Ethnic and Minority Voices in American Literature

English 225: Major Ethnic and Minority Voices in American Literature
Professor Carrie Johnston

“Education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know.” –W.E.B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk

Course Description

This course serves as an introduction to the field of ethnic and minority literature. Adopting an interdisciplinary approach, we will examine issues surrounding the construction of race and ethnicity, and the ramifications those identities have in everyday life. Interrogating the term “minority” as a culturally and socially fraught category that both asserts and marginalizes identity, we will examine identity as both self-selected and outwardly imposed. What we read and discuss in this course will simultaneously provide an intellectual framework for your lived experience while challenging beliefs and assumptions that you once took for granted. As a result, this class will cultivate a keen awareness of the identity politics that inform contemporary political, cultural, and social issues. Ethnic and Minority Literature will prepare you to engage in the diverse workplace and society in which you will live throughout the twenty-first century.

Required Texts

  • Sandra Cisneros, House on Mango Street
  • Ernest J. Gaines, A Gathering of Old Men
  • Samantha Lan Chang, Hunger
  • Toni Morrison, A Mercy
  • Art Spiegelman, Maus I and Maus II

Schedule of Work

Introduction: Approaches and Content
W 1/14 Our approach: Close Reading
Our content: Ethnic American Literature
W 1/21 Excerpt from New Worlds of Literature (M)
Watch excerpt from Oprah’s “Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes” episode and read Huffington Post article (follow link)
Unit 1: How We (Don’t) Talk About Race
M 1/26 Richard Olivas, [I’m Sitting in My History Class]
Langston Hughes, “Theme for English B”
Michael S. Harper, “American History”
Toni Cade Bambara, “The Lesson”
W 1/28 Ernest J. Gaines, A Gathering of Old Men pp. 1-57
M 2/2 Gaines (cont’d), A Gathering of Old Men pp. 58-110
W 2/4 Gaines (cont’d), A Gathering of Old Men pp. 111-167
M 2/9 Gaines (cont’d), A Gathering of Old Men pp. 168-214
W 2/11 Bring 1 hard copy of draft of Paper 1 to class
Unit 2: Double-Consciousness
M 2/16 W.E.B. Du Bois, “Our Spiritual Strivings”
Film viewed in class: Ethnic Notions
W 2/18 Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” (M)
M 2/23 Sandra Cisneros, House on Mango Street
W 2/25 Cisneros (cont’d), House on Mango Street
M 3/2 Midterm review
W 3/4 Midterm exam
M 3/9 Spring Break: no class
W 3/11 Spring Break: no class
Unit 3: The Generation Gap and the Immigrant Experience
M 3/16 Art Spiegelman, Maus I pp. 1-93 
T 3/17 Screening: Dear White People (time and location TBA)
W 3/18 Spiegelman (cont’d), Maus I (to end)
M 3/23 Art Spiegelman, Maus II pp. 1-100
W 3/25 Spiegelman (cont’d), Maus II (to end)
W 4/1 Lan Samantha Chang, Hunger 11-45
M 4/6 Chang (cont’d), Hunger 46-81
W 4/8 Chang (cont’d), Hunger 82-115
Unit 4: Reimagining Past, Present, and Future
M 4/13 Leslie Marmon Silko, “Yellow Woman” (M)
Louise Erdrich, “Fleur” (M)
W 4/15 Toni Morrison, A Mercy
M 4/20 Toni Morrison, A Mercy
W 4/22 Toni Morrison, A Mercy
M 4/27 Toni Morrison, A Mercy
W 4/29 Toni Morrison, A Mercy
M 5/4 Conclusions:
Laurence Thomas, “Next Life, I’ll Be White” (M)
Michelle Cliff, “If I Could Write This in Fire I Would Write This in Fire” (M)