Every semester, I post my syllabi here. This fall semester the class may look a little different, but the main goals remain. I’m teaching an ethnic American literature class this fall, and the texts that I have chosen to teach this semester come, as usual, from partly my own desire to expand my own knowledge and understanding of different ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures. As such, I selected a wide variety of texts that I have discovered over the past couple of years by or about Arab-American, Chinese-Cubans, Afro-Asians, and more.

Course Description:

Discussing her novel Monkey Hunting (2004), Cristina García talks about her parents taking her to a Chinese-Cuban restaurant in New York and how her parents could not tell her how Cuban and Chinese dishes went together in the manner that they did. The novel is an exploration of that conjoining, that blending of cultures. She continues by speaking about her own life, “In addition, my own daughter is part Japanese, part Cuban, part Guatemalan, and part Russian Jew, and I’ve become interested over the years in compounded identities such as hers.” This exploration of identity is at the heart of the works we will read this semester. We will look at the cultural exchange between ethnicities and how that exchange works to grapple with and push against, as Mary Louise Pratt terms it, “highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they lived out in many parts of the world today.” 

Speaking with James L. Hill in 1977, Frank Yerby said, “I reject adjectives. Adjectives, which are the enemies of nouns, don’t mean anything?” Language has power, and the ways that language works to define and construct society is a lot of what we will discuss this semester, specifically in regard to identity. One’s ethnic identity plays a large role not just in how an individual views themselves, but it also plays a role in how society views the individual. While one class cannot cover every ethnicity, we will read texts by and about African Americans, Native Americans, Arab Americans, Chinese Cuban-Americans, Afro-Asians, and more. We will read novels, short stories, essays, plays, and poems.  

As we read these works, I want you to keep the following questions in mind. These, of course, are not all of the questions we will consider.

  • Where does one’s identity come from?
  • How much does one’s community or the society they live within shape one’s identity?
  • What psychological effects does being Othered have on an individual?
  • Does cultural exchange lead to equity?
  • Are adjectives the enemies of nouns?
  • Do “contact zones” or “hybridity” challenge or reinforce systems of power?

Primary Texts:

  • Abraham, George. “in which you do not ask the state of Israel to commit suicide” (2018)
  • Akhtar, Ayad. Disgraced (2013)
  • Baldwin, James. “Stranger in the Village” (1953)
  • Brooks, Max and Caanan White. The Harlem Hellfighters (2014)
  • Dunbar-Nelson, Alice. Mine Eyes Have Seen (1918)
  • Erdrich “The Red Convertible” (1984)
  • García, Cristina. Monkey Hunting (2004)
  • Goushay, Layla Azmi. “Profile of a Citizen: Generations Then and Now” (2020)
  • Johnson, Mat and Warren Pleece. Incognegro (2008)
  • Kahf, Mohja. “Manar of Hama” (2009)
  • Munn, May Mansoor. “Edge of Rock” (1992)
  • Pichestshote, Pornsak, Aaron Campbell, and José Villarrubia. Infidel (2018)
  • Salaita, Steven “Why I Was Fired” (2015)
  • Smith, Genaro Kỳ Lý. The Land South of the Clouds (2016)
  • Yerby, Frank. Selected stories.

Course Requirements and Explanation of Grading

  • Attendance and Participation                                                  10%
  • Videos                                                                                     20%    
  • Video Responses                                                                     15%
  • Unessay Annotated Bibliography                                             10%
  • Unessay Paper                                                                         15%
  • Unessay                                                                                   30%

Attendance and In-Class ParticipationNote, attendance will still be taken during weeks are online.  

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. 

Videos— This assignment contains two parts.

  1. Over the course of the semester, you will post four short videos (around two minutes) to the online forum. These videos will be your responses to the readings.  
  2. You must provide a 150-250 word script for your video as well. This must be in the forum post.

Video Responses—Over the course of the semester, you must respond to six of your classmates’ videos. You only need to type out your responses. They need to be between 150-250 words. In your responses, address any topics, questions, or other items that the video brings up. This is a spot where you can engage with each other, me, and the texts on a broader level than class time will allow.  

2 Comments on “Ethnic American Literature Syllabus

  1. Pingback: “None of us are ourselves.” – Interminable Rambling

  2. Pingback: Deconstructing Whiteness in “Incognegro” – Interminable Rambling

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