ENGL 200 D: Reading Literary Forms

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 12:30pm - 1:20pm
LOW 106
Photo of Ben Wirth
James Benson Wirth

Syllabus Description:

ENGL 200 D: Reading Literary Forms: Contemporary Voices in Literature

Location/Time: LOW 106 / MTWTh 12:30 PM - 1:20 PM

Instructor: Dr. Ben Wirth

Office: Padelford B-410

Office Hours: Monday 1:30-3:30 PM, or by appointment

Instructor E-mail: jbwirth@uw.edu

Discord Invite: TBA

Collage of texts for ENGL 200.

Course Description

English 200 is a course on reading literary forms--the key word here is forms, plural. This is a course where we will be reading a variety of forms, including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and more. The goal of this multi-genre engagement is to apply our skills of literary analysis across a variety of different texts, which will allow us to see how these skills are transmutable and applicable beyond the university classroom to nothing less than how we critically position ourselves as consumers of ever-expanding forms of media. We will use literature, poetry, graphic novels, and creative nonfiction to do so, but this class will also have us look outside these forms as often as possible.

When I have taught this class in the past, I have typically chosen some contemporary political topic and organized readings around this theme. However, in the moment we find ourselves in, it is hard to imagine a political topic other than the pandemic. I imagine that I am not alone in being exhausted with thinking about or reading about the pandemic. As a result, I've decided that we're going to be "theme-less" for this class, and rather than have a unifying course theme, we will survey texts united by a time period.

For our class, this will be very contemporary works by (mostly) young writers. Contemporary and young have slightly different meanings in the literary world, but with a few exceptions the works we will read in this class will be written in the last five years and written by young-ish writers. In addition, I've tried to select texts that have been award winning texts, so we have a variety of Pulitzer winners, National Book Award winners, and others. Our goal here is to then get a sense of what this contemporary literature looks like--what kind of forms does it take? What makes it unique? What topics are we exploring, and what is missed? We will be doing a lot of reading this quarter, but that reading will be the majority of work required from you, so get ready to read!


Texts and Materials


Graphic Novels


Creative Nonfiction/Memoir



Midterm (35%) & Final Paper (35%)

Twice during the quarter you will be crafting longer, graded essays. These essays will make use of our contract grading system, to be discussed later on. The goal of these papers will be to demonstrate the ability to synthesize the various texts of our course into an argument, with literary analysis being the primary focus. You have a great deal of freedom on these assignments, but there will be some guidelines.
Closer to the due dates for these assignments, I will distribute some suggested prompts to help you get started. These are not meant to be the only options for your papers, but merely suggestions that have developed from our discussions in class. Once your papers are turned in, I will read and provide feedback to you. You will have the option of submitting a revision of your midterm paper (your revision will determine the grade on your midterm), but not the final paper. Details on this revision will be made clear in the assignment prompt.

Participation (30%)

Participation is fundamental to this class, and there are a variety of ways in which participation manifests itself. Here are a few:

  • Participation during in-class discussions – Speaking in class is the most important way for you to participate in class. Your willingness to enhance the class discussion with thoughtful questions and comments is as important as anything else in this class—the primary determiner in your participation grade is what you bring to each class every day. Not only is it a way to demonstrate your completion of our readings, but is also an opportunity to try out ideas that can be developed into future papers. While this is the most effective way to earn a participation grade, please also realize that the size of the class means that not everyone can or is expected to participate in every single class. The goal here is to be an active participant in the class, but I am not looking for anyone to attempt to dominate the class discussion.  
  • On-task communication during group work – Occasionally we will make use of smaller, independent group discussions before our whole-class discussions of material. I encourage non-linear thinking in class, but a failure to achieve assigned tasks in group discussions or a consistent lack of contribution will also be a problem for your participation grade. 
  • Coherent attendance – Just showing up for the class is the lowest possible bar for participation, and merely being a presence will not do much for your participation grade. An inability to stay coherent during class (checking your phone, daydreaming, falling asleep, etc.) will adversely impact your participation grade, as you are both inattentive and distracting.

A failure to achieve these roles asked of you in the classroom will negatively impact your overall participation grade. If you are a naturally quiet student, there are other opportunities to buffer the impact on your participation grade, but nothing can replace making your voice heard in class. It’s what I want to hear the most (rather than mine), and I will encourage all of you to use my class as a place to conquer your fears of speaking in a respectful, supportive environment—one which may be difficult to find in other classrooms and other places in your life. More than anything, think of participation as a reward for your contribution, not something that you must compete with other students over to get a good grade.

Course Policies


You are expected to be an active participant in class, so come prepared to contribute to the discussion and participate in activities. When you miss a class, you miss the opportunity to be a member of the class community. If you know you are going to miss class, please let me know in advance. Also, find another student to get class notes from and propose to me how you plan to make up missed work in a timely manner.  Remember as well that it is particularly important for you to arrive on time. If you come in after class has started, even by only a few minutes, you will be considered late. Attendance problems will negatively affect your participation grade.


There will be selective use of technology for this course, but it is highly preferred that we try to avoid technology as much as possible. This may seem annoying, but hear me out: this course is primarily about reading and discussing literature, something that requires reflection and focus, not distraction. As well, our class meets for only 50 minutes, 4 times a week. It seems to me not a huge ask, and perhaps even a brief respite, to disconnect yourself from technology for that time. Many of us have spent the better part of the last two years constantly attached to technology, and this is a great opportunity to unplug. Additionally, silence your cell phones and do not text message in class. It is a distraction, and, no matter what you think, will always be obvious to me that you are doing it. Any abuse of this rule will negatively affect your participation grade.

Late Work

All assignments are due on the date specified before the start of class, and I will not accept papers by email. Use the Canvas assignments page to submit your assignments. Each late paper will result in a deduction of 2.5% out of the total for your participation grade. I will also not give feedback on any assignments that are turned in late or incomplete. However, late work will still need to be completed, as all assignments must be completed in order to receive a passing grade. If you are having trouble and may be unable to turn things in on time, please contact me ASAP—before the assignment is due. Please note that work that does not fulfill page length requirements will be considered incomplete and will not receive feedback.


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 Services Office (DSO) 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/admin/dso/.

UW SafeCampus

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Religious Accommodations

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 Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).

Catalog Description: 
Covers techniques and practice in reading and enjoying literature in its various forms: poetry, drama, prose fiction, and film. Examines such features of literary meanings as imagery, characterization, narration, and patterning in sound and sense. Offered: AWSp.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
September 3, 2021 - 2:21am