ENGL 213 A: Modern And Postmodern Literature

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
EEB 003
Elizabeth Brown

Syllabus Description:

Decolonizing Difference: U.S. Literature and Multiculturalism in the 20th and 21st Centuries

ENGL 213a / Winter 2017

EEB 003

M/W, 12:30-2:20


Elizabeth C. Brown, Ph.D

Padelford A504

Office Hours: M/W, 2:30-3:30, at Reboot Café in the Electrical Engineering Building,

or by appointment


This course will introduce you to modern and contemporary U.S. literature by focusing on the politics of multicultural representation. Although “multiculturalism” didn’t gain currency within popular discourse until the “canon wars” over university reading lists in the 1980s, we will track academic and activist investments in reading for differences of race and culture across the 20th and 21st centuries. How has literature served as a site of contestation over the ways in which difference—especially of race, gender, sexuality, and class—has been produced and made legible? What are methods for reading difference? What have been the critical and political investments of these methods? We will start by examining modern social scientific investments in novels as a site to read racial difference in the early 20th century. We will then turn our attention to theories of difference developed within social movements across the 20th and 21st centuries, especially in the writing of women of color feminists. Instead of approaching literary texts as artifacts of earlier struggles for social justice, we will think critically about how they might offer conceptual tools, or what black feminist scholar Audre Lorde calls “new patterns of relating across difference,” relevant in our own time. How, in other words, might the literature we read serve as a starting point to decolonize commonsense understandings of difference today?

This is a writing-integrated course and will fulfill the “W” credit requirement. Assignments will consist of a mix of reflective writing, short papers, and exams designed to sharpen your ability to use writing as a means to think through complex ideas. One of the primary learning goals of this course you will leave the class more comfortable critically reading and writing about literature.

What You Need

All required texts are available at the UW Bookstore.

  • Quicksand and Passing by Nella Larsen (Rutgers University Press 1986 
  • This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (SUNY Press 2015)
  • Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Graywolf 2014)
  • Regular access to the Internet. Selected required readings, daily assignments, and other important information will be available on the course Canvas site.
  • Regular access to a computer and printer to type up and print out writing responses and papers. The largest computer lab on campus is located in Odegaard Library. Printers are located in Odegaard and Suzzallo Libraries (printing costs $0.23 per double-sided sheet). More information about printing with Dawg Prints can be found here: http://f2.washington.edu/fm/c2/services/dawgprints

Learning Goals

In this course you will:

  1. Learn how to contextualize and analyze course texts historically, politically, and culturally.
  2. Build strategies for performing competent critical readings of literary and other course texts.
  3. Understand the investments, contexts, and effects of the types of critical reading skills introduced in class.
  4. Develop both an appreciation of literature and a lifelong habit of reading.


Participation                 10%

Midterm Exam              20%

Anthology Project         30%

Final Exam                   20%

Portfolio                       20%

Participation (10%)

Your participation grade will be based on showing up for class everyday prepared for discussions, activities, group work, and presentations with writing and/or course texts in hand. Please see the absence and illness policy for information about what to do if you need to miss class.

Midterm and Final Exams (20% each)

The midterm and final exams will likely consist of a mix of multiple choice and short answer questions. The midterm exam will be given in class (you will be offered plenty of time—it is not meant to be a timed exam), and the final exam will be taken at home. More details about grading criteria for the midterm and final exams will be given in class.

Anthology Project (30%)

One of your assignments over the quarter will be to work with members of a small group to select, analyze, and present an artifact that you think would be a valuable addition to the course syllabus. The artifact should not be too difficult to analyze since you will need to engage deeply with the artifact while also doing required course readings. Examples of artifacts include a short poem, short story, song, visual artwork, or something similar, and several options will be listed on the course Canvas site. Toward the end of the quarter, you will write an individual 5-7 page, double-spaced anthology paper (20% of your grade) that elaborates how the artifact your group has chosen makes an important contribution to class discussions supported with evidence from your critical analysis of the artifact. Your group will also create and deliver a group presentation (10% of your grade) of your artifact to the rest of the class during the last week of the quarter, thereby creating a class-wide “anthology” of supplemental material and celebrating the hard work you’ve done. More details on the anthology project will be given in class.

Portfolio (20%)

At the end of the quarter, you will submit a portfolio that collects all of the writing (reading responses and anthology paper) that you wrote during the quarter along with a portfolio reflection on your experience in the course. The reflection will count for 40% of your portfolio grade. Reading responses will be due almost everyday our class meets. You may choose not to include two reading responses in your portfolio without it affecting your grade.

Grading Criteria for Writing Assignments

Process Assignments

Process assignments are those in which writing is used as a means to learn, explore, or reflect, and they include reading responses and the portfolio reflection. Unless otherwise noted, all process assignments will not be graded for the polish of the writing or for finding a “right” answer but for the depth of critical engagement they show.

Fully responsive and thoughtfully undertaken: 5 pts

Responsive but less completely thought through: 3 pts

Marginally responsive, or not well thought through: 0 pts

Formal Writing Assignments

The anthology paper and final exam will be graded according to the rubric below on a 1-5 scale. We will practice self-assessment with the rubric in class.

5=Outstanding       4=Strong       3=Good       2=Acceptable       1=Unacceptable

Central Purpose: Are the reasons for your writing clear? Does your writing fully respond to the assignment prompt? Are the main ideas presented in your writing clearly communicated? Is the writing persuasive?

Details: Do you offer sufficient details or examples that are both relevant and effective in developing and supporting your central purpose (the main ideas of your writing)?

Fullness: Does your writing fully accomplish its central purpose? Does it successfully connect examples, evidence, or other information to the writing’s central purpose through analysis or explanation? Is the writing substantial enough to thoroughly communicate its main ideas to the audience?

Presentation: Is your paper edited and spell-checked? Have you reviewed verb tense agreement, punctuation, and other grammatical elements? Have you followed all guidelines pertaining to formatting, citation standards, and other rules of appearance?

Midterm and Final Exam Responses

We will discuss grading criteria and points offered for midterm responses in class.

Late Work Policy

All the writing that you do for this class will prepare you for in-class activities or major assignments, so it is important that writing is completed before class on the day that it is due. Assignments that are submitted late will receive not receive participation points, unless you’ve made other arrangements with me at least 24 hours before the assignment is due.

Absence and Illness Policy

I expect that you will attend all classes unless you have a documented illness or emergency. If you must be absent, please email me before the class you will miss. You are responsible for making arrangements with me or other classmates to catch up on what you missed in class and/or communicating with group members about how to handle your absence.

Classroom Environment

I will strive to make the classroom a space where you are safe to openly discuss ideas. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to support your participation in class activities or completion of required reading and writing assignments. I cannot guarantee, however, that the classroom will always feel like a comfortable space, especially since the ideas we discuss have the potential to affect all of us in deeply personal ways. In light of this, I expect everyone in this class to treat one another with mutual respect while engaging honestly and openly with each other and with course content.

Academic Integrity Policy

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.


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/.

On-Campus Resources (for a complete list, see Canvas)


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Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC)

The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) offers free, one-to-one, 45-minute tutoring sessions for undergraduate, graduate, and professional writers in all fields at the UW. We will work with writers on any writing or research project, as well as personal projects such as applications or personal statements. Our tutors and librarians collaborate with writers at any stage of the writing and research process, from brainstorming and identifying sources to drafting and making final revisions. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please see our website (https://depts.washington.edu/owrc), or come visit us in person on the first floor of Odegaard Undergraduate Library.

Course Calendar (subject to change)

Please see Canvas for all reading response assignments.



In-Class Activities

Assignments Due

Week One—Who gets to be “modern”? The Race Novel and Sociological Difference

Wed 1/4




Week Two

Mon 1/9

DuBois, “Forethought” and “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” from The Souls of Black Folk

Park, “Behind Our Masks”


RR #1—Type, print out, and bring to class.


First Day of Class Survey

Wed 1/11

Larsen, Quicksand, pgs. 1-30 (Ch. 1-5)


RR #2

Week Three

Mon 1/16

No Class—Martin Luther King, Jr. Day



Wed 1/18

Larsen, Quicksand, pgs. 31-93 (Ch. 6-16)


RR #3

Week Four

Mon 1/23

Larsen, Quicksand, pgs. 94-135 (Ch. 17-25)


RR # 4

Wed 1/25

Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel”

Review for Midterm

RR # 5

Week Five—Movements to Decolonize/De-canonize “Difference”

Mon 1/30

Midterm Exam



Wed 2/1

Bambara, Foreword to This Bridge

Moraga, Preface to This Bridge

Rushin, “The Bridge Poem”

Combahee River Collective Statement


**Anthology Project and Groups Assigned



RR #6

Week Six

Mon 2/6

Lorde, “The Master’s Tools”

Moraga, “La Guera”



RR #7

Wed 2/8

Butler, “Bloodchild”

RR #8



Week Seven

Mon 2/13

Butler, “Bloodchild”

Mohanty, “Race, Multiculturalism, and Pedagogies of Dissent”


RR #9


**Groups need to have chosen an artifact for the Anthology Project by today.

Wed 2/15

Rankine, Parts 1 & 2


RR #10

Week Eight—Diversity, Civility, and the Movement for Black Lives

Mon 2/20

No Class—Presidents’ Day



Wed 2/22

Rankine, Parts 3, 4, & 5



Anthology Paper Due

Week Nine

Mon 2/27

Rankine, assigned excerpts of Part 6


RR #11

Wed 3/1

Rankine, Part 7

Lauren Berlant BOMB interview with Claudia Rankine


RR #12

Week Ten—Work on Anthology Project Presentations

Mon 3/6

Anthology Project Presentations




Wed 3/8

Debrief the Class—“So what?”



Portfolios + Portfolio Reflection Due




Final take home exam due to Canvas by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 13.

Catalog Description: 
Introduces twentieth-century literature and contemporary literature, focusing on representative works that illustrate literary and intellectual developments since 1900.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 4, 2017 - 10:20pm