BLS 379 (LN 8091)

American Ethnic Literatures

Winter 2003

Tuesdays/Thursdays 8:45-10:50 a.m., Rm. UW2-131

David Goldstein-Shirley, Ph.D.

 Click here <>
to contact instructor with or without identifying yourself. (My e-mail address is provided in class: ____________________________________. No telephone calls, please.)

Office: UW1-135

Office hours: Tuesdays 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Thursdays 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. (except Feb. 20)
and by appointment

No understanding of the literature and culture of ethnic groups in the United States is complete without understanding how each group affected and was affected by the others. Therefore, in this course, we will take a comparative approach to these communities and their cultural productions, considering how the experiences of each group changed the lives of the others and vice versa as we study fiction produced by members of these communities.

Recent scholarship has demonstrated that modes of criticism need to be formulated for these ethnic literatures because many of those used for "mainstream," Euro-American literature are not as universal as once believed. We therefore will examine some first-rate criticism developed for ethnic literatures. Ethnic writers' interest in and celebration of community--an orientation perhaps at odds with the Euro-American theme of individualism--will serve as a basis of comparison among the works we study. We also will examine films that add further dimension to our understanding of ethnic literatures and the communities and experiences that they imagine and describe.

This course, in addition to counting toward the Culture, Literature, and the Arts concentration <> and the American Studies concentration <> in the Liberal Studies/Interdisciplinary Studies major <>, is open to anyone interested in the topic. It will include careful consideration of issues and methods of literary study, including how and why the American literary canon developed and how it is changing. Because any career you choose will require skills in critical textual analysis, in the synthesis of disparate kinds of information, and in written and oral communication, this course should be valuable to students of any major. I recommend that students take BLS 300 before enrolling in this course, but, because it is a 300-level course, I do not assume that students have a strong background in literature.

Course texts (available in the UWB Bookstore [save your receipts for a patronage refund] and in library reserve/reference). Note: Click here <> to order books online (free shipping). Click on "Winter Quarter 2003," then enter the course line number (above) for "UW SLN Code" (leave other spaces blank) and hit 'enter.' All items have been ordered; contact the bookstore if some materials are not listed.

Grading: Your grade will be based on these assignments, which are described on separate pages online (links will be activated when ready):

Essay 1 (1250-1500 words, due Jan. 30)

55 pts.

Site visit report or essay 2 ( 1000-1250 words, due Feb. 18)

45 pts.

Learning portfolio (including reflective essay of 600-1000 words, due March 6)

45 pts.

In-class and online participation

55 pts.


200 pts.

A note about grades: I know that students often need to juggle school, work, family, and other obligations. I never second-guess students' priorities, and I never think less of students who choose to devote more time and effort to one of these other obligations rather than to an assignment or the course as a whole. I respect the maturity of students who establish their priorities, make difficult choices, and accept the consequences of those decisions. Also, remember that your grade is based solely on my professional assessment of the quantity and quality of your work, not on your effort or on my opinion of you as an individual.

Final Course Grade Scale:

194-200: 4.0

180-181: 3.3

166-167: 2.6

152-153: 1.9

138-139: 1.2

192-193: 3.9

178-179: 3.2

164-165: 2.5

150-151: 1.8

136-137: 1.1

190-191: 3.8

176-177: 3.1

162-163: 2.4

148-149: 1.7

134-135: 1.0

188-189: 3.7

174-175: 3.0

160-161: 2.3

146-147: 1.6

132-133: 0.9

186-187: 3.6

172-173: 2.9

158-159: 2.2

144-145: 1.5

130-131: 0.8

184-185: 3.5

170-171: 2.8

156-157: 2.1

142-143: 1.4

128-129: 0.7

182-183: 3.4

168-169: 2.7

154-155: 2.0

140141: 1.3

0-127: 0.0

For an explanation of the University of Washington grading system, see <>.

Schedule (readings listed by author; names in bold refer to novels listed above; author names followed by an asterisk are listed below under "Reserves List"):

by beginning of class

Tu 01/07

Introduction; distribute pre-course questionnaire; distribute short story

Th 01/09

Associated Students*; short story (distributed in class on Jan. 7); pre-course questionnaire due

Discuss short story; essay 1 assignment introduction

Tu 01/14

Lowe* (read only Lowe's article [pages 7 through 10] in this document)

Discuss Lowe; learning portfolio assignment introduction

Th 01/16

View Smoke Signals (DVD, 129 min., BOT-53) at the Campus Media Center or rented copy by class time today

Discuss Smoke Signals; site visit report or essay 2 assignment introduction

Tu 01/21

Erdrich ("The World's Greatest Fisherman" through "Wild Geese" and "The Beads" through "Flesh and Blood")

Discuss Erdrich

Th 01/23

Erdrich ("A Bridge" through "Love Medicine" and "The Good Tears" and "Crossing the Water")

Discuss Erdrich

Tu 01/28

Begin reading Cisneros

View and discuss Girls Like Us (VHS, 57 min., BOT-1874)

Th 01/30

Finish reading Cisneros; essay 1 due

Discuss Cisneros

Tu 02/04

Work on site visit report or essay 2

Discuss Cisneros

Th 02/06

Begin reading Wideman

View and discuss In Black and White: John Wideman (VHS, 26 min., BOT-617 pt. 6)

Tu 02/11

Continue reading Wideman

ATTENDANCE OPTIONAL: View Once Upon a Time, When We Were Colored (DVD, 113 min., BOT-36) in class OR view it on reserve at the Media Center OR rent it on your own by class time on Feb. 18 (warning: might be hard to find as rental)

Th 02/13

Finish reading Wideman

Discuss Wideman

Tu 02/18

Site visit report or essay 2 due

Discuss Wideman; discuss Once Upon a Time, When We Were Colored

Th 02/20

Begin reading Jen

NO CLASS MEETING; field trip to Wing Luke Museum

Tu 02/25

Continue reading Jen

View and discuss Separate Lives, Broken Dreams (VHS, 49 min., BORES 63)

Th 02/27

Finish reading Jen

Discuss Jen

Tu 03/04

Work on learning portfolio

Discuss Jen; distribute post-course questionnaire

Th 03/06

Kolb*; learning portfolio due

Discuss Kolb

Tu 03/11


Discuss Lauter

Th 03/13

Exit discussion

*Reserves list (at Library Reserves Desk and, except as noted, online at <>; password required [announced in class: ____________]):


This schedule is subject to change. The most current schedule will always be posted here <> for your reference, and changes will be announced in class, by e-mail, or both. This course has no final examination.

Keep a copy of all submitted work. No extra credit or paper re-writes will be permitted except as noted, but I will gladly assist you with your work. In-class exercises cannot be made up for any reason because the group interaction is irreproducible. (See below for information on participation.) Late assignments will be accepted only in extenuating circumstances that could not have been anticipated, and only as specified; penalties will apply as specified. Keep all graded materials; you will need them for your graduation portfolio.

In accordance with University policy, I give Incompletes only if you are passing the course and attending class to within two weeks of the end of the quarter, and then only in extenuating circumstances that can be proven.

I will do my best to accommodate all documented disabilities (physical, learning, cognitive, or other). See <> for information.

I am very strict about deadlines, for two reasons: (1) I have very limited grading time, and late papers make it hard for me to return graded papers in a timely manner; and (2) I want everyone to have exactly the same amount of work time for the sake of fairness. Please do not put me in the position of trying to decide arbitrarily how late is "late." Take responsibility for getting work to me at the beginning of class when it is due, not ten minutes, two hours, or a day later. Rest assured that everyone is being treated equally.

IMPORTANT: I insist on academic integrity. You are responsible for understanding all aspects of University regulations regarding academic integrity. Breaches of academic integrity, including but not limited to cheating (e.g., copying another person's work or obtaining examination answers in a dishonest manner) and plagiarism (i.e., using another person's words or ideas without proper acknowledgment), whether intentional or accidental, will result in a zero for the assignment or examination; additional sanctions may be imposed by the University administration. Note that American rules regarding plagiarism might differ markedly from those in other countries. You can find more information in the University Handbook and in the document, "Avoiding Academic Misconduct" <>. I will help you any way I can so you can succeed while maintaining academic integrity. I truly want you to do well. Visit my office hours often!

About class communication:

Please carefully read the "Class Communication" document at <>, which I consider to be part of this syllabus.

About participation:

Please carefully read the "Class Participation" document at <>, which I consider to be part of this syllabus.

Be considerate of your instructors and classmates. Please turn off cell phones, pagers, and watch alarms before entering a classroom. Also, be aware that entering a classroom after class has started distracts your instructor and your classmates. If you must do it, please try to enter through a back door, if possible. That probably will distract your instructor (for which you should later apologize), but at least it will reduce the disruption you cause your classmates.

If you need to drop: You and I both invest a significant amount of time and effort having you in this course, so it is unfortunate when students do not complete a course that they began. Sometimes, however, students need to drop a course for good reasons. If that should become the case, I ask, as a favor, that you send me an e-mail message notifying me. Of course, I hope everyone who starts the course can complete it, so your work and time and mine are put to good use!

Welcome to the course!

This page last updated January 16, 2003.

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