerns
· understand American women’s writing in the context of the American literary canon and some of the current critical debates in the field, both practical and theoretical
· be able to recognize the connections between traditional and non-traditional literary genres
· recognize and appreciate the “conversations” between and among multicultural writers
Assessment: One-page (250-word minimum) writing assignment every week, with a major revision (2500+ words, including research)
at the end of the term; possibly a group presentation. Weekly assignments: 35%; final 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 Mondays. 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 brief 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
Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Kilcup, Karen L. Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: An Anthology
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: firstname.lastname@example.org with this message: subscribe english-L firstname
(substitute your first and last name for those terms in the message). For
example: subscribe english-L Jane Doe.
Tentative Schedule: NB: All primary readings other than Cisneros, Jacobs, and Walker are from our anthology.
Week 1 (1/13): Introduction; Gender, Ethnicity and American Identity
1. Introduction. Politics and aesthetics, then and now; Native American and Judeo-Christian origin stories
2. Mary Jemison; Child, “Adventure in the
Woods”; Sigourney, “Indian Names,” “
Week 2 (1/20): Advice Writing and Material Culture
1. No class—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
2. Introduction to Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers; Child, “Introductory
Chapter,” “General Maxims for Health,” “Education of Daughters”; Harper, “Fancy
Week 3 (1/27): Reading Race and Class; Utopian and Dystopian Writing
1. Dodge, “Sunday Afternoon in a Poor-House,” “Miss Maloney on the Chinese Question”; Larcom, “Weaving”; Sojourner Truth; Johnson,
“As It Was in the Beginning”
2. Betsey Chamberlain, “A New Society”; Child, “Hilda Silfverling”; Alcott, “Transcendental Wild Oats”; Harper, “We Are All Bound Up
Together”; Lazarus, “The New Colossus”
Week 4 (2/3): Death, Sentimentalism, and Emotion; Women’s Humor
1. 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];
Jacobsen, “The Wooing of Rachel Shlipsky”; Fern, “Aunt Hetty on Matrimony,” “Soliloquy of a Housemaid,” “Hungry Husbands,”
“Fashionable Invalidism”; Holley
Week 5 (2/10): Aesthetics and the Woman Artist; Northeastern Regionalism
1. Woolson; Sui Sin Far, “What About the Cat?”; Piatt, “The Fancy Ball”; Harper, “Songs for the People”
2. Cooke fiction, all; Freeman, “Old Woman Magoun”; Larcom, “A Little Old Girl”
Week 6 (2/17): Women and Money; Life-Writing
2. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Week 7 (2/24): Life-Writing; Women and Nature
1. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
2. 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 (3/3): Writing Workshop; Mystery and Thriller
1. Writing workshop
2. Spofford, “In the Maguerriwock”; Hopkins, “Talma Gordon”; Mena, “The Vine-Leaf”
March 8-16 Spring Break
1. Foote, “Pictures of the
2. Elliott, “An Ex-Brigadier”; Piatt, “The Black Princess”; Reese, “A War Memory”; Harper, the Aunt Chloe poems: “Aunt Chloe” to “The
Week 10 (3/24): 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 (3/31): Children’s Literature
1. Jewett, “Woodchucks”; Fern, “The Baby’s Complaint,” “The Boy Who Liked Natural History,” and “A Peep Underground”; Wiggin, “The
Tale of a Self-Made Cat”; Cary,
2. DRAFT OF REVISION DUE; writing workshop
Week 12 (4/7): American Women and the World
1. Possessing the Secret of Joy
2. Possessing the Secret of Joy
Week 13 (4/14): American Women and Family
1. Film TBA
2. Film TBA
Week 14 (4/21): American Women and Home
Week 15 (4/28):
1. Contemporary writing (Handout)
2. FINAL PAPER AND PORTFOLIO DUE
Week 16 (5/5)
Beginning with week 2, you will write an essay of at least 250 words (typed or word-processed, double-spaced, 11- or 12-point font) every week on one or more of the texts that we have read (preferably one that we have not discussed in class). We will discuss your writing daily in class, either in small groups or as a whole group, with essays for presentation due on a staggered time schedule (see below). 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; please distribute these essays THE DAY BEFORE YOUR PAPER IS DUE TO BE WORKSHOPPED. 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 regular writing assignment that interests you most and revise (and expand—to at least 2500 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).