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ENGL 242 C: Reading Prose Fiction

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
AND 008
Close up of Laura Chrisman
Laura Chrisman

Syllabus Description:

Professor Laura Chrisman

B401 Padelford

Spring 2019

Office hours: Thurs 4-6pm, or by appointment

English 242C: Reading Prose Fiction: Representing Slavery and Struggles for Freedom

T/Th 10.30am-12.20pm Anderson Hall Room 008

This course centers on fiction about slavery and struggles for freedom from domination. The literature of this course is unconventional, using satire and allegory, at times contesting and even mocking dominant American ideas of race and redemption. This fiction places community, as much as heroic individuals, at its narrative core, asking difficult questions about the dynamics between resistance and oppression, leaders and collectives. Examining this unorthodox fiction allows us to ask about, and gain insights into, our own turbulent political moment.

As this course fulfills the W requirement, students will engage in intensive writing activities. They are expected to keep up with reading and come to class ready to participate in discussion.

Class will involve a range of educational methods that may include small group discussion, large group discussion, student presentation, and instructor lecture.

We focus on these primary literary texts, and proceed in this chronological sequence:

Zora Neale Hurston, Moses, Man of the Mountain

Arna Bontemps, Black Thunder

Zakes Mda, Cion


Please acquire your own hard copies of these novels from the University Bookstores.  You will be expected to make notes in the book’s margins.

Secondary readings may be provided on the class Canvas website.

NB: All cell phones must be turned off and put away during class.  Laptops, IPADs, tablets are permitted for class purposes.

Course Objectives.

  1. Students are able to critically explore the materials covered in the course.
  2. Students are able to perform competent close readings of literary texts.
  3. Students develop an awareness of literature’s ability to mediate social, political and historical issues.
  4. Students strengthen their skills in writing academic prose.


Course assignments and assessments:

Participation: 20% of final grade

Class discussion posts: 20% of final grade

Mid-term paper of 1,200 words: 20% of final grade

Final paper of 2,400 words: 40% of final grade

These word counts do not include any Works Cited pages


In assigning grades, I adhere to the University grading system: see the end of the syllabus for an outline.


This includes productive speaking and listening: the sharing of ideas, questions, issues arising from the week's reading; constructive engagement with the ideas of others in the class; making connections with topics and ideas arising from previous weeks; showing initiative in non-prescribed secondary research which you share with the class. 

In order to participate effectively you must have thoroughly prepared the class readings. In preparing the readings please note down the page numbers of particular passages, sentences which you then direct the class's attention to: the more specific your references are, the more productive the class discussion can be.

An A in class participation is earned by students who are consistently and actively engaged in class, are prepared for class by completing all reading/writing assignments, and regularly and voluntarily participate in class discussions. Students who receive an A in class participation benefit the class in several ways. They not only express opinions on relevant subjects and answer questions posed by the professor, but they also listen, pose questions and address remarks to other students. On occasion they may hold back from speaking first to encourage others to speak up before they speak their minds.

An A-/B+ in class participation is given to students who are consistently prepared for class by completing all the reading/writing assignments  and who at times voluntarily participate in discussions.

A B in class participation is given to students who rarely participate in class discussion voluntarily, but have completed all the reading/writing assignments, and appear engaged by class discussion.

A C in class participation is earned by completing only some of reading and writing assignments or completing them with evidence of little effort. “C” students may sometimes speak up in discussion, but because they haven’t always done the reading, their contributions don’t outweigh the negative impact that their lack of engagement has on the class.

A D in class participation is earned by minimal engagement with class discussion, minimal completion of prescribed readings and writing assignments, and coming to class unprepared.

 An F in class participation is earned for rarely or never contributing to class discussions and not completing required reading and writing assignments.


Discussion Posts.

Our course discussion board is an extension of our in-class learning community. It’s a place where you can track your reading process and work through thoughts, reactions, and questions in informal, low-stakes writing. Your 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 posting. You’ll also find that your classmates’ ideas and interpretations can serve as catalysts for your own analysis.

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

Our class will be divided into four different discussion post groups (named Discussion Groups One, Two, Three and Four). Members of the group deliver individual posts—this is not a team project. Each group will be scheduled to make one post per novel. Check the schedule to see which group has responsibility for which session on which dates. Each individual post should be 250 words minimum and quote directly from the text at least once, giving page number for the quotation. You should include the word count at the end of your post.

At the end of quarter, you will select one post (you may revise it) to be resubmitted and given a grade; that will count as 20% of your final grade. NB: If you do not deliver all the discussion posts that you are scheduled to provide throughout the quarter, you will automatically fail this portion of the course.

Formal Writing Assignments: All papers should be in 12 point, Word, double spaced, each page numbered, 1 inch margins all round, Times New Roman. They should follow MLA style.  MLA formatting applies to layout as well as to your citation method. Here is a handy link to MLA guidelines:

Mid-term paper: I will provide a prompt concerning Moses Man of the Mountain. You create your title.

Final paper: this will be on Black Thunder or Cion.  You are responsible for devising your essay’s title and topic. The topic must fall within the concerns of the course. You need for me to approve it before you start writing.  

My criteria for grading midterms and finals papers include:

--The strength of reasoning. I look for a clearly-presented, rigorous and persuasive argument.

--The strength of interpretation of the primary material. I look for insight and careful analysis of the material that emerges from very close, thoughtful reading.

--The structure and organization of the paper.

--The quality of presentation, grammar and syntax.


The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a useful resource on the mechanics of writing:

See in particular the sections on ‘Mechanics’, ‘Grammar’, ‘Punctuation’.


See the end of this syllabus for some writing do’s and don’ts.


Missing class: absences will make it hard to succeed in this course and may negatively affect your participation grade.  If you are going to miss a class, please email me to let me know in advance. If you do miss class, it’s a great idea to send out an email to the class list or to ask a fellow student for information on what you missed. NB: Do not ask me—I don’t repeat missed material!  

Late Policy: Students are required to complete and hand in all assignments on designated days. No late assignments will be accepted without prior explanation.

Instructor Communication Rules of Conduct: Please address me by my title and last name: Professor Chrisman. Because I am committed to serving all of my students equally I have to set strict boundaries as to the manner and subject matter of all communications. E-mailed questions will generally be addressed within 72 hours (excluding weekends and holidays). Do not e-mail me questions that are answered explicitly in the syllabus or on the Canvas site. I will delete these without replying. Most questions are best answered in person, either during my office hours, before or after class time, and as a last resort: e-mail. 

Office Hours:  This is a time where you and I can meet outside class to discuss assignments, questions about the reading, concerns about expectations, etc.  If my scheduled hours are inaccessible to you, please email me to make appointments for another time. 

Zero Tolerance Policy: Respect for difference of all kinds is vital to creating a safe, supportive and stimulating classroom community. This class takes a zero tolerance policy toward words or actions that insult, demean, or belittle 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 Zero Tolerance Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct will be taken.

Academic Honesty: It is essential that you properly cite other people’s ideas and language in your writing. In your assignments for this course, I encourage you to cite extensively from the wide array of texts you are in dialogue with; however, you must do so properly. Summarizing someone else’s work and not citing them is considered plagiarism and has significant consequences for your career at the UW.  It may result in the failure of an assignment, the failure of the course, or expulsion from the university.  Don’t plagiarize.


Provisional Schedule:

Apr 2: Introduction

Apr 4: Syllabus review and close reading exercise of Moses, Man of the Mountain, 'Author's Introduction', 'Chapters 1-2'. 


Apr 8: Discussion Post Group One: posts due midnight, on Moses, Man of the Mountain

Apr 9: Moses, Man of the Mountain, up to/including Chapter 9

Apr 10: Discussion Post Group Two: posts due midnight, on Moses, Man of the Mountain

Apr 11: Moses, Man of the Mountain, up to/including Chapter 22


Apr 15: Discussion Post Group Three: posts due midnight, on Moses, Man of the Mountain

Apr 16: Moses, Man of the Mountain, up to/including Chapter 32

Apr 17: Discussion Post Group Four: posts due midnight, on Moses, Man of the Mountain

Apr 18: Moses, Man of the Mountain, to the end of the novel


Apr 23: Mid term paper: preparing to write. Class session will focus on discussing a writing sample and on discussion of good writing practices.

Apr 25: Mid term paper: preparing to write, cont.


April 30: Black Thunder, pp 9-51

May 1, midnight: Discussion Post Group Two: post due 

May 2: Black Thunder, pp 52-81

May 5, by midnight: pre-circulate your mid term essay draft to your peer reviewer

May 7: Peer review of mid-term essay drafts, in class

May 8, midnight: Discussion Post Group Three: post due

May 9: Black Thunder, pp 83-118

May 13, 12pm: submit revised mid term to Canvas

May 13, midnight: Discussion Post Group Four: post due

May 14: Black Thunder, pp 119-75

May 15, midnight: Discussion Post Group ONe: post due

May 16: Black Thunder, pp 175-224


May 21: Cion, chapters 1-2

May 22: midnight: Discussion Post Group Three: post due

May 23: Cion, chapters 3-4


May 27:  midnight: Discussion Post Group Four: post due

May 28: Cion, chapters 5-6

May 29: midnight: Discussion Post Group One: post due

May 30: Cion, chapters 7-8


Jun 3: midnight: Discussion Post Group Two: post due

Jun 4: Cion, chapters 9-10

Jun 4: Canvas submission of 100-word final paper abstract by midnight.

Jun 6: Small group discussions of final paper abstracts and ideas


Jun 12, 12pm: Canvas submission of final paper and selected discussion post.





Some writing do’s and don’ts.

Structure papers with a short introduction in which you indicate what is significant about the issue you have chosen to write on (also known as articulating ‘the stakes’). You might also outline the argument that your essay will pursue. Your essay should then move to a substantial discussion that gives the analysis and presents your argument. End with a conclusion that sums up your discussion and draws out its implications for further understanding of the literary text.

Regarding essay titles: I like essay titles that set up a concept, or issue, to be explored. I do not like essay titles that set up an imperative such as ‘Discuss the treatment of Englishness in…’ (better would be ‘Englishness in…)  Nor do I like essay titles that present a direct question, such as ‘How pessimistic is Armah’s writing?’ (better would be ‘Pessimism and Armah’)

Here are some 'do nots'. Doing these will lower your grade; these are pet peeves .

Do not describe the literary text. [Instead, analyse it.] Assume that the reader knows the text.

Do not make sweeping generalisations (eg, about the history of the world, the nature of human psychology, such as 'it is widely known that Western culture is essentially dominatory'). Instead, keep your comments precise, specific, and supported by scholarship and observation.

Do not give empirical information (eg, information about a historical period) without giving a source for your information.

Do not misuse the apostrophe (this includes using ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’; using apostrophes before an ‘s’ to indicate a plural noun, omitting to use them to mark possession).

Do not misuse commas by inserting them incorrectly or by omitting to use them.

Do not write paragraphs that are one double-spaced page or longer.

Do not use the past tense when analyzing a text. Use the present tense. That is, instead of ‘This author wrote/this character said’ write ‘This author writes/this character says’.

Do not use dangling modifiers, such as  ‘Having finished her assignment, the television was turned on’.

Do not write sentences that aren’t sentences because they lack a verb.

Make sure that the sentence subject and verb agree.

Remember when writing essays on fiction to avoid writing about characters as if they are real. Instead, if you want to explore characterisation, you need to analyse the way that the writer constructs characters, and what the significance of this literary construction might be.

Avoid writing about characters, or a single character, as if they constitute the whole of the literary text. Remember that a fictional text consists of much more than its characters. Other elements of a text include: narrative structure; imagery; language; ideology; intertextual relationship to other texts.

In short: keep your emphasis on analyzing the text—its ideas, its structure, and its style.


University of Washington Resources 

Accommodation: Please let me know if you need accommodation of any sort. The UW Disability Services Office (DSO) can assist you and/or you can come directly to me.  I’m very willing to take suggestions specific to this class to meet your needs.   The DSO can be contacted at, and Phone (206) 543-6450

Odegaard Writing Center (from group website): This is the place to come and chat with peer tutors and librarians, to grow as a writer in the context of whatever project is foremost in your mind. We can't magically "fix" papers for you (it wouldn't help you long-term if we could), but we can ask all kinds of smart questions and talk with you in order to help you with:

Understanding your assignment — What’s expected of you? What's going on in this writing situation?

Researching — Where can you find appropriate academic resources for your paper? How can you identify useful and credible sources?

         Brainstorming — What directions might your writing take?

         Outlining — How might you shape or organize your ideas?

         Drafting — How can you develop your ideas and connect your thoughts coherently?

Revising — How can you re-see and reconsider your large and small scale writing choices to make the writing more effective?

The Odegaard Writing Center is open to all members of the UW community -- students, staff, and faculty -- and feature exceptional tutors and convenient hours. Sign-up for an appointment today.

For more information or to set up an appointment, visit:

 ELL/MLL English Language Learning Resources (from group website):

English Language Learner students to participate in the Odegaard Writing and Research Center “Targeted Learning Communities” (TLC). The OWRC tutors work with small groups of students who share a reading- or writing- intensive course. Students work together with the tutor to troubleshoot some of the difficulties they encounter as ELL/MLL writers.

You can team up with other English language learners from your class and be partnered with an OWRC tutor, who will meet with your group once a week for an hour at a time you choose together.  The goals of these weekly meetings are to help you take control of your learning, connect with classmates, practice good study habits, and get the most out of your class. We can help you with things like:

*reading difficult course texts

*participating in class discussions and activities

*understanding assignments

*brainstorming and developing ideas that fit each new writing situation

*writing successful rough drafts

*seeking out feedback and revising your papers

*working collaboratively with the teacher and your classmates

*knowing what other resources and support services are available to you


Campus Safety (from UW website): 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, please 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 For more information visit the SafeCampus website at


 Q Center (from group website): The University of Washington Q Center builds and facilitates queer (gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirit, trans, intersex, questioning, same-gender-loving, allies) academic and social community through education, advocacy, and support services to achieve a socially-just campus in which all people are valued. For more information, visit

FIUTS (from group website): Foundation for International Understanding through Students: FIUTS is an example of a campus organization that can bring together your social and academic learning. "FIUTS is an independent non-profit organization which provides cross-cultural leadership and social programming for UW's international and globally minded domestic students. FIUTS is local connections and global community!" FIUTS also offers a free international lunch on the last Wednesday of every month. Consult FIUTS' web site for a detailed calendar of events and links to many resources




Standard Grading System

Numerical grades may be considered equivalent to letter grades as follows:


























Lowest passing grade.



Academic failure.
No credit earned.



Catalog Description: 
Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:30pm