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ENGL 242 A: Reading Prose Fiction

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
MUS 223
Close up of Laura Chrisman
Laura Chrisman

Syllabus Description:

Prof. Laura Chrisman

Course location: Music building 223

Course time: T/Th 1.30pm-3.20pm

Office hours: TH 3.45pm-5pm in office, or by appointment (email in advance to schedule) NB: NO OFFICE HOUR on Thursday Jan 12.

Office: Padelford B401 


ENGL 242: Reading Prose Fiction:  Fictions of Africa

This class explores prose fiction from the 19th, 20th,  and 21st  centuries. Its core texts include a Victorian imperial romance, a contemporary novel, and an historical range of short stories. All of the fiction is concerned with African life, and illustrates different colonial, postcolonial and transnational experiences. These texts use a wide variety of narrative approaches, that include romance, realism, modernism, speculative fiction, satire, and myth. As this is a class meeting the Writing requirement, students undertake regular writing activities, that extend from traditional academic prose to more imaginative expression associated with right-brain practices. Students are also expected to keep up with an intensive reading schedule, and to purchase the two novels in hard copy.

Class activities include short lecture, facilitated discussion, group and paired work, and individual in-class writing. The course focuses especially on discussion and group work. Students are evaluated based on class participation and a variety of writing exercises. The final grade is based upon:

Participation: 15 points

Small writing assignments, including discussion posts, response posts, text merge exercise: 25 points

Mid-term paper: 20 points

Final paper: 40 points

Please note that a significant number of points are assigned at the conclusion of the course. It will not be possible to know ahead of the course completion what your final grade will be. The points (out of 100) are added up and translated into the 0-4.0 scale (see the end of the syllabus for the details). 


Learning Outcomes:

-Students are acquainted with a variety of texts useful to understanding prose fiction.

-Students are able to critically explore the materials covered in the course.

-Students are able to perform competent close readings of literary texts.

-Students develop an awareness of literature’s ability to mediate social issues.

-Students strengthen their skills in writing analytic and imaginative prose.


Essential Literary Readings:


-Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines. Oxford World’s Classic edition, edited by Roger Luckhurst (ONLY buy this edition). ISBN-10 ‏: ‎ 0198722958

-NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names.

You need to buy hard copies of the two texts above. ELECTRONIC copies are NOT allowed.


Short stories:

Charles Mungoshi, ‘The Lift’ (1972)

Dambudzo Marechera, ‘The Slow Sound of His Feet’ (1978)

Yvonne Vera, ‘Independence Day’ (1992)

Grace Ogot, ‘The Middle Door’ (1972)

Nnedi Okorafor, ‘Spider the Artist’, 'The Popular Mechanic' (2008)

Lesley Nneka Arimah, ‘Skinned’ (2019)

Nana Nkweti, ‘The Living Infinite’ (2021)

All prescribed short fiction, theory, and archival texts are available on Canvas, in the Module folder of the week in which the reading occurs.


Provisional Course Schedule:

Week 1.

Jan 3: Course Introduction

'Habits of Mind'; 'Speculative Starters'; in class writing survey exercise.

Jan 4: Self-introduction due, Canvas, by midnight.

Jan 5: Conceptualising and Contextualising Empire and Colonialism.

'History of Africa' brief article

Reading pointers for Cesaire

Aime Cesaire, extracts from Discourse on Colonialism (1950)

Joseph Chamberlain, from 'The True Conception of Empire' (1897)

Dialectical Notebook exercise, on Cesaire or Chamberlain: come to class with Columns 1 and 2 filled out, and write a partner's Column 3 in class. Write Column 4 after class and post to Canvas. 


Week 2.

Jan 10: Reading pointers for Fanon and Frantz Fanon, selections from ‘On Violence’ (1961) 

Jan 12:  King Solomon’s Mines. Luckhurst introduction and chapters 1-4

optional reading: Laura Chrisman 'The Imperial Romance'

Jan 13: Text-merge, due midnight, Canvas. Your text-merge needs to include material from King Solomon’s Mines, that you merge with material chosen from Fanon or Cesaire. Follow the instructions in this syllabus, and read the examples in the 'Text-merge' file. Don't forget to add the Metacognitive Reflections to the text-merge.


Week 3.

Jan 17: King Solomon’s Mines. Chapters 5-10.

Jan 19: King Solomon’s Mines. Chapters 11-15.


Week 4.

Jan 24: King Solomon’s Mines. Chapters 16-20.

Jan 26:  Charles Mungoshi, ‘The Lift’ (1972)

Tinashe Mushakavanhu, 'Charles Mungoshi's Quiet Influence on Zimbabwean Literature'

optional: documentary videos for context on colonialism and decolonization in Zimbabwe [useful for several of the writings of this course):

From Rhodesia to Zimbabwe: 

Robert Mugabe’s election, Newsnight 1980: 


Review of mid-term paper assignment.


Week 5.

Jan 31: Peer Reviews of mid-term drafts. Come to class with copies of your mid term draft, to be shared with two peer reviewers.

Feb 2: Dambudzo Marechera, ‘The Slow Sound of His Feet’ (1978)

Chris Power, 'Dambudzo Marechera'


Feb 3: Mid term submission, due 4pm.


Week 6.

Feb 7: Yvonne Vera, ‘Independence Day’ (1992)

Reading Pointers document on Vera and Ogot

optional: Amina Mama, 'African Feminist Thought'

Feb 9: Grace Ogot, ‘The Middle Door’ (1972)

Bookshy, 'Grace Ogot'.


Week 7.

Feb 14: Nnedi Okorafor, ‘Spider the Artist’ (2008)

Reading Pointers and Preparation document, on Okorafor.

Feb 16: Nnedi Okorafor, 'The Popular Mechanic' (2008).


Week 8.

Feb 21: Lesley Nneka Arimah, ‘Skinned’ (2019)

Reading Pointers and Preparation document, on Arimah. 

Feb 23: Nana Nkweti, ‘The Living Infinite’ (2021) 

Online exhibit on Mami Wata (please read all pages):        


Week 9.

We Need New Names. You will be expected to have completed reading the novel by this class session.


Week 10.

We Need New Names


Tuesday, March 14, 11.59pm: Deadline for final paper and participation self-assessment.


In order to participate in class productively you must thoroughly prepare 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.

In assessing class participation, the highest grade 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 and/or small group discussions. High-quality performance involves listening,  posing and addressing remarks to other students; it may involve holding back from speaking first to encourage others to speak up before they speak their minds. Lesser quality performance arises when students only occasionally voluntarily participate in discussions, complete only some of reading and writing assignments or complete them with evidence of little effort, or when students are minimally engaged with discussion and come unprepared to class.  

Class Assignments.

Text merging:

This reveals what happens when one text is interrupted or disrupted by another text. It consists of combining language from two different texts into another creation, to produce a poem, prose, or nonsense piece. Always it seems to illuminate both texts in new and surprising ways.  Try combining related or distinctly different selections, both in form and/or content.

For this course’s text merge activities, choose a passage from two of the texts studied to date in the class. Merge the language from both “word banks” into a new piece of writing. You don’t need to use all the words from each selected text. NB: you cannot add new words or change the tenses of the original.

Write a Metacognitive Reflection after completing your text merge in response to the following questions:

What were you aware of experiencing or noticing?

What was in your mind as you did this?

How did you make your choices?

What if anything happened to the first text extracts when disrupted by the second text?  To the second text when interrupted by the extracts from the first text?

You are required to post both your text merge and your metacognitive reflections on Canvas, together.

Grading criteria: you will be assessed on the basis of your adherence to the exercise instructions.

See the 'Text-merging' file for further instructions and examples.


Class Discussion and Response Papers:

Starting week 2,  unless notified otherwise, everyone will write one discussion post and one response post per week through a rotating roster of groups.  Students in the discussion posting group submit discussion posts on the prescribed reading, by 8 pm the evening before the class devoted to that reading. Those tasked with responding to discussion posts post your response by midnight that same evening. These assignments are opportunities for you to 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. These papers may form the basis of your in-class contributions. 

Each discussion post should be 250 words minimum (not including quoted words) 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. Each response post should be 200 words minimum (not including quoted words) and should engage closely with the discussion post to which you are responding as well as quote directly from the literary text. As responder, your textual quotation should contain different material from that in the original discussion post.

Grading criteria: you will be assessed on the basis of your adherence to the exercise instructions.


Mid-term paper (1,200-1,500 words):

All papers should be in 12 point Times New Roman, double spaced, each page numbered, 1” margins all  round.  You must use MLA paper formatting, and include a word count at the end. The word count includes quotations. You will be penalized for writing fewer than 1,200 words.

Prompt: Choose and closely read one chapter of King Solomon’s Mines which you think is particularly important to the development of the main dramatic action, the development of a particular topic or issue, or the development of a larger metaphor or message.

Choose either:

Traditional analytic paper: Develop an argument for why this particular scene is so valuable and what we gain by reading it the way you want us to read it. So, in other words, you’re going to make an argument for why it’s valuable and then a sub-argument for why that value is relevant.


Non-traditional paper. Choose a favorite novel, video game, magazine, or song—one that occupies and articulates an entirely different universe from Haggard’s novel. What if this chapter from King Solomon’s Mines were suddenly transplanted into this favorite entity? What questions would you ask it? (You can personify the chapter if you wish.) What would the effect of this transplantation be on the favorite entity? How would you present and explore such an intrusion? This exercise aims to generate more insight and understanding of Haggard’s text, and more insight, broadly, into the operations of prose fiction. It produces knowledge, but as with the text-merge, it does so by way of imaginative exploration rather than through traditional academic argument and organization. As with the text-merge, you need to include a substantial metacognitive reflection on the experience of writing this non-traditional paper.

Grading criteria: see the Grading Rubric file.

 Here is a link to the MLA guidelines: to an external site.

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

See in particular the sections and (left margin) subsections on

Paragraphs: to an external site.

Writing Mechanics:

 Punctuation: to an external site.

General tips, cautions, and requests on writing:

I like the use of the first person to present your argument. If you are uncomfortable using the first person, however, don’t do it: just be careful to write in a way that foregrounds your own argument and avoids the appearance of descriptiveness or derivativeness.

Please avoid any tendency to present sweeping generalizations about the history of the world, or 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.

When giving empirical information please provide a scholarly source for that information. Documentation is your friend.

Keep paragraphs within a readable length: don’t make them as long as a double-spaced page. If your paragraph is that long, it will contain more than one primary topic; look for the point where you can divide the paragraph into two.

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

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 exploring the text—its ideas, its structure, and its style.




TIPS. 4  letters in total.

All letters should be in 12 point, double spaced, each page numbered, 1” margins all round, Times New Roman, and adhere to MLA formatting.  You are responsible for proof-reading. 

Each letter is 500 words minimum each. TIPS is an acronym for Thing, Idea, Person (may be a non-human, sentient being, such as an animal or tree), Self. Each letter should engage with a different literary text from the course, with literary text defined as a short story or novel. You may not write on the literary text that  you wrote about in your mid-term paper. You need to write, using the letter genre, in the first person and use the second person to address your selected Thing/Idea/Person/Self. You must quote from the literary text at least once in each letter, and include a word count at the end, that gives the number of words you have written.

The 'Thing' letter is written by you to a 'Thing', defined as any inanimate object that makes an appearance in the literary text. The 'Idea' letter is written to what you identify as an idea contained in the literary text (through a character, a scene, a dialogue, a descriptive passage, the text itself as a complete entity, etc). The 'Person' to whom you address the letter can be any sentient being that makes an appearance in the literary text (includes plants and animals). The Self letter needs to explore some aspect of yourself in relation to the literary text; you might converse with an emotion that you felt while reading the text, for instance, or a perception that underwent some change as you read or reread the text, and so on. 

Grading criteria for TIPS:  see  the grading rubric file for details. You will be assessed on the basis of your adherence to the exercise instructions, which include formatting, word count minimum, honoring letter-writing conventions, and writing on a total of four different literary texts (ie, you cannot use the same text twice). If you turn the letter into an essay, you depart from the conventions of the letter form and your grade will suffer. This is an imaginative writing exercise, not an analytic academic writing exercise. 


A Literary Conversation.

This assignment asks you to think of the texts we’ve read as conversing with each other. What better way to do this than to literally stage a conversation between the works we’ve encountered? You will create a dialogue that speaks across texts. That is, you’ll need to pick a handful of characters/authors (3-4) from at least three of the course texts (excluding King Solomon's Mines) who will discuss a larger question of interest present in the works in which they appear.

Your first objective is to zero in on some smaller point of interest, something that caught your attention as you were reading or discussing the texts. For example, you might have wanted to dig deeper into the definitions of colonialism offered in the three texts named above. You might start by going back and locating a couple key passages/sections on this subject. As you reread/replay them, you might ask yourself (and the characters): “How are these works representing imperial power and for what purpose?” Which characters from these works would best speak to this question? But don’t stop there.  It should not be merely “what would it be like for [name] to meet [name]?” Be very clear on the question motivating the dialogue. It needs to be a deeper question about shared themes or struggles. Each speaker will have their own “thesis” or argument in regards to the question you’ve posed, based on close reading. They will be in conversation.

Format: You should create a playscript or screenplay. You can choose the setting and time period for your dialogue—a coffee shop, a blog, someone’s patio, or even a late-night talk show. You can decide the details of their interaction for yourself: what the tone of the conversation is like, how well they know each other, how they react to each other’s opinions. I encourage you to interpret this assignment creatively and to consider their stylistic differences (i.e., imagine how they might actually speak), but you will not be graded on your creative writing ability. I am more interested in the content of your analysis, and especially on your ability to identify and explore points of overlap and divergence between the speakers, supporting your claims with evidence from the text.

In terms of citations: you must demonstrate that you have engaged with the texts themselves, rather than only recycling observations made in class discussion. You can do so by having your characters discuss key examples from the text, paraphrasing key passages, or by quoting selectively from the text (the bulk of the paper should be your own words, as it is hard to find exact quotes that will fit a full dialogue). Cite where you are either paraphrasing an example or quoting directly from the text using MLA style (and include a Works Cited).

The assignment itself will consist of two parts: 1) the dialogue with a length of 1500-2400 words  and 2) a reflective statement (500-600 words) where you describe how you approached the assignment, what question or tension you chose for the dialogue and why, what close readings supported this dialogue, and any other information you think I need to know about how you’ve chosen to present this material. You can write this section in a fairly informal, narrative style, but don’t treat this as filler material or fluff—the reflective statement is essentially where you are justifying the work you’ve done in the dialogue itself, and I want to see you think critically about the kind of interpretive work you did to produce it.

Grading criteria for Literary Conversation: see Grading Rubric for details.


Course Policies         

  • Please turn off your phones in class
  • Please submit all your assignments on Canvas

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 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.

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. 

Emailing: Do not e-mail me questions that are answered explicitly in the syllabus or on the Canvas site. I will delete these without replying…

Writing Centers: We all benefit from having outside readers, or editors, giving feedback on drafts of our work. There are several writing centers on campus; I encourage you to avail yourselves of their services.

Academic Honesty: It is essential that you properly cite other people’s ideas and language in your writing. Academic integrity is a fundamental university value. Through the honest completion of academic work, students sustain the integrity of the university while facilitating the university’s imperative for the transmission of knowledge and culture based upon the generation of new and innovative ideas.

When an instance of suspected or alleged academic dishonesty by a student arises, it shall be resolved according to the procedures standard at the University of Washington. These procedures are listed here: to an external site.


English Department’s Statement of Values:

The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use is powerful and holds the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world—skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.”

As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities.  Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class.  These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue.  We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department.

Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, genders, national origins, political views, and citizenship status; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised.


Statement on Religious Accommodation:

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 ( to an external site..

Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form ( to an external site..

Grading Scale

96-100             4.0

94-95               3.9

92-93               3.8

90-91               3.7

88-89               3.6

86-87               3.5

84-85               3.4

82-83               3.3

80-81               3.2

79                    3.1

78                    3.0

77                    2.9

76                    2.8

75                    2.7

74                    2.6

73                    2.5

72                    2.4

71                    2.3

70                    2.2

69                    2.1

68                    2.0

67                    1.9

66                    1.8

65                    1.7

64                    1.6

63                    1.5

62                    1.4

61                    1.3

60                    1.2

59                    1.1

58                    1.0

57…                 0.7


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: 
September 22, 2022 - 6:55am