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Syllabus for English 2230: African American Literature
Dr. Lisa Minnick

English 2230 meets Tuesdays and Thursdays 12-3:20 p.m. in 3010 Brown

Office hours: by appointment in 923 Sprau

Navigation links for Summer 2010 syllabus:


Course description

From the catalog: English 2230 is a survey of important black American writers and the historical development of black images and experiences in American literature and culture.

In this section of English 2230, , we will read, listen to, talk about, and write about some of the most exciting fiction, drama, poetry, nonfiction, and music ever produced, all by African American artists. We’ll explore a wide range of art forms, genres, and historical periods, along with the artistic, social, political, and linguistic contexts surrounding these artists, whose work has redefined the American literary canon and transformed the national culture.

Learning objectives
Students who complete the course successfully will acquire the following:

Required texts and materials

Final exam 20%
Midterm exam 20%
Collaborative project 20%
Presentation 15%
Journal entries 15%
Attendance and participation 10%

Exams: The exams will include identifications, short answers, and essays. The final exam is not cumulative.

Collaborative project: Students will work collaboratively on an end-of-semester presentation that interprets a literary work (or more than one) or other cultural product or movement. Guidelines will be provided (see handouts page).

Presentation: Each student will prepare an individual presentation and lead the class discussion on a particular topic. We’ll set up a schedule for these and specific guidelines will be provided (see handouts page).

Journal entries: Journal assignments present opportunities to explore your ideas about what we are reading, prepare for class discussions, and practice and improve your writing skills. Guidelines for journal posts will be provided (see handouts page). Journal entries will be posted on our Facebook group page. 

Attendance and participation: You will need to be present and prepared in order to participate in discussions and other activities required for success in the course. There is a substantial reading load condensed into this abbreviated summer session, something to consider as you plan your out-of-class preparation. Additionally, films and other media will be viewed and explored in class, so you will need to be present for that, too. (Please refer also to attendance and participation policy below.)

Course policies

Attendance and participation: I think ENGL 2230 is fun and interesting, but it is also an active, experiential course, so you will need to be present every day and participate actively at each meeting. Your presence, attentiveness, preparedness, and active contributions are of paramount importance both to the success of the course and to your individual success in it. Passive attendance, not doing the reading, failing to contribute to discussions or participate in activities, and/or any other kind of slacking will not be suffered gladly. If you must miss class, my policy is to permit one “free” absence. By “free,” I mean no questions asked and that I do not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences. I also mean that’s all you get. Exceptions can only be made in cases of serious illness (such as those requiring hospitalization) and other documentable emergencies. Three or more absences (missing 20% or more of our class meetings) may result in a failing grade. It is each student’s responsibility to stay on top of all course material and get the notes from a classmate following an absence. Missed classes cannot be made up in office hours or at any other time. Leaving at the break is an absence.

Being late to class and leaving early should be kept to a minimum. If you’re late, you risk missing important course content, and late entrance can be distracting to other students and the instructor. The same goes for leaving early. If you are late, please stay after class to make sure you have been marked present. Habitual lateness will result in a reduction of your attendance and participation score and hence your course grade.

Late work is generally frowned upon in college and elsewhere, and this class is no exception. Arrangements must be made in advance (and you’ll need a documentable explanation). Unexplained late work (or excuses after the fact) will not be accepted and a grade of zero will be assessed.

Makeups: In-class activities cannot be made up if missed because of lateness or absence. Makeups on major assignments, such as exams or presentations, must be arranged with me in advance of due dates in order to avoid penalties, and you will have to make a pretty strong case in order to be granted an extension.

Classroom etiquette: You are encouraged to read and think critically and of course are not required to agree with everything you read or hear in this class. In my experience, learning works best when an open dialogue is encouraged. All thoughtful contributions are welcome; however, I ask that everyone be respectful during class discussions. The goal is for our classroom to be a safe place to flex your intellectual muscles, where everyone feels comfortable generating, expressing, and challenging ideas. Your help in reaching this goal is essential. Also, please familiarize yourself with the policies outlined in the Western Michigan University Student Code, linked here (pdf file). Students who do not abide by the code and respect the rights of everyone to a comfortable teaching and learning environment will be asked to leave.

Other etiquette issues: Sleeping, eating, grooming, reading non-course materials, doing homework, having conversations, using any kind of electronic communications device, and other such activities are discouraged because of their disruptive and impolite nature, and because they impede full participation.

Finally, no recording of any kind – audio, video, photographic, or otherwise – is permitted in this class without the informed consent of all students and the instructor. Everyone has a right not to have their voices and/or likenesses recorded without their knowledge and permission, including the instructor.

Grading scale for all assignments:
A = 4 for excellent work (not 'good' or 'above average'); work of the highest quality.
BA = 3.5
B = 3
CB = 2.5
C = 2
DC = 1.5
D = 1
E = .5 for work that does not meet minimum standards; 0 for work not turned in.

Graded assignments and exams will generally be returned within one to two weeks.

At any time during the semester, you are welcome and encouraged to make an appointment to discuss your progress in the course.

University Policies

Religious Observances Policy: The University is a diverse, multicultural enterprise and, as a community, we jointly embrace both individual responsibility and dignified respect for our differences. It is WMU’s general policy to permit students to fulfill obligations set aside by their faith. It is the University’s intent that students who must be absent from scheduled classes to fulfill religious obligations or observe practices associated with their faith not be disadvantaged. However, it is the student’s responsibility to make arrangements with his/her instructors in advance. It is in the student’s best interests to approach each instructor expeditiously and with sufficient notice so that the rights and responsibilities of the instructor are not disrupted. I ask to be informed early in the semester if you must miss class for religious reasons.

Students with disabilities should contact Ms. Beth Denhartigh at 387-2116 or beth (dot) denhartigh (at) wmich (dot) edu so that any physical, learning, vision, hearing, or other disability can be documented and accommodations arranged. Please note that a determination must be made by Ms. Denhartigh’s office before accommodations can be made.

Academic honesty: All work you turn in for this class must be your own, with all outside reference sources properly cited and acknowledged. Plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, any kind of falsification or forgery, computer misuse, multiple submission, complicity, and any other type of academic dishonesty on any exams or work assigned for this course, will not be tolerated in any form. All students are required to read and comply fully with the policies and definitions outlined in the Western Michigan University statement on academic integrity, linked here.If there is reason to believe any student has been involved in academic dishonesty, he or she will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. The student will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s) and have the opportunity for a hearing. Please consult with me if you are in doubt about how to cite a source, whether a source is appropriate, whether a citation is needed, if you are not sure what level of help on an assignment constitutes complicity or collusion, or with any other academic integrity questions. As I am also required to uphold the standards of academic integrity, my policy is zero tolerance for any type of deception, and I do not want for any of you to find out the hard way how seriously I take this.

Schedule of Readings, Assignments, and Exams

I reserve the right to make minor adjustments or massive changes to this syllabus as a result of interference from reality. Please check our Facebook group page or class updates page regularly for news, schedule changes, and announcements. Please come to class each day having read that day’s assignments so that you can participate fully.

Readings are from the Norton Anthology except for those from Spoken Soul, as noted on the schedule below.

Week 1: Introduction; Slavery and Freedom

Tues, May 11: Introduction to course.
Thurs, May 13: For class, read:

1. “Introduction: Talking Books” (xxxvii-xlvii)
2. “The Literature of Slavery and Freedom” (151-162)
3. Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (279-315)

Week 2: Slavery, Freedom, and Reconstruction. Begin work on collaborative projects.

Tues, May 18: Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (385-452).
Thurs, May 20: For class, read:

1. Washington (570-572) and “The Atlanta Exposition Address” (594-602)
2. Chesnutt (602-604) and “The Goophered Grapevine” (604-612).

Week 3: Reconstruction and Renaissance

Tues, May 25: DuBois (686-689) and The Souls of Black Folk (692-742).
Thurs, May 27: Read:

1. Spoken Soul, chapters 1-2 (3-38)
2. Spoken Soul, chapters 6-7 (91-128)
3. Dunbar (904-925).

Week 4: The Harlem Renaissance and midterm exam.

Tues, June 1: Read:

1. Spoken Soul, ch. 8 (129-160)
2. The Harlem Renaissance (953-962)
3. Fauset, Plum Bun (975-983).

Thurs, June 3: Midterm exam. Also, read:

1. Locke, The New Negro (983-993)
2. McKay (1003-1019).

Monday, June 7: Last day to withdraw from the course (not that you’d want to).

Week 5: The Harlem Renaissance

Tues, June 08: Hurston (1018-1053).
Thurs, June 10: Read:

1. Hughes (1289-1314)
2. Countee Cullen (1339-1351).

Week 6: Realism and Modernism; The Black Arts Era

Tues, June 15: Read:

1. Wright (1399-1402) and Black Boy (1471-1487)
2. Brooks (1623-1649)
3. Baldwin (1696-1699) and “Notes of a Native Son” (1713-1727).

Thurs, June 17: Read:

1. The Black Arts Era (1831-1850)
2. Knight (1908-11)
3. Lorde (1919-2036)
4. Sanchez (1963-67)
5. Gaye (75-76)
6. Wonder (76-77)
7. Scott-Heron (80-82)
8. view videos linked to our class webpage (

Week 7: Contemporary Literature and presentations

Tues, June 22: Read:

1. Whitehead, John Henry Days (2677-2694).
2. Grandmaster Flash (82-85)
3. Queen Latifah (88-89)
4. view videos linked to our class webpage (

Thurs, June 24: Group presentations

Week 8: Final exam.

Tues, June 29: Final exam.

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