ENGL 242 C: Reading Prose Fiction

American Fictions of Ethnicity

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 11:30am - 12:20pm
MUE 155
Elizabeth Janssen

Syllabus Description:

University of Washington, Winter 2017

English 242C: Reading Prose Fiction: American Fictions of Ethnicity

Instructor: Liz Janssen//Email: ljanssen@uw.edu

Office: Padelford B5C//Office hours: TW 10:30-11:30 and by appointment

Location: MUE 155 // Class time: MTWTh 11:30-12:20


As fictions of sorts, notions of race and ethnicity are at once slippery, changeable, culturally contingent, and deeply entrenched (not to mention, often dangerous or violent). This course will investigate the role of literature to estrange readers from familiar, U.S.-specific constructions of race and ethnicity. Through readings by both U.S.-based and immigrant writers, we will consider how understandings of race and ethnicity are deployed and experienced in a variety of ways at home and abroad. Readings will include fiction by Gish Jen, Sherman Alexie, Mat Johnson and Zakes Mda, alongside nonfiction texts by writers such as Edwidge Danticat, Caryl Phillips, and Toni Morrison. 

Please note that since this course fulfills the W requirement, you should expect to do lots of writing (both informal low-stakes writing and formal graded papers). Class time will be student-centered and discussion-based, so it is important that you come prepared to engage with challenging texts and topics. 


Required materials

To buy:

Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993)

Mat Johnson, Pym (2011)

Zakes Mda, Cion (2007)


Other texts, to be provided online:

Gish Jen, “Who’s Irish?”

Nam Le, “Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice”

Chinua Achebe, “The Truth of Fiction”

Salman Rushdie, “Imaginary Homelands” 

Toni Morrison, “Black Matters”

Caryl Phillips, “The Burden of Race”

Edwidge Danticat, “Another Counntry”


Course Goals

  1. To be able to contextualize the topics and literary materials covered,

historically, politically, and/or culturally.

  1. To be able to approach, discuss, and write about literary texts from a range of perspectives.
  2. To understand literature as useful for supporting thinking and writing on non-literary subjects—including the ability to perform effective close readings/analyses of literary texts in service of broader arguments.
  3. To be able to put primary literary texts in conversation with secondary texts, with other academic disciplines, and with lived experiences.
  4. To develop fluency with academic writing through frequent and varied writing tasks.



Participation: 25%

Blog writings: 20%

Midterm paper: 25%

Final paper: 30%



You will turn in one midterm paper (1500 word minimum) and one final paper (2200 word minimum). You will be given direction for each paper, but you will also have some freedom in determining your own topics. In advance of each paper, each of you will submit a proposal so that we can discuss your topic ahead of time.

You will also be assigned several smaller informal writing tasks—including but not limited to our course blog (prompt on p6). Those other than blog will factor into your Participation grade.

This class requires a lot of reading: it is essential that you keep up with the reading assignments in order to effectively participate in class and to be successful in your graded written work.



Participation forms a large component of your final grade. Missing class will seriously compromise your ability to do well in this course. If you must miss a class, I recommend that you visit me in office hours and ask a classmate for notes on the discussion you missed.

Participation includes but is not limited to: 1). your respectful, attentive presence in class; 2). your willingness to discuss, comment, and ask questions; 3). your preparation for class, which includes bringing required materials and doing all assigned readings; 4). reading quizzes; 5). the effort put into all of your writing assignments; 6). your engagement in group work.

I hope and expect that disagreements will arise during class discussions, but disagreement should always maintain the academic spirit of respect (see Zero Tolerance Policy).

I ask that you not use your cell phones, or have them visible, during class time. Laptops are fine to use for in-class note-taking, but there will be times when I’ll ask you to not use them during class.



Late work policy:

All assignments are due on Canvas before class on the due date. Your midterm and final papers are graded on the university’s four-point scale. For each day an assignment is late, two-tenths of a point will be deducted (for example, if your midterm earned a 3.5, but was submitted two days late, the grade will be reduced to 3.1). Late blog posts and informal writings will receive zero credit. 

If you experience extenuating circumstances at any point in the term, please contact me immediately to arrange for extensions and any extra help. I am always available during office hours to discuss your assignments, answer questions, and provide whatever support I can.

Academic integrity:

Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else's ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people's thoughts and writing--as long as you cite them. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.

Zero Tolerance Policy:

This class takes a zero tolerance policy toward words or actions that insult or demean any individual or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, ability, economic class, national origin, language, or age. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of discourse DO NOT protect racism or other acts of harassment and hate. Violations of this Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct.


If you have any concerns about the course or your instructor, please see the instructor about these concerns as soon as possible. If you are not comfortable talking with the instructor or not satisfied with the response that you receive, you may contact the Director of Undergraduate Programs: Colette Moore, (206) 543-2634, cvmoore@uw.edu.


Writing Resources:

I encourage you to take advantage of the following writing resources available to you at no charge. If you attend a writing conference, write a one-page, double-spaced summary of who you worked with, what paper you focused on, and what you learned and I will add a point to your participation grade.

  • The CLUE Writing Center in Mary Gates Hall is open Sunday to Thursday from 7pm to midnight. The graduate tutors can help you with your claims, organization, and grammar. You do not need to make an appointment, so arrive early and be prepared to wait.
  • The Odegaard Writing and Research Center is open Sunday to Thursday from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm and 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. This writing center provides a research- integrated approach to writing instruction. Make an appointment on the website: www.depts.washington.edu/owrc.


If you need accommodation of any sort, please let me know so that I can work with the UW Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS) to provide what you require. This syllabus is available in large print, as are other class materials. More information about accommodation may be found at http://www.washington.edu/students/drs/.

Campus Safety:

Preventing violence is everyone's responsibility. If you're concerned, tell someone.

  • Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, call through your preferred relay service.
  • Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at www.washington.edu/alert.

For more information visit the SafeCampus website at www.washington.edu/safecampus





This is simply an outline for due dates and for the trajectory of the course; dates and assignments are subject to change. I’ll give you detailed assignments well in advance of their due dates, and I’ll keep our day-to-day assignments calendar updated on our Canvas site.


Reading for today

Writing due today

Mon 3/27


Tues 3/28


 Weds 3/29



Gish Jen





 Literary autobio


Achebe response

Thurs 3/30

Nam Le

Le response




Mon 4/3

Alexie p.1-42 (first 4 stories)

First Readers (Group 1)

Tue 4/4


Alexie p.43-75 (through "This Is What It Means...")

Responders (Group 2)

Wed 4/5


Alexie p.76-103 (through "The Trial...")

Synthesizers (Group 3)

Thu 4/6


Alexie p.104-129 ("Distances" and "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother...")

First Readers (Group 2)




Mon 4/10


Alexie p.130-180 (through "Indian Education")

Responders (Group 3)

Tue 4/11

Finish Alexie ("The Lone Ranger and Tonto..." to end)

Synthesizers (Group 1)

Wed 4/12



Thu 4/13

Pym preface-chap 2





Mon 4/17

 Pym chap 3-5

First Readers (Group 3)

Tue 4/18

 Pym chap 6-7

Responders (Group 1)

Wed 4/19

 Pym chap 8-9

 Synthesizers (Group 2)

Thu 4/20

Pym chap 10-11

First Readers (Group 1)




Mon 4/24

 Pym chap 12-13

Responders (Group 2)

Tue 4/25

Pym chap 14-16

Synthesizers (Group 3)

Wed 4/26

 Pym chap 17-19 + sample paper


Thu 4/27

Pym chap 20-21

Midterm intro/outline




Mon 5/1

Pym chap 22-end (p322)


Tue 5/2

Morrison (through pg17!)


Wed 5/3



Thu 5/4

 Cion chapter 1 [conference day]






Mon 5/8

[midterm narrative]

Midterm due

Tue 5/9

Cion chapter 2

First Readers (Group 2)

      Wed 5/10

Cion chapter 3


Responders (Group 3)

Thu 5/11

Cion chapter 4

Synthesizers (Group 1)







Mon 5/15

Cion chapter 5

First Readers (Group 3)

Tue 5/16

Cion chapter 6

Responders (Group 1)

Wed 5/17

Cion chapter 7 (p197-237)

Synthesizers (Group 2)

Thu 5/18

Cion chapter 8 (p237-266)





Mon 5/22

Finish Cion (p267-312)


Tue 5/23



Wed 5/24

Proposals workshop

Final Paper Proposal

Thu 5/25

Workshop cont.




Mon 5/29

NO CLASS (Memorial Day)


Tue 5/30

sample paper 1

Wed 5/31

Writing workshop


Thu 6/1





    Final Paper Due: Wednesday 6/7 by 5pm




Weekly Blogging Prompt & Rubric

Our course blog is an extension of our in-class learning community: a place where you can track your reading process through thoughts, reactions, and questions in informal writing. Your blog posts should be coherent and proofread, but you don’t need to have a fully formed thesis. In fact, you may find that you raise more questions than you answer in your weekly writing. You’ll also find that your classmates’ ideas and interpretations can serve as catalysts for your own analyses later in our formal writing assignments.

In addition to the assigned reading for each class period, you’ll need to keep up with the blog and come to class prepared to incorporate blog material into our in-class discussions. You do not need to read every single comment, but skim most, and read several posts that interest you more closely.

Our class will be divided into three different groups. Each post, whether you’re a first reader or respondent, should be 200 words minimum and quote directly from the text. Each week, you need only fulfill one role on the blog:

  1. First Readers: post initial reactions, insights, and discussion questions by the start of class. Quote from the text at least once.
  2. Respondents: build upon, challenge, or clarify first readers’ posts by the start of class. Quote directly from a classmate’s post, and point to at least one passage from that day’s reading.
  3. Synthesizers: no writing on the blog required, but you should read several of your classmates’ posts that interest you. You are reading more closely to make connections and raise new questions. Take notes, including 2 discussion questions, that you will bring to class and be prepared to contribute to class discussion.


Rubric: All blog posts are graded on the four-point scale, and will be averaged to equal 20% of your total course grade. Your contributions as “synthesizer” are part of your participation grade. Each individual blog post will be assessed according to this rubric:




Exceptional. The entry is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations or analysis. It demonstrates awareness of its own limitations or implications, considers multiple perspectives when appropriate, and reflects in-depth engagement with the topic.


Satisfactory. The entry is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples/evidence. Fewer connections are made between ideas, and though new insights are offered, they are not fully developed. It reflects moderate engagement with the topic.


Underdeveloped. The entry is mostly description or summary, without consideration of alternative perspectives, and few connections are made between ideas. It reflects passing engagement with the topic.


Limited. The entry is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous comments, and displays no evidence of engagement with the topic.


No Credit. The blog entry is missing or incomplete (does not meet the minimum length requirement).







Catalog Description: 
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:41pm