CES 331/ENGL 321: Introduction to African American Literature Spring 2009 — Professor Lisa Guerrero


COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course will examine the significance of a specifically African American literary tradition in shaping both the identities and the histories of the myriad people of African descent in the United States. We will begin by positioning African American literature within an American literary history. Specifically, we will be considering the ways in which the models of storytelling that shape African American narratives. We will closely consider verbal and literary modes, including: African retentions, oral traditions, signifying, folklore, and music, have created a unique African American literary voice, and have affected both African Americans’ understandings of themselves, as well as the ways in which they have historically been understood in the American popular imagination. In an effort to critically map the genealogies of this tradition we will be interrogating not only the historical and political contexts of the works, but also the ways in which issues of gender, sexuality, and class specifically inform the works.

Learning Outcomes:

(1) To develop an understanding of an African American literary tradition as a syncretically shaped artistic form.

(2) To begin to understand the critical uses of the narrative forms of oral traditions, signifying, folklore, and music in making African American literature a unique literary model.

(3) To understand the theoretical concepts of race, racism and racialization as they inform the creation of an ethnic literature.

(4) To examine the critical connections between historical eras and events and the formation of narrative.

(5) To begin to understand the unique aspects of African American literary theory.

(6) To understand how racial and ethnic groups have resisted and struggled to recreate their own cultural identities in relations to each other and dominant white groups, leading to both conflict and community empowerment

(7) A critical understanding of ethnic identity and racial identity and how it is constructed and reconstructed by individuals and groups over time and different contexts.

( 8 ) Develop and sharpen critical communication skills through the facilitation of discussions and writing skills through essay assignments.

THIS IS YOUR ONLY WARNING: This class relies on the participation of the students. As such, we will engage in many lively discussions. Emphasizing collaboration and dialogue, conversation and debate, we, as an intellectual community, will engage one another in meaningful and challenging ways while we explore the varied perspectives that each of us bring to bear on class discussions. Hence, various opinions will be expressed and espoused. I ask that you be respectful of my opinions and those of your peers. In other words, refrain from rude and negative comments, for they will not be tolerated. We should be constantly vigilant that our contributions, opinions, and responses, while intellectually critical, are respectful of the differences in position, perspective, and experience we all have. If your beliefs are so strong that you cannot tolerate the opinions of others, please begin to practice tolerance now, or choose another class. People can disagree without being disrespectful.

Note: As this is a literature course, the reading load is quite heavy and the pace fast. Also, because writing is a means of discovery and a pathway to understanding, it is an important activity in this class in conjunction with the reading. Indeed, you should think of your writing as a mode of reading that will help you begin to understand the literature at hand. When essays, journals, and in-class assignments are considered together you will be doing some kind of writing assignment every week. Be prepared to spend much time carefully reading, considering, discussing, and writing about the texts in the course. If you cannot devote the time necessary to keep up with the assignments, and to do so in a critical manner, you will not do well in this class and may want to consider if this is the right class for you.


Assessment and Evaluation: Taking classes is your job here at the university. Thus, you should treat the work and requirements accordingly. In the workplace things such as absences, tardiness, and not doing your work properly have negative consequences. This is the case in my class as well. Many students’ low grades are a result of not following directions or policies as well as not expending enough effort. It is your responsibility to be aware of the policies on this syllabus. If you miss class it is your responsibility to check with your student partner or other classmates to find out what you have missed. And though you are always welcome to follow up with me if you are absent, do not ask me if you “missed anything important.”

Your grade is dependent on a number of factors that, together and holistically, inform the evaluation and assessment of your performance. In summary, these criteria include attendance, participation, reading responses, group facilitation, discussion questions, midterm, final group presentation, and the successful completion of any other reading and written assignments.

Written Work & Evaluation Criteria:

Written Work Guidelines:

— Written work to be graded should be typed using a 12-point font, double-spaced (unless otherwise specified), spell checked, and proofread.


— I WILL NOT ACCEPT formal assignments that are not typed. If you turn in a paper for a formal out-of-class assignment that is not typed, I will not grade it.


— Always keep copies of all important formal assignments – including print copies of electronic files – until after you receive your final grade in the course. Your professor will retain your final exam, and may retain the originals or copies of your other papers, but the responsibility for document preservation (for grade appeals or other reasons) is yours.

— In your written assignments, both formal and informal, please avoid extensive summary and background (unless otherwise requested to do so). Remember, all of us in class, most particularly the professor, have read (or should have read) the material for discussion.

— You are encouraged to discuss the course content and assignments with other students, but you must submit your work in your own words. I reserve the right to reject any apparently plagiarized or dishonest work. (See the Academic Integrity Policy below)

— Regarding written assignments, DO NOT use dictionaries or encyclopedias, of any type, (i.e. books or online), as critical references in your papers. Though I do encourage you to consult dictionaries and encyclopedias for your own personal clarification, they are to be used for clarification purposes ONLY and are not considered critical resources.

[Any use of dictionaries as critical references in written assignments will result in the assignment being marked down.]

Evaluation of Written Work:

All papers will be evaluated on a 100-point scale, although letter grades and their numerical equivalent are used to determine your actual grade. Your papers will be evaluated on the basis of content, clarity, organization, style and grammar, and insight. The specific criteria grading scale are as follows:

Content (50 points) Here I will evaluate how well you cover the issues, integrate classroom readings into your paper, construct arguments to defend your position, critique other points of view, and put forth an effort to write a good paper.

Clarity (20 points) The main question here is whether your paper is clear and can be read by a neutral person.

Organization (20 points) Do you follow and develop a single line of reasoning or explanation before shifting to another issue or point? Is the paper logical consistent and well organized throughout? Is the writing discursive or rambling? Are your paragraphs well organized, substantive, and are there appropriate breaks between paragraphs?

Style and Grammar (10 points) Proofread your paper. Check your paper to make sure it is free of misspelled words and grammatical errors. Insure that it is neat, has appropriate margins, page numbering, and any appropriate citations.

• Grading Criteria

Grades for all work for the course will be determined by the following general criteria:

Excellent Work: Demonstrates comprehensive command of the theories and principles from the course, exceptional ability to apply concepts, and superior ability to creatively and appropriately organize and express ideas.

Good Work: Demonstrates solid command of the theories and principles from the course, ability to apply concepts with only minor problems, and good organization and expression of ideas.

Fair Work: Demonstrates acceptable command of the theories and principles from the course, basic ability to apply concepts, and moderate skill in organization and expression of ideas.

Marginal Work: Demonstrates little command of the theories and principles from the course, some attempt at applying concepts, and limited ability to organize and express ideas.

Unacceptable Work: Demonstrates lack of command of the subject matter, unable to appropriately and consistently apply concepts, and inconsistent use of format to organize and express ideas.

Late Work Policy:

–If you have an oral presentation due and you must miss it, you are expected to notify me BEFORE class begins.

–Also, if you are unable to complete any paper by the due date, you should notify me at least ONE DAY BEFORE the due date and negotiate an extension. ONLY ONE EXTENSION WILL BE GRANTED FOR ANY ONE ASSIGNMENT. (Except where otherwise noted.)

If you do not submit the assignment by the agreed upon extension date your assignment grade will be reduced by ONE GRADE for each additional day it is late. NO EXTENSIONS WILL BE GIVEN FOR THE FINAL PROJECT.

If you do not notify me about late work at least one day before the due date to negotiate an extension, your grade for the assignment will immediately be reduced by one half grade for each day it is late and WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED after one week past the original due date.

Grade Breakdown:

By grade point: By 100 point scale:

A = 4.0                                                                      94-100 = A

A-= 3.8                                                                      90-93 = A-

B+=3.5                                                                      87-89 = B+

B = 3.0                                                                      83-86 = B

B-= 2.8                                                                      80-82 = B-

C+=2.5                                                                      77-79 = C+

C = 2.0                                                                      73-76 = C

C-= 1.8                                                                      70-72 = C-

D+= 1.5                                                                     67-69 = D+

D = 1.0                                                                      63-66 = D

F=0                                                                            60-62 = D-

0-59 = F



General Information:

Disability Accommodation:

Reasonable accommodations are available for students who have a documented disability. If you have a disability and may need accommodations to fully participate in this class, please visit the Disability Resource Center (DRC).  All accommodations MUST be approved through the DRC (Washington Building, Room 217).  Please stop by or call 509 335-3417 to make an appointment with a disability specialist. 

Academic Integrity Policy:

Plagiarism will not be tolerated in any aspect of the course. Whether intentional or unintentional, plagiarism and/or cheating may result in a grade of “F” for the assignment in question, or a grade of “F” for the entire course. For this reason it is important to read and familiarize yourself with “WSU’s Academic Integrity Policy” which you will find in the WSU Student Handbook. The rules for plagiarizing or other forms of cheating are not negotiable. Make sure you fully understand what constitutes plagiarism and cheating. If you are unclear on the rules please consult the professor before proceeding in any conduct that you think may be questionable. Remember that your grade depends on your understanding of these policies.

Grade Problems

During the semester use my office hours to talk to me about any problems you are having with your progress and/or evaluations for the course so we can try to fix any bad situation early, before it’s too late. You must communicate any problems you may be having that are affecting your coursework early on so that I am aware of the situation as I continue to evaluate your work. Any explanations for poor performance, relevant or not, will not be accepted at the end of the semester and will have no effect on your final grade. Please do not come to ask me to change your grade after you have failed the course. Also, do not come to ask me to give you an “I” because you are failing or have failed the course.

Classroom Etiquette Rules:

While I want us to constantly challenge ourselves and others during the class, I think it is important to maintain a genial, courteous, cooperative learning atmosphere in the classroom for all.

–First and foremost, I expect that you respect me and your fellow students. There will be no talking when I am addressing the class, when another student has the floor, or when we are viewing a video.

–I expect you to be involved in whatever the class is doing, in other words, not doing work for another class, reading a newspaper or other outside material, doing the crossword, napping, etc. If you absolutely must do these things then don’t come to class.

–Also in this regard, though I prefer that you do not take notes on a laptop computer, if you still choose to do so please be advised that if you are found to be checking your e-mail, surfing the web, playing video games, or anything other than taking notes for class, you will not be allowed to bring your computer to class for the rest of the semester. NO EXCEPTIONS.

— Do not wear headphones, earbuds, etc. in class.

–If you have to come in late or leave early occasionally, do this quietly and unobtrusively so as not to disturb the class.

–Also, the classroom is not the appropriate time for complaining about the class, the workload, your grade, etc. This includes before class, after it ends, and during any break we might take. If you have a problem, you should come to my office hours or schedule a time to discuss it with me in private.

— Turn your cell phones and communication devices off before coming to class, (this includes ANY electronic device that can be used to communicate with the world outside our classroom). The world will survive without being able to reach you for an hour and fifteen minutes. (If you simply cannot be incommunicado for the one hour and fifteen minutes during our class time then you should consider taking another class.) If, for some reason I cannot imagine at this point, you forget to turn off you device, and it goes off, you will, first, and foremost, really aggravate me. (This is never a good thing to do to your professor.) Secondly, you will be faced with a decision. You may: 1) turn it off immediately, or 2) hand it to me and let me answer it. You will take full responsibility for what happens when/if you allow me to answer your phone. If your device goes off more than once during the semester, I will deduct points (at my discretion and without notifying you) from your attendance and participation points.

–The focus of class discussion should be on literary analysis of the works we are reading. Therefore, undeveloped and uncritical personal preference remarks are not acceptable for class discussion.

Finally, the failure to adhere to any of the above rules will result in the student being asked to leave and/or being marked absent for each respective class in which it occurs.

[Your continued enrollment in this course after the first week means that you have read and understand the information contained within this syllabus, and that you agree to follow the procedures and rules explained within it.]