English 346A: Studies in Short Fiction
Instructor: Sam Hushagen, PhD Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Class Times: Class Location:
T/Th 2:30-4:20 Virtual! Zoom ID TBD
Office Hours: T, Th 10-11am (and by appt.) Office Location: Zoom ID TBD
“Short” is a relative term: it is meaningful only in relation to something else, something ostensibly “tall” or “long.” So, the official title for this course, “Studies in Short Fiction,” raises the question that will occupy us this quarter, the question of relative descriptors like “shortness,” and brevity and their relation to affective or aesthetic categories like effect, impact, and beauty. I was tempted to subtitle this course, “A Long History of Quick Punches to the Gut,” because in my experience the gut-punch or what Poe called the essential “unity of effect” is a characteristic feature of short fiction, its impact felt more acutely for the abruptness with which it is delivered. Through careful study of a selection of short fiction we will identify key attributes and features of the form while also examining its limits. At what point does a short story become a novella? On the other end of the spectrum, at its most compressed does short story begin to resemble lyric poetry, a mode to which it is frequently compared? We will focus on formal features of the texts, but also attend to how differences in culture, historical context, and identity manifest in the stories we read.
Any reading list is by definition selective and risks loading the deck in favor of a set of unstated assumptions about the characteristics of the form under examination. Our reading list is by no means representative – no reading list can hope to be. But by sampling short fiction written in different places and in different times, from Czarist Russia to 2018 Houston, from James Joyce’s Dublin to post-colonial Sudan, our sample of short fiction will provide a set of case studies in the form. Our challenge will be to identify commonalities while being sensitive to differences of time and place in order to come up with useful critical generalizations that will help us think over the question of what short fiction can be.
While a longer historical study of short fiction would take us back to Aesop, to folklore and fairy tale traditions, and to loose collections like Bocaccio’s Decameron, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and Scheherazade’s stories within the frame of 1001 Arabian Nights, here we will focus more closely on the so-called “modern short story” as it took shape over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries up to today. We will nevertheless be attentive to modern short fiction’s relationship with older forms of storytelling like the fable, cuento, and parable. The overarching goal of our reading and discussion will be to build familiarity with the different techniques used by writers of short fiction, and appreciation for the diversity of texts that can fit under this subject heading, from twenty-fist century microfiction to novellas that stretch “short” to its breaking point.
- Introduction to formal features of short fiction, and to formalist techniques of literary analysis;
- Introduction to practices of attentive and deliberate reading, and collaborative discussion of literature;
- Introduction to transhistorical study of literary modes as they intersect with the history of ideas, culture, ideology, and politics;
- Cultivate student capacities for imaginative intellectual experience
The course is designed with reverse chronology. We will begin with some short fiction from the last decade written primarily in the United States. We will transition to older materials from the nineteenth century before working back towards the present. The goal will be to identify continuities while also being attentive to inflection points and moments of speciation where texts build on and depart from their traditions. There will be a midterm assignment and a final. The midterm will be a mix of short answer and essay questions intended to provide you an opportunity to demonstrate your engagement with the readings and course content. The final will have a looser structure, giving you the option to explore short fiction that we haven’t read or viewed in the class, write a research paper, or complete a creative project.
Friday, 10/30: Midterm Assignment Due
Wednesday, 12/16: Final assignment Due
- The World’s Greatest Short Stories (Dover Thrift edition)
- Season of Migration to the North, Tayib Salih (NYRB Classics Edition)
- Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (Oxford World Classics Edition)
- Dependable internet access for Canvas and Google Drive
- Zoom for required discussions
- UW email address you check at least once a day (please no forwarding)
This class will be evaluated using contract grading. A grading contract is exactly what it sounds like: you sign up for a certain grade (4.0, 3.5, 3.0, 2.5, 2.0). Each grade level has certain requirements articulated clearly in the contract that you and I both sign at the beginning of the quarter. You may renegotiate your contract up or down once during the quarter, but not within the last two weeks. Failure to fulfill your contract will result in a grade that corresponds to the amount of work actually completed. The goal of the contract is to emphasize learning over evaluation, and to give you room to explore ideas and develop skills that are important to you.
Being an active member of this community is imperative to you and your peers’ success in this course. Come to class prepared and stay engaged through the session and you’ll receive participation credit for that day. If you miss class: it’s your responsibility to email me and tell me what you missed. From there, we’ll set up a way for you to make up participation. Participation is central to the grading contract, and failure to fulfill the participation requirements amounts to a failure to fulfill your contract.
Our class sessions will be conducted entirely on Zoom, but 40 people in a Zoom discussion for two hours is unworkable. I am still working on some of the specifics, but the plan is to split the class at the beginning of each Zoom session. One half of the class will work in breakout rooms on discussion questions for the assigned reading that day while I work with the other half. We will take a break at the midway point and switch. My expectation is that while working in small groups you will be present, engaged, and actively participating just as you are in the larger discussion with me.
It is important to note that this is experimental. Upper division English courses are meant to be discussion-based seminars – a structure and environment that is hard to replicate in a virtual setting. We will try a few different formats, including round-table discussions, small group work, and scaling discussions, and hopefully find some ways to exchange ideas and information that is productive and engaging for everyone. I will periodically solicit feedback on what discussion formats work best for you, as well as ask you to evaluate your own level of participation and engagement in the course.
Late and Incomplete Work
All projects (midterm and final) are due on Canvas by midnight on the date and in the file format specified. Projects that are submitted late, are in the wrong file format, or don’t meet minimum requirements will not receive feedback. If you would like feedback on a late or incomplete assignment, come see me during office hours and we can discuss it. If you require an extension for a given project, let me know at least 24 hours before the deadline.
All assignments must reach minimum requirements and be present in the portfolio in order for you to receive a passing grade for this course. No extensions or late submissions for the portfolio will be accepted.
Zoom etiquette is new and challenging. Digital technology can bring us together virtually, but it is replete with distractions. I have a Zoom protocol on the course Canvas and maintaining proper Zoom etiquette is part of your grading contract. The most important rules are your camera must remain on during discussion, and you must remain in front of it. We will have a scheduled break, but while we are in session, I ask you keep your camera on. When you enter, you will be muted. Stay muted until you wish to speak and mute yourself again after finishing speaking. Try your best to not speak over others. Read the cues of your colleagues and support one another. Encourage one another to speak and ask questions. Be some place quiet without distractions during class sessions, and avoid non-class related conversations with roommates, friends, family, etc. Obviously I cannot see what you are doing on your screen, but please keep social media, YouTube, Netflix, and any number of other distractions closed so your attention can be focused on the work in class. Failure to do so will amount to violating the terms of your contract and will have negative consequences on your grade. Also, be nice to each other. This is hard and we need to be able to count on one another.
Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else's ideas or writing as your own. In your projects 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.
Additional Policies and Resources
There is more information regarding class and departmental policies as well as on-campus resources available on the Canvas page under “Student Resources.” Please visit this page early in the quarter for information regarding student accommodation, writing and research help centers, departmental contact information, and community and counseling resources.
Religious Accommodation Clause
Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Faculty Syllabus Guidelines and Resources. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form available at https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/.
Arrive to class having completed the reading and any preparations listed under “Homework/ Reading Due” for a given day in order to receive participation points for that day. You may occasionally be asked to complete short quizzes to ensure you’re suitably prepared.
Disclaimer: This calendar is subject to change. I’ll do my best to alert you to changes well in advance, but it’s your responsibility to stay up-to-date. Email me if you’re not sure how to prepare for class.
Week One (Th. 10/1)
Aesop, “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”
Bible, “The Parable of the Talents” (Matt. 25.14-30
Chaucer, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”
Week Two (T 10/6, Th 10/8)
Edgar Allan Poe, “Philosophy of Composition”
Steven Millhauser, “The Ambition of the Short Story”
ZZ Packer, “Brownies”
George Saunders, “Civilwarland in Bad Decline”
Bryan Washington, “Lockwood”
Carmen Maria Machado, “The Husband Stitch”
Week Three (T 10/13, Th. 10/15)
Maupassant, “The Necklace”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Minister’s Black Veil”
Chekhov, “The Kiss”
Leo Tolstoy, “After the Ball”
Week Four (T 10/20, Th. 10/22)
Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener”
James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”
Virginia Woolf, “A Mark on the Wall”
James Joyce, “Araby”
Week Five (T 10/27, Th. 10/29)
Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”
Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
Toni Cade Bambara, “The Lesson”
Jamel Brinkley, “No More Than a Bubble”
Week Six (T 11/3, Th. 11/5)
Nikolai Gogol, “The Nose”
Franz Kafka, “A Hunger Artist” (or “Metamorphosis”?)
Jorge Luis Borges, “Funes the Memorious,” “I, Borges”
John Cheever, “The Swimmer”
Week Seven (T 11/10, Th. 11/12)
Isaac Asimov, “The Last Question
Octavia Butler, “Amnesty”
Ursula Leguin, “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas”
- K. Jemisin, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight”
Week Eight (T 11/17, Th. 11/19 and T. 11/24)
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Week Nine (Start over Thanksgiving week! T. 12/1, Th. 12/3)
Tayib Salih, Season of MIgration to the North
Week Ten (T 12/8, Th. 12/10)
Lydia Davis Microfictions
New Media Short Fiction (does TikTok Count?)
Midterm Due: Friday, 10/30
Final Due: Wednesday, 12/16