English 495-A: Senior Seminar/Literature

Required texts:

Atwood, Margaret. Wilderness Tips: Stories. NY: Doubleday, 1998.

Finch, Annie, ed. A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women. Ashland, Oregon: Storyline Press, 1994.

James, Henry. Portrait of a Lady. NY: Oxford World’s Classics, 1998.

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America—Part One: Millenium Approaches. NY: Theatre Communications Group, 1993.

Maraire, J. Nozipo. Zenzele. NY: Delta, 1996.

Richter, David. Falling into Theory. 2nd ed. NY: St. Martin’s, 1999.

Suskind, Ron. A Hope in the Unseen. NY: Broadway, 1999.

Class schedule:

Aug. 30: Introduction


Sept. 4: Atwood, "True Trash" & "The Bog Man"; Richter, 15-48; quiz 1

Sept. 6: Atwood, "The Bog Man" & The Age of Lead"; Richter, 48-59; 84-95; student leaders: ________ & ________


Sept. 11: Atwood, "Death by Landscape" & "Uncles"; Richter, 95-119; quiz 2

Sept. 13: Atwood, "Weight" & "Hack Wednesday"; Richter, 121-146; student leaders:

________ & _________


Sept. 18: James, 19-113; Richter, 152-164; quiz 3

Sept. 20: Finch, Introduction & readings 1-2; Richter, 301-308; student leaders: ________ & ________


Sept. 25: James, 114-207; Richter, 198-210; quiz 4

Sept. 27: Finch, readings 3-4; Richter, 210-218; 224-233; student leaders: ________ &



Oct. 2: James, 208-311; quiz 5; draft of paper 1 ("my story/my project") due, plus two copies

Oct. 4: Finch, readings 5-6; student leaders: ________ & ________; story/project presentations

Oct. 6: Revision of paper 1 due in my office by 4:00


Oct. 9: James, 312-417; quiz 6; student leaders: _________ & _________; identity/proposal presentations, cont.

Oct. 11: Finch, readings 7-8; Richter, 235-252; student leaders: _________ & ________


Oct. 16: James, 418-516; film, "Howards End" (British, 1992; dir. James Ivory; screenplay by Ruth Prawar Jhabvala based on the novel by E.M. Forster [1910])

Oct. 18: film, cont.; Richter, 267-288


Oct. 23: fall break

Oct. 25: James, 517-628; quiz 7; Finch readings 9-10; student leaders ________ & __________


Oct. 30: Maraire, 1-71; Richter, 188-198; quiz 8

Nov. 1: Maraire, 72-133; Richter, 60-67; 323-333; student leaders: _________ & _________


Nov. 6: Maraire, 134-194; Richter, 174-182; 309-322

Nov. 8: Kushner (whole play); Richter, 182-188; student leaders: _________ &



Nov. 13: Suskind, chap. 1-3; Richter, 349-354; quiz 10

Nov. 15: Suskind, chap. 4-6; seminar paper abstract & draft of part one due, plus 1 copy


Nov. 20: Suskind, chap. 7-9; Richter, 355-365; quiz 11; student leaders: __________ &


Nov. 22: Thanksgiving break


Nov. 27: Suskind, chap. 10-12; Richter, 377-389; quiz 12

Nov. 29: Suskind, chap. 13-epilogue; project presentations


Dec. 4: Project presentations

Dec. 6: Project presentations; final revision of seminar paper due, plus one copy

Dec. 7: Senior Seminar Open House, Moseley 215, 7:30


Dec. 11: take-home final exam due at 6:00 PM

Course objectives and requirements:

In this seminar, we will examine current controversies about what, why, and how we read. How literary value is determined will be one focus of the course: how do we decide which books and authors are worth our time and attention? We will examine the social, historical, and political mechanisms (ranging from popular culture forces such as Oprah’s Book Club and film adaptations of literary works to more elite methods such as inclusion in college anthologies) that shape the literary canon.

In addition to exploring the complexities of canon formation and the debates surrounding what we should read, we will also investigate, evaluate, and generate theories of why and how we read. Is it ethically responsible and useful to be reading fiction in a world with real problems (ethnic wars in Africa and Eastern Europe, rising suicide rates among American teenagers, the melting of Antarctica, etc.) that are begging for solutions? Why do critical traditionalists (those who favor "objective" formalist, historical, and biographical approaches) frequently denounce ideological (Marxist and feminist), sociological (New Historical) and subjective (reader-response) approaches? We’ll tackle these and related questions.

This course is designed as a capstone experience that will require you to integrate and extend the skills and knowledge that you have acquired in previous literature courses. In particular, it will promote your:

The seminar format of this class requires that you be an active and informed participant in daily discussions and workshops. Regular attendance is imperative. More than three (3) absences during the term will lower your final grade (by one half-grade for each absence over three). Straggling in late is inconsiderate and disruptive: be here on time.

Although you’ll be especially responsible for initiating and sustaining discussion on the days when you’re leading class, you should contribute to every seminar session. Talking about literature is fun and rewarding, and developing the quality and quantity of your contributions to discussions is a central aim of this course. You must: bring questions and concerns to class; offer original ideas and responses to the literary and critical texts; challenge statements made by others (teacher included) that seem off-base and support those that seem on-target; make classmates comfortable and draw ideas from them. Above all, you must listen to one another. You can’t contribute meaningfully to a conversation unless you’re attentively following it.


  1. Discussion leading: In a seminar, students share with the teacher responsibility for planning class sessions and working to make them engaging and informative. You will each lead two classes. With a partner, you will lead a 60-minute discussion on Atwood, James, Maraire, Kushner, or Suskind and the critical reading from Richter assigned for that day. You’ll go solo in leading a 30-minute discussion on poems by one writer included in Finch’s anthology. The poet or poets you select will be entirely up to you (although since Finch is this fall’s visiting writer, I’m hoping someone will teach her). Claims will be honored on a first come/first served basis. You must tell the class which poems to prepare at least one week before your assigned session. See the class schedule for time and text options.

  2. Prepare for leading by brainstorming for questions that will focus discussion on particularly interesting, important, or puzzling aspects of that day’s reading. You must deal with both the literary and critical texts assigned for your class session. Ideally, some of your questions will invite us to put theory into practice. Use any strategies (divide the class into workshop groups, organize dramatic representations, etc.) that will help us to understand authors and critics. Strive to vary the format of the class so we don’t get stuck in a rut.

    A short (2-page) paper is due on the days that you lead. In this paper you should: a) pose questions that we should consider as a group; b) provide rationales for these questions—that is, explain why they’re important. Do not answer your own questions—nothing kills a discussion faster. The "discussion prep" paper for your 60-minute session should be prepared collaboratively with your partner. The discussion paper on the Finch poet is an individual endeavor.

  3. Quizzes: Brief (five-point) quizzes will be given on the days specified on the class schedule. Quizzes serve two purposes. First, they are intended to encourage you to attend to the details that convey a work’s meaning and an author’s purpose. Second, they should motivate you to keep up on the reading so that you’re prepared for discussion. Missed quizzes cannot be made up, since that would defeat this second purpose. I will, however, drop your lowest quiz score before calculating your final average.
  4. Seminar Papers: A paper and presentation on some aspect of what, why, or how we read will be the focus of your independent research and writing for this course. This paper must combine autobiographical reflections and your own personal views of and experiences with literature with significant primary and secondary source research. (For many topics, such as the sexism of N.C. high school reading lists, field research—interviews, surveys, or controlled observations—will be an essential primary source.) Work hard to find a topic that genuinely interests you: otherwise you won’t be able to write with a strong personal voice. Within the paper, you must take a clear and informed stand related to the critical controversy that you are examining. Teaching licensure students are strongly encouraged to write on a topic related to teaching secondary English. Some possible topics:
"My Story, My Project": This two-part project proposal is due in early October (draft deadline is Oct. 2; revision is due Oct. 6). Part one is autobiographical: describe your life as a reader, identifying those aspects of why, what, and how you read that inform the research you plan to undertake. Part two is the proposal proper. It should: fully define the research question you will explore and attempt to answer; explain the personal and disciplinary significance of this question; and offer a detailed tentative research plan (specifying the primary and secondary sources that you will consult). You should also stipulate whether you’d prefer to work independently or collaboratively on this project. If you’re seeking a partner, explain why your research question is too large or complex for one researcher/writer. Describe your own skills as a writer and researcher so that prospective partners can make an informed decision about signing on with you.

Your audience for this proposal is the entire class. You will present the proposal in a seminar session to get reactions and advice from the class. This will also be your chance to attract a partner, if you’re proposing a project that requires teamwork.

Recommended length for this paper is 5 pages. Failure to meet these October deadlines will result in a lowering of your final grade on the final revision (by one full letter grade for each day the draft or revision is overdue).

Abstract and draft of part one: These are due November 15, so that you can meet the deadline for submitting a proposal to NCUR (National Conference for Undergraduate Research). Applications to present at both NCUR and SURF (Elon’s Student Undergraduate Research Conference) require an abstract, which I’ll describe more fully in class. I strongly encourage you to participate in one or both of these conferences. The experience is valuable and it looks great on your resume.

By this point, your research should be nearly completed and the draft should be at least 8-10 solid pages. Your thesis and the main lines of your argument should be clear in this draft¾ otherwise your peer critic and I will be unable to give you useful advice. Since the final paper will be long (16-20 pages), you may want to divide it into sections with subtitles and submit the completed first sections for this deadline.

Failure to attend the November 15 peer conference with a completed abstract and a substantial draft will lower your grade on the final revision by a full letter grade.

Final revisions (plus one full copy for peer review) are due on the last day of class, December 6. No late papers can be accepted.

Project presentations will be 25 minutes in length. You should actively engage the class: aim for dialogue rather than monologue. You may find it useful to assign a brief reading so that we can prepare for a discussion of your topic. I can charge duplication to the department if you get the original to me three class days before your presentation.

  1. Final exam: This will be a detailed peer review of a classmate’s research paper and presentation. Write an extended memo addressed to the paper’s writer(s)—with a copy sent to me—in which you: identify the paper’s major strengths and weaknesses; offer detailed advice about revising the paper for SURF or NCUR; and evaluate the effectiveness of the classroom presentation.

Research project: 55%

Participation: 20% Quizzes: 15%

Final exam: 10%