You are here

ENGL 259 A: Literature and Social Difference

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:30pm - 2:20pm
SMI 305
Shawn Wong
Shawn Wong

Syllabus Description:

NOTE 1: This class will be in-person only with no hybrid or remote zoom available unless the UW adopts a policy in response to changes in the pandemic during the quarter.

NOTE 2: This course qualifies for DIV, VLPA, and W-course credit.

ENGL 259: Literature and Social Difference

Instructor:  Shawn Wong, Professor, Department of English


Office Hours: MW 11-12, and M-F on Zoom by appt.


“The UW building in which we are learning about literature and social difference stands on the lands of the Coast Salish peoples, where generations of their ancestors told stories.  I encourage you to read the stories of the Coast Salish people about the land we share."  Recommended reading:  Jesintel: Living Wisdom from Coast Salish Elders (University of Washington Press, 2022).

Course Description:

"Protesters, Prize Fighters, Poets, and Prostitutes:  The Literary Path of Asian America"

This course will examine the rediscovery of Asian American literature in the 1970s, the naming of the Asian American literary canon, and the forces that brought a forgotten and neglected part of American literature to light.  In addition, the course will cover the social history behind each of the readings and the history of the institutional racism that is addressed in each work (19th century to 20th century immigration laws, Japanese American internment camps, etc.) up to current acts of anti-Asian violence.  This course is not a comprehensive examination of all of Asian American writing that is available, rather an introduction that will allow students to develop an Asian American literary toolkit that will enable you to read any Asian American work with academic and intellectual confidence.

Required Reading:

(books will be read in the following order)

Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers, edited by Frank Chin, Jeffery Chan, Lawson Inada, and Shawn Wong

Eat a Bowl of Tea by Louis Chu

Awake in the River and Shedding Silence by Janice Mirikitani 

Scent of Apples by Bienvenido Santos

[All books are published by the University of Washington Press and are available at the University Bookstore or from any online bookseller.  Some of the books might be available as an e-book.]

Recommended viewing/reading:

"Eat a Bowl of Tea" (film version, directed by Wayne Wang, 1989)

"The Asian American Canon Breakers" by Hua Hsu, The New Yorker magazine

"Why Preparing Fish is a Political Act?" by Janice Mirikitani:

Other recommended readings and links will be added throughout the quarter.

Classroom Policies and Structure:

As we return to in-person classes, we need to make a lot of adjustments as we try to define our sense of normalcy and safety in the classroom. 

First, I have designed this class to ensure your success as we come out of various versions of remote and hybrid courses.  

Second, I have divided the class randomly into small discussion groups and I ask that you try and sit with each other in every class session.  This serves several purposes: (1) if you miss a class, you can contact your group members for notes, (2) your group can develop their own strategy for completing the Wednesday group Canvas assignments and for discussing an answer to an in-class discussion question about the reading material, and (3) if one of your group members becomes ill, it is easier to do contact tracing because you will always know who you were seated next to in class.

Discussion Groups:

There are 10 small discussion groups (they are listed in Canvas under People).  I've also named your groups after Italian desserts to give you an identity other than just a number.  Please exchange contact information and get to know each other since you will be working together for the entire quarter, which will hopefully make a large lecture class a little more personal.

Grading Policy:

Grading policy in this class is simple.  All assignments are either marked "complete" or "incomplete" with no overall points or scores or other grades.  If you miss an assignment, the percentage of that absent assignment from the total number of assignments is the percentage deducted from a 4.0 grade.  For example, if there are 12 separate short answer assignments and you miss one of them, your grade deduction is 8%.  There is no make up opportunity for a missed assignment.  That said, there will be opportunities for an occasional extra credit (see below) option in case you miss an assignment.

Extra Credit:

You can receive extra credit by uploading a question for discussion in Canvas Discussions.  The questions should be in the form of asking for an interpretation or critical analysis of the reading material rather than asking what happened in a particular chapter or section of the reading.  In other words, ask a question where you really want an answer about something that confuses you about the reading or you want feedback on your own interpretation of a passage in one of the books. Posting five discussion questions from any of the readings during the quarter will take the place of one missed Canvas Assignment and, in order to receive extra credit, you must post your discussion questions prior to when the readings are discussed in lecture.

Another extra credit option is to visit the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience in Seattle.  You must show proof that you visited the museum, such as taking a photo of your ticket and commenting on something in the exhibitions that informs something we're reading about in class.

Canvas Assignments:

Also, please remember this is an English class, so spelling, punctuation, and grammar counts.  For example, Asian requires an uppercase A and Asian American should not be hyphenated (more about that in class).  A good source for usage and grammar is the Purdue Owl website: (

You will be responsible for one small group presentations on our reading material and each student will submit an essay of 5-7 pages on an essay topic to be announced (there will be 5-6 essays topics to choose from),  The final version of the essay must be preceded by a one-paragraph abstract of your topic and approach and a first draft that will be peer reviewed by the other three members in your group.

Group Presentations:

Each discussion group will lead one discussion in class, using power point, and take discussion notes for the class session.  Your group should present at least six discussion questions, lead discussion, and take notes on the discussion during your presentation and afterwards.  The discussion questions and notes should be uploaded to Canvas Discussions under your group heading.  Exams are based solely on group discussion notes.

Discussion questions should indicate what it is you're trying to understand in your reading and what it is you're seeking help from others in the class in discussing the issues.  Questions can be centered on the what you feel is the most important point the author addresses in that section of the reading or scene in a film.  In other words, try to think of questions that really seek answers rather than confirm what it is you already know.


There will be three exams, each covering about a third of the reading and lectures, and no final exam.

Statement on Non-verbalization of Racist Slurs in the Classroom

This course is committed to establishing and providing a safe classroom environment for all students.  To that end, we acknowledge that there are complex pedagogical challenges in presenting course materials that may contain racial slurs in texts and/or in various forms of media that may offend students, particularly BIPOC students.  Our course affirms a policy of the non-verbalization of racial slurs by faculty and students, recognizing that the verbalization of racial slurs may have a triggering effect on students when not heard in their own voice or read silently to themselves from their course materials. 

With respect to reading material and other media presented in class, the instructors will review and consider screening content with racial slurs based on four requirements:  (1) articulating the specific relevance to the course topic/module, (2) providing a warning about content, (3) stating that students may opt out of being physically in attendance if course content might cause pain, harm, or alienation, and (4) including a broad warning in the syllabus about course content and materials. 


University-Wide Policies


ENGL 259 Code of Conduct and Mutual Respect

This course aims to create an ethical, caring, reciprocal environment for safe learning about our roles as writers and students who record and observe the world at large.

To that end: recognizing and valuing diversity is essential to the learning goals of this course and the critical thinking endeavor at the heart of university education.

Respect for difference includes and is not limited to age, cultural background, ability, ethnicity, family status, gender presentation, immigration status, national origin, race, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, preferred names and pronouns, socioeconomic status, and veteran status.

Your participation will require careful and ethical engagement with people and ideas reflective of diversity, including those not in alignment with your personal beliefs and values.  

To that end, you are asked to be mindful and respectful to others (and yourself) in all course interactions.   Act with best attentions, assume best intentions from your colleagues, and give each other the benefit of the doubt.  

Failure to comply with the code of conduct will result in meetings to further discuss pronoun use, respecting diversity, and other learning opportunities.  We all make mistakes, and it is from these that we often learn the most.  


Further Resources

Our current college life is a stressful time, and feelings of anxiety, doubt, loneliness, fear, and even guilt are completely normal.  This is especially the case this year, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  If, however, you begin to notice that such feelings are negatively affecting your mental or physical health, please contact me or one of the offices listed above. 


Course Schedule:

The course schedule is subject to change, depending on the pace and coverage of the reading material.

Part 1: Aiiieeeee!

Jan. 4:  Introductions, syllabus review, course policies & structure, small group introductions, & brief overview of reading material.

Jan. 9:  Part 1: Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers

  • Discussion of the history of Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Asian American Writers

Jan. 11:

  • "Foreward" by Tara Fickle, "Preface to the First Edition," "Aiiieeeee! Revisited: Preface to the 1991 Edition," (pages ix-lviii)

Jan. 16:  Holiday-no class

Jan. 18:

  • "An Introduction for Chinese and Japanese American Literature," pages 3-39
  • "From No-No Boy" by John Okada
  • "From The Frontiers of Love" by Diana Chang (page 97)
  • "Act 1 of The Chickencoop Chinaman" by Frank Chin (page 120)
  • "Rough Notes for Mantos" by Russell Leong (page 206)

Jan 23: 

Discussion leaders: Gelato

  • "The Woman Who Makes Swell Doughnuts" by Toshio Mori (page 216)
  • "Yoneko's Earthquake" by Hisaye Yamamoto (page 280)
  • "And the Soul Shall Dance" by Wakako Yamauchi (page 298)

Jan. 25: 

Exam 1 (first hour of class)

Second hour:

  • "Forward: The Wows: Wow Your Mother" by Fae Myenne Ng (page vii)
  • "Introduction to the 1979 Edition" by Jeffery Paul Chan (page xv)

Part 2: Eat a Bowl of Tea

Jan. 30:

Discussion leaders: Panna Cotta

  • Chapters I-VIII (pages 3-68)

Feb. 1:

Discussion leaders: Panettone

  • Chapters XIV- XXX (pages 69-138)

Feb. 6:

Discussion leaders: Canestrelli

  • Chapters XXXI-XLI (pages 139-201)

Feb. 8:

Discussion leaders: Biscotti

  • Chapters XLI-end (pages 201-268

Part 3:  Awake in the River & Shedding Silence

For class on Feb. 13, 15, 22, & 27 (Feb. 20th is a holiday), read the following from Awake in the River & Shedding Silence:

  • "Foreward" by Juliana Chang
  • All the poems mentioned in Juliana Chang's Foreward:

Discussion leader: Cannoli

"For My Father"

"Sing with Your Body"

"Loving from Vietnam to Zimbabwe"

"Desert Flowers"

"The First Generation"

"A Certain Kind of Madness"

Discussion leader: Zabaglione


"We, the Dangerous"

"A Song For You"


"The Fisherman"

"Drowning in the Yellow River"

"A Lecherous Poem for Toshiro Mifune"

Discussion leader: Bomboloni

"Crazy Alice"

"Awake in the River"

"Suicide Note"

"Breaking Tradition"

"Breaking Silence" 

"In Remembrance"

"Assaults and Invasions" 


March 1:

Exam 2 (first hour of class)

Second hour:

  • "An Introduction to Filipino American Literature" by S.E. Solberg (Aiiieeeee!, pages 40-59)
  • Foreward: My Lost Country by Jessica Hagedorn (Scent of Apples)
  • Introduction to the 2015 Edition: Footnote to Memory by Allan Isaac (Scent of Apples)
  • Introduction to the 1979 Edition by Leonard Casper (Scent of Apples)
  • Preface to the 1979 Edition (Scent of Apples)
  • "From America is in the Heart" by Carlos Bulosan (Aiiieeeee!, pages 63-71)
  • "Dark Fiesta" by Oscar Penaranda (Aiiieeeee!, pages 238-247)

Part 4: Scent of Apples

Discussion leaders: Tiramisu

March 6: pages 3-85

Discussion leaders: Granita

March 8: pages 86-178

Exam 3: online during finals week, TBA






Catalog Description: 
Literary texts are important evidence for social difference (gender, race, class, ethnicity, language, citizenship status, sexuality, ability) in contemporary and historical contexts. Examines texts that encourage and provoke us to ask larger questions about identity, power, privilege, society, and the role of culture in present-day or historical settings.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
September 22, 2022 - 6:55am