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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Kirin K Wachter-Grene
ENGL 242
Seattle Campus

Reading Prose Fiction

Critical interpretation and meaning in works of prose fiction, representing a variety of types and periods.

Class description

"Black Women Writers and the Politics of Respectability.”

From the 19th century onward many black women writers have both adopted and critiqued a “politics of respectability” as a form of resistance to the negative stigmas and stereotypes about their morality, sexuality, class, race, and gender. Claiming respectability through forms of public representation such as literature provided an opportunity for black women to assert will and agency as they redefined themselves in response to predominant racist discourses. Although many used the politics of respectability as a form of resistance, its ideology was ultimately in line with mainstream societal values that marginalized and excluded those who did not “fit.” The politics of respectability continues to resonate today and is often considered a burden with critical complications.

In this course we will pay close attention to the ways in which black women writers and contemporary public figures such as Beyonce and Michelle Obama engage, problematize, and are caught in ideological debates regarding the politics of respectability. We will read novels by black American women writers from the 19th through the late 20th centuries, occasionally supplemented with critical and popular material to provide historical and social context for the politics of respectability explored in the primary texts. As we will be explicitly engaging with difficult and at times problematic issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ideology, it is crucial to bring an open-minded, curious, and respectful attitude to this class in order to foster engaging and productive discussion. Novels include in whole or in part: Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Iola Leroy, Nella Larsen Quicksand, Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God, Anne Petry The Street, Paule Marshall Brown Girl, Brownstones, Toni Morrison Sula, and Pearl Cleage What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. There will also be a required course packet of supplementary reading, and we will likely be watching Tyler Perry’s 2013 film Temptation.

Student learning goals

Students are able to perform competent close readings of course texts and similar texts.

Students are able to contextualize and analyze the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, culturally.

Students develop more sophisticated discussion skills in the interest of being better able to construct and defend their own arguments or interpretations and engage in critical discourse with their peers.

Students develop as critical thinkers and writers who can formulate substantive arguments and explore those arguments with evidence.

Students develop both an appreciation of literature and a lifelong habit of reading.

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

This class counts for "W" credit, and will require students to write two out-of-class, graded 5-7 page papers. Students will write a rough draft, receive written feedback from me, and significantly revise both papers. Students can also expect to write several semi-formal reading responses and to participate in a small group project in which the group will lead the day’s class discussion. Please note that students are expected to keep up with the daily reading and are expected to come to class prepared to discuss and engage with the texts. There will be occasional reading quizzes. While it is not a prerequisite for students to have already completed a "C" course, such as 131, 111, 109/110, or 121, those students who have done so, or who have the equivalent of college-level composition instruction, will probably feel more prepared to handle the writing requirements of this course.


Nella Larsen Quicksand, ISBN: 978-0486451404 Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God ISBN: 978-0061120060 Anne Petry The Street ISBN: 978-0395901496 Paule Marshall Brown Girl, Brownstones ISBN: 978-1558614987 Toni Morrison Sula ISBN: 978-1400033430 Pearl Cleage What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day ISBN: 978-0061710384

Class assignments and grading

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Kirin K Wachter-Grene
Date: 05/20/2013