Literature Syllabus

Norton Introduction to Fiction, Sixth Edition, WW Norton, 1995.
Pears on a Willow Tree, Leslie Pietrzyk, Avon Books, 1998.


To discuss a collection of texts. To forward our thoughts and beliefs about these writings: in class, in testing, and in two essays. Your main charge during the semester is to come to your own “understanding” about the work that we study. My goal is to help you develop your critical and creative thinking and writing abilities. We strive to reach these goals through a number of different methods described below:

The Course:

I lecture at the beginning of each class. I discuss class administration, our scheduling, the readings at hand, material coming up, etc. Usually these lectures are quite brief, but at times they may extend to 30 minutes or more.

In-class discussion takes up the majority of our time, and your performance in class determines your “class grade.” In order for these discussions to be worthwhile, you need to be familiar with the material. It is not acceptable to come to class unprepared. If a text is on the schedule for a certain day, that means the ideal student will not only have read the material beforehand, but will have also allowed him or herself time to think and write about the text in some way. Coming to class unprepared hurts both you and the entire class, since you certainly can’t help us in your quest to bring meaning to the texts we read. I run these discussion in a fairly informal way; I ask questions and try to move the conversation along, but for the most part it’s up to you. We do our best to be respectful of other people’s ideas and opinions. It’s an open forum. While I have no guidelines about how often you should take part in our discussions, it has been my experience that students who do well in this class are always those same students who have been active and helpful participants in our meetings.

You will be assigned to teams during the semester and on several occasions your team will meet separately from the rest of class to study, discuss, and then present information essential to our understanding of the texts. These presentations contribute to your “team grade” discussed on the next page. The makeup of the teams will be modified during the semester to offer you as many different perspectives as possible. A good team meeting allows you to work in a small group dynamic with peers. Students tell me every semester that they love team meetings, because they feel a little freer in a small group. I do wander around from group to group, to throw ideas into the mix, but I’m just a friendly neighbor. I’m not coming by to check up on you. Your ability to learn and then teach this material is key to your development as a thinker and communicator. We get about 8-10 team meetings a semester; make the best of them. As for grades, if you are in the team and your name appears on the team assignment sheet, then you get a full grade, or an “A” for every team meeting you take part in. Obviously, being in class for these meetings will help your overall grade. You cannot make up any missed team meetings.

There are two tests and one comprehensive final exam. I’ll provide you a sample test before Test One to help you understand the type of questions I ask. The tests are similar in construct. I discuss the tests more fully below.

You get the opportunity to write two essays, one a rather short “reader’s response” piece, the second, a longer, more involved, documented essay. The first essay (E1) occurs early in the semester and is merely your interpretation of a single piece. The second essay (E2) will still focus on your reading of a single writer’s work, but you will be expected to augment your ideas with a number of outside sources. The paper will be prepared according to the documentation style of the MLA. More details about the essays will be given to you in a handout later in the semester.

You should do your best to come to class all the time, on time. It helps you a great deal. It’s also very helpful to the rest of us since we rely on the group dynamic to help us make sense of the readings. Should you miss a class you’re not expected to provide me a written excuse; I treat all absences as the same. Things that you miss in class (information and discussion) are impossible to recreate, but you should attempt to meet with some of your colleagues and find out what we discussed. Assignments, the mid-term, team assignments, and the final exam cannot be made up in ANY way. There are no extra-credit opportunities of any kind.

Passing off anyone else’s work (your roommate, your sister, your friend, someone famous, etc.) as your own is plagiarism, the worst academic offense. It’s usually punishable by: failure of the work and/or failure of the class. In extreme cases, it can also be punished by expulsion from the University.
It’s your responsibility to drop the course if you are unable to finish. If you stop coming and fail to drop, the chances are good you’ll get an “F.”


Class Grade 10%

The class grade is a subjective letter grade I give you based on your “performance” in our general class discussions. Generally these grades are quite high, because usually all members of the class participate and help the discussions stay lively. Typically, a bad grade can be earned in one of two ways: 1) by not taking part in our discussions, and/or 2) by not being in class enough to take part in a substantive way. Our class depends upon your active and helpful participation, and this is a terrific reward for playing along.

Team Grade 20%

Over the course of the semester you work within groups or “teams,” and I give you a cumulative score based on how many team presentations you successfully take part in. Everyone who partakes in a team presentation gets an effective “A.” Over the course of the semester, you should expect 8-10 of these events to take place. If you’re a part of a team presentation every time we have one, obviously you’ll earn an A. If you miss a few, you should be prepared for a grade somewhat less than an A.

Test One 10%

Test Two 10%
These tests are similar. One is usually of the “take-home” variety. They cover just the material that precedes the test. Test One covers the material we read from the beginning of the semester. Test Two covers the material we’ve read since Test One. They are essay exams, and usually require one or two answers. (I sometimes give you a choice of questions.) They are open book/open notes affairs, and you should expect to use your book and notes to support your answers. If you have the option of a take home exam, then you should be prepared for some stringent length requirements. Usually I specify a word count on take-home exams, so that someone who spends an unusual amount of time on the take-home will earn no unfair advantage. As for test answers, I expect them to be focused and cogent. Without a doubt, the biggest mistake students make on tests is that they fail to provide a clearly stated thesis. After all, the thesis should be your answer to the question. You are expected to provide a thesis and then support the thesis with textual support from our readers. Your support, more or less, proves that your answer is a reasonable and valid “understanding” of the texts under question.

E1 10%

This first essay is merely an interpretive piece. You are to forward a thesis about a text we’ve read in class prior to the essay’s due date. A handout will be passed out before the essay to give you more details about this brief (500-word) essay.

E2 20%

This essay is rather different from the short E1. In the E2, you get the opportunity to write an essay that covers a text, texts, or an author. The principal criterion I enforce when grading the E2 is whether or not you go beyond the class’ knowledge. Merely discussing items we’re already familiar with is not very useful, and therefore, is not rewarded. During the E2, you will have the opportunity to take part in a workshop and a conference. A workshop is a gathering of other writers; a conference is a meeting with me in my office. Those writers who avail themselves off these opportunities always do a better job on the essay. The worst method to follow on theE2 is to write it yourself, without counsel.

Final Exam 20%

The final is similar in construct to Test One and Test Two; however, it is comprehensive. It’s an in-class event only.

Tentative Schedule

This schedule is subject to change. I will publish a new schedule if any changes occur. Whatever text is listed on a certain date indicates that the text needs to be read and ready for that day’s meeting.

1.20 Class Intro.

1.25 Bobbie Ann Mason: Shiloh.

1.27 John Cheever: The Country Husband.

2.1 Elizabeth Tallent: No One’s a Mystery.

2.3 Flannery O’Connor: Everything that Rises Must Converge.

2.8 Richard Ford: Great Falls.

2.10 Test preparation: bring sample questions.

2.15 Test One

2.17 selections from “Writing about Fiction.”

2.22 Ann Beattie: Janus.

2.24 Eudora Welty: Why I Live at the P.O.

3.1 William Faulkner: A Rose for Emily. E1 due in class.

3.3 Margaret Atwood: Happy Endings.

3.8 James Baldwin: Sonny’s Blues.

3.10 Denise Chavez: The Last of the Menu Girls.

3.15 Spring Break.

3.17 Spring Break.

3.22 Test Two.

3.24 Leslie Pietrzyk: Pears on a Willow Tree. [pages 1-119.]

3.29 E2 handout and discussion. Selections from “Writing about Fiction.”

3.31 E2 discussion. Library time.

4.5 E2 workshop day. Bring 3 copies of a rough draft of your E2 for group discussion.

4.7 E2 conferences. Bring a draft to my office at your scheduled time.

4.12 Pears on a Willow Tree. (cont.) [pages 120-end.]

4.14 Pears on a Willow Tree. (cont.) [pages 120-end.]

4.19 Toni Cade Bambara: Gorilla, My Love.

4.21 Alice Munro: Boys and Girls.

4.26 Essay Workshop Day: Bring rough draft of E2 to class.

4.28 Anton Chekhov: The Lady with the Dog.

5.3 No class. Optional conference day.

5.5 E2 due. Final Exam preparation