Over the past two years, I have taught three multicultural American literature courses, at various levels from sophomore to graduate. This fall, I am teaching my fourth, and I am doing things a little differently because it is an upper level course. As I constructed each of the previous courses, I purposefully thought about a wide variety of texts and assignments for students. I made sure to include texts that I was unfamiliar with, specifically ones where I would be encountering themes and topics for the first time alongside my students. As well, I thought about assignments that would empower students and get them to use their myriad skills in the production of knowledge. For this fall’s course, I am adhering to those same core principles, and today I want to share with you the syllabus for the course.

Course Description and Objectives:

At the conclusion of “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of a Eurasian” (1909), Sui Sin Far (Edith Maude Eaton) writes, “After all I have no nationality and am not anxious to claim any. Individuality is more than nationality.” How would you respond to Far? There are two things at work within these two sentences. On the one hand, she notes that as the daughter of a British father and a Chinese mother her nationality is split, and on the other hand she must navigate a society that places her into specific boxes, depending on context.

In this course we will look at texts by authors who, in their navigation of society, work to find their identity within a society that places labels upon them. Malaka Gharib, the daughter of an Egyptian father and a Filipina mother who immigrate to the United States, details this in her graphic memoir I Was Their American Dream, and Georgie Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and John Okada’s No No Boy examine these issues as they detail the United States’ internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

This year marks the centennial of the Tulsa Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in United States history where white mobs destroyed the African American Greenwood neighborhood leaving 10,000 homeless and an estimated 150-200 Black citizens dead. We will read three texts this semester that look at the Tulsa Massacre and events in 1921. P. Djèlí Clark Ring Shout and David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene’s Bitter Root use the EthnoGothic, which John Ira Jennings describes as “deal[ing] with primarily speculative narratives that actively engage with negatively affective and racially oriented psychological traumas via the traditions of Gothic tropes and technologies,” to explore themes of identity, racism, and oppression, and Alverne Bell Stacey Robinson Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre provides a more historical account of Black Wall Street and the massacre.

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.

Throughout this course, I want you to think about the following questions:

  • 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?

Primary Texts:

  • Ball, Alverne and Stacey Robinson. Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre.
  • Clark, P. Djèlí. Ring Shout.
  • El Rassi, Toufic. Arab in America.
  • Far, Sui Sin. “Leaves from the Mental Portfolio of a Eurasian.”
  • Fire in Little Africa. Fire in Little Africa.
  • Gayle, Wandeka. Motherland.
  • Gharib, Malaka. I Was Their American Dream.
  • Kahf, Mojah. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf.
  • Petry, Ann. The Street.
  • Okada, John. No No Boy.
  • Takei, George. They Called Us Enemy.
  • Walker, David F., Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene. Bitter Root: Volume 1 and Volume 2.
  • Yerby, Frank. Selected stories.

Conference Proposal and Paper:

This assignment will require you to write a proposal for an academic conference and paper to present at the conference. The 2022 College Language Association Conference will take place in Atlanta April 6-9. The hope is that you will write a proposal for this conference and submit it. The paper will be a conference length paper, between 5 and 7 pages, and will focus on one of the themes and texts that we discuss in class.

Lesson Plan:

The lesson plan is meant to get you to think about how you would teach one of the texts or themes we cover in this course in your own classroom. This is a pedagogical exercise, helping you consider the best way(s) to have students engage in oftentimes difficult conversations. For this assignment, you can use any lesson plan template you would like, but you must the plan must at least cover one week’s worth of classes and must include the English Language Arts Georgia Standards of Excellence standards. 

Lesson Plan Paper:

In the lesson plan paper, you will discuss the choices that you made when you were constructing your lesson plan. You examine your own choices and the secondary sources and scholars that informed them. This paper will be between 1,500-2,000 words.

What are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.

2 Comments on “Multicultural American Literature Syllabus 2021

  1. Pingback: Conversation with Malaka Gharib – Interminable Rambling

  2. Pingback: The American Dream in Ann Petry’s “The Street”: Part I – Interminable Rambling

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