ENGL 451 A: American Writers: Studies in Major Authors

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
LOW 201
Alys Weinbaum
Alys Eve Weinbaum

Syllabus Description:

This course explores black speculative fiction through an intensive study of the work of one of its most celebrated practitioners, Octavia Butler (1947-2006).  Butler builds alternative life worlds in which questions of race, gender, and class morph and transform before our eyes, affording us a unique opportunity to consider and recalibrate what we think we understand about what it means to be human. Alongside Butler's fictions we will examine a select number of critical and theoretical texts that will help us unpack some of Butler's complex philosophical ideas and stylistic, generic, and rhetorical moves. At the center of the course will be an examination of Butler's ideas about power (social and economic) and how power operates in and through the biological body--a body that is raced, gendered, sexed and attributed to a species, sometimes human, sometimes non-human.


Course goals and learning objectives

  • To be able to analyze Butler's speculative texts.
  • To be able to understand and engage with critical readings related to these texts.
  • To be able towriteabout all readings with clarity and nuance.
  • To understandhow cultural texts can be used to explore questions of power.
  • To evaluatespeculative fiction as an artistic and a political practice.
  • To be able toenter in to group discussion about texts in informed and nuanced ways.


Course requirements

            Active, prepared, and informed participation in discussion each time class meets

            Five reader responses (2 pages each)

            Take home final (6 pages)


Participation in its many forms

You are expected to actively participate in this course by engaging with the course materials, with your colleague’s ideas, and thus by regularly taking part in class discussion.   It will not be possible to do well in this course if you are not present listen and to participate fully.


Reader responses

Responses to the readings should raise questions about the readings that relate to the issues treated in class discussion and lecture.  All responses must stick close to the assigned texts.  The best responses will treat individual passages and use analysis of these to raise larger issues and questions.  At least two of your responses should engage the critical essay alongside the novel.Responses are due on the dates indicated on the syllabus.  Late response responses will not be accepted.  The overall quality of responses will be assigned a single letter grade. 

Note:  If you wish to have a response graded prior to the end of the quarter, you must come to office hours with a copy of the response in hand. 


Final Paper

This paper is an exercise in concision; therefore,the 6-page limit is absolute.

All papers must be double spaced with 1-inch margins (all sides) and printed in a readable 12-point font. Endnotes may not exceed one page.  All citations to texts used in the class should be given parenthetically; outside sources may not be used to write papers for this class (see plagiarism policy below).  Final paper prompts will be distributed and discussed in week 10, in class only.


Final Portfolio will include 5 responsesand your final 6-page paper.



Your grade is based on a combination of class participation, the overall quality of your reader responses, and the letter grade on your final paper.  Reader responses comprise 50% of your grade, and your final paper 50%.  To achieve a top grade in this class you must complete allwritten work.  If you have turned in a complete portfolio, and have regularly and thoughtfully participated in discussion throughout the quarter, your final grade will be bumped-up to the numerical grade that represents the top of the letter grade you have averaged in your written work. (For example: “B” on responses and “A” on final paper= B+=3.2-3.4.  If you have actively participated throughout the quarter you receive a grade of 3.4; if not 3.2).



Failure to accurately or fully acknowledge all sources, to provide accurate citations for quoted and paraphrased material, and/or submission of a sentence, essay, or an idea written or conceived of by someone else as your own constitutes plagiarism. Written work that contains plagiarism, however minor, will be excluded from consideration toward your grade (zero grade for the assignment) and will be immediately reported to appropriate University authorities. 


Books are available at the University Bookstore and through UW libraries.  It is your responsibility to procure the following books:

Octavia Butler, Kindred; Wild Seed; Parable of the Sower; Dawn; Bloodchild

Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha eds., Octavia's Brood:  Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements


All other course readings are posted on Canvas in the "files" section. 

You are required to bring a hard copy of all readings to class including books. 

Failure to have readings in hand will lead to being marked down for participation. 

Electronic books may not be used in this class. 


Schedule of readings and assignments

The following schedule is subject to revision. It is your responsibility to stay abreast of all changes and to come to class prepared,even if you have missed a class meeting.


Week 1:

April 2

Introduction to the course

April 4

Kindred, discussion 1 (read first half of book)


Week 2:

April 9

Kindred, discussion 2 (complete book)

April 11

Kindred, discussion 3

Critical reading--Saidya Hartman, "Venus in Two Acts"

Reader response #1 due in class


Week 3:

April 16

Wild Seed, discussion 1 (read first half of book)

April 18

No Class (and no office hours)


Week 4:

April 23

Wild Seed, discussion 2 (complete book)

April 25

Wild Seed, discussion 3

Critical reading--Jennifer Morgan, "Partus sequitur ventrem:  Law, Race, and Reproduction in    Colonial Slavery"

Reader response #2 due in class


Week 5:

April 30


May 2

Critical reading--Alys Eve Weinbaum, "The Problem of Reproductive Freedom in Neoliberalism"

Reader response #3 due in class


Week 6:

May 7

Dawn, discussion 1 (read first half of book)

May 9

Dawn, discussion 2 (complete book)


Week 7:

May 14

Dawn, discussion 3

May 16

Critical readings--Ruha Benjamin, "Black Afterlives Matter: Cultivating Kinfulness as Reproductive Justice"; Kim Tallbear, "Making Love and Relations Beyond Settler Sex and Family"

Reader response #4 due in class


Week 8:

May 21

Parable of the Sower, discussion 1 (read first half of book)

May 23

Parable, discussion 2 (complete the book)


Week 9:

May 28

Parable, discussion 3

Critical reading--TBD

Reader response #5 due in class               

May 30

Octavia's Brood(read to page 108)


Week 10:

June 4

Octavia's Brood(read to page 214)                     

Final take home exam distributed in class

June 6

Octavia's Brood(complete the book)


Final paper due Monday June 10th, 10 am. 

Place in the box outside my office door.


Catalog Description: 
Concentration on one writer or a special group of American writers.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 10:20pm