This semester, I am teaching “Multicultural American Literature.” Today, I want to share my syllabus and my thoughts while creating it. To begin with, I wanted this course to look at multiple time periods, not just something like a twenty-five to fifty year span. As such, there are texts from the late eighteenth century all the way up to the twenty-first. Along with this, I also wanted to teach and read texts that I have never read before, so I included works such as Hala Alyan’s Salt Houses and Omar Ben Saeed’s slave narrative. Another thought that went into constructing the course had to do with having students learn about pedagogy. That is why I include Rodriguez, Royster, Tan, and the NCTE’s statement “Students’ Right to Their Own Language.”

In conjunction with teaching texts that I have not read or taught before, I also wanted to expand on the projects such as the archives projects that I have done in previous courses. This semester, since I no longer have access to archival materials such as those at Auburn, I plan to have students do an “Unessay.” My hope is that students will find this liberating and let their creativity show through the productions they create. I will update you on this project when the semester is over.

Course Description and Objectives:

Writing to a high school English teacher in 1959, Lillian Smith told him that “there is always what you learn when you build bridges to other people: to one, then to one more, and on and on.” Literature does the same thing. It helps us build bridges to other people, and it lets us see that life is not monolithic, in any sense. As James Baldwin put it, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

This class will be a survey of non-canonical texts in American literature and we will focus on pedagogical strategies throughout the semester. During the course, we will read texts that cover the span of America’s history. Along with these texts, we will read works that directly address pedagogy. At the end of the semester, you will create an “unessay” and present it to the class and the public, probably through a website. You will learn more about this project later in the semester, but the purpose of it is to help you think about different ways to communicate information to different audiences. By the end of the semester, you will learn to research and relay the information you learn to a myriad of different audiences.

Primary Texts:

  • Alyan, Hala. Salt Houses. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
  • Apess, William. Eulogy on King Philip. William Apess, 1837.*
  • Ben Saeed, Omar. The Life of Omar ben Saeed, called Morro, a Fullah Slave in Fayetteville, N.C. Owned by Governor Owen. Translated by Isaac Bird, ca. 1860-1864.*
  • Douglass, Frederick. What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? 1852.*
  • Far, Sui Sin. Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of an Eurasian. 1890.*
  • Kendi, Ibram X. “Am I an American?The Atlantic, 16 July 2019.*
  • Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988.
  • Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, a Black. 1785.* 
  • McDuffie, Dwayne and M.D. Bright. Icon. Milestone Media, 1993-1997. (Select issues)*
  • Morales, Robert and Kyle Baker. Truth: Red, White, and Black. Marvel, 2004.* 
  • Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif”*
  • NCTE. “Students’ Right to Their Own Language.”*
  • Rainkine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Graywolf Press, 2014.
  • Rodriguez, Richard. “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood.” The American Scholar. vol. 50, no. 1, (Winter 1981), pp. 25-42.*
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own.” College Composition and Communication. vol. 47, no. 1, (Feb. 1996), pp. 29-40.* 
  • Sinha, Manisha. “The New Fugitive Slave Laws.” The New York Review of Books. 17 July 2019.*
  • Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Threepenny Review, 1990, pp. 315-320.*
  • Wilson, G. Willow and Adrian Alphona. Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal. Marvel, 2014. 

*–I will provide text


On the first day of class, we will take time to organize this course. I want to provide you with input into the course’s structure and the thread(s) you would like to follow throughout. As you can see from the list of texts above, there are multiple ways to construct our reading (chronologically, thematically, pairing authors, etc.). We will discuss various aspects of each text and then construct our schedule as a class.

Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading

  • Attendance and Participation                                                  10%
  • Forums                                                                                    30%
  • Unessay Annotated Bibliography                                            15%
  • Unessay Paper                                                                         15%
  • Unessay                                                                                   30%

A=90-100; B=80-89; C=70-79; D=60-69; F=59 or below

Attendance and In-Class Participation Although I believe that as adults you should have control over your own education, attendance is vital to your success in this course. Much of your learning and work will take place in class, and you will be involved in discussing the readings in class. To fully comprehend and hopefully appreciate the texts, you should come to class fully prepared. This means you should have read the homework and completed any assignments for class.

You will be held accountable to the following attendance policy: 4 or more unexcused absences will result in a grade of FA (failure due to absences). If you have an excused absence—e.g., university-sponsored trip, doctor’s visit—you must provide verification to the course instructor, in writing, no later than one week after the absence occurs. Tardiness is disruptive and disrespectful to your peers and to the teacher. Every two instances of tardiness (defined as 5 minutes late or more) will be counted as one absence.

Daily attendance is not sufficient to guarantee you a passing participation grade. Any activities taking place during class time contribute to your in-class participation grade. This includes note-taking during lectures, actively participating during discussion, and otherwise participating in class activities. There will be small group discussions during classes and other activities that will be part of this grade.

Unessay—The Unessay is meant to get you to think about literature in more than just a textual manner. It is meant to help free you from the constraints of the traditional essay and to allow you to be creative with your research. The Unessay will consist of three parts: a finished product, an annotated bibliography, and a short paper describing how your research influenced your finished product. You will present your finished product to the rest of the class at the end of the semester. 

Forums—Every week, you will be required to post a question about the readings the day we discuss them. You must also respond to one person’s question on the forum to receive full credit for the assignment.

Classroom Conduct:

Students should conduct themselves in a manner respectful of themselves, their classmates, and me. While we may discuss controversial or potentially offensive issues, and class discussions may well involve differences of opinion, students are to conduct themselves in a professional manner.

Discussion will be a key part of our class. As an open classroom, we will listen to the ideas of all students with thoughtfulness. You are encouraged to challenge ideas, but not each other. In this classroom, we are equal. We will adhere to a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination of any kind.

5 Comments on “Multicultural American Literature Syllabus

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