Literature of the Americas

This fall we’ve introduced a new undergraduate literature course that places American texts within a hemispheric frame. Taught by Gayle Wald, the class has proven extraordinarily popular. Weekly lectures are coupled to small discussion section meetings. The course is writing intensive. Here is the syllabus.

ENGL 40W.10: Literature of the Americas
“Slavery and the Circum-Atlantic”
Fall 2007
Prof. Gayle Wald
Julia McCrossin (TA) Anne Showalter (TA)

Course Description: “Literature of the Americas” is a new writing-intensive course that explores American literature in a “post-national,” trans-hemispheric framework. Following this fall’s theme, “Slavery and the Circum-Atlantic,” we’ll delve deeply into literature that reflects, or reflects upon, the routes (and roots) of the transatlantic slave trade that has linked the Americas, Europe, and Africa since the 16th century. In this course, we’ll read works from the 18th through the 21st centuries, by well known and lesser known authors, and including H.G. Carillo, a novelist who has recently joined the English department faculty. We’ll encounter an ex-slave narrating the terrifying journey from Africa to the “New World,” a contemporary Caribbean writer re-imagining the Salem witch trials from a young black woman’s point of view, a love story between a Native American and a Puritan, and a taut and tense Herman Melville story set, like Moby Dick, on the open seas. Through our reading of these texts, we’ll attempt to conceptualize American literature as writing that both probes and spans the boundaries of the nation, connecting the United States to the rest of the Americas, and—imaginatively, and perhaps materially—to other parts of the globe.

The goals of the course are:
1) to introduce you to significant works of literature by a diverse group of writers
2) to give you confidence analyzing a variety of literary genres (novels, short stories, slave narratives, autobiography, poetry, essays)
3) to introduce you to cutting-edge approaches to the field of American literary studies
4) to give you significant opportunities to practice and hone your analytical writing

Course format: The course meets twice a week, on Mondays at 11:10 a.m. in Corcoran 302 for lecture and on Wednesdays for discussion sections. Attendance at both lecture and discussion is mandatory. There will be opportunities for questions and group discussion at lectures.

Required books: (Available from the GWU Bookstore)
H.G. Carillo, Loosing My Espanish
Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok
Maryse Condé, I,Tituba, Black Witch of Salem
Henry Louis Gates, ed., Classic Slave Narratives
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea
Herman Melville, Great Short Works of Herman Melville
Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus

1. Attend lectures and discussion sections; participate in on-line and in-class discussions; complete readings on time.
2. Reading quizzes: Lectures will incorporate brief reading quizzes. Lateness or absence from lecture is not an excuse for missing the quiz, and quizzes cannot be made up. The quizzes cumulatively take the place of a midterm and final exam.
3. Writing assignments: There are five writing assignments, including one required revision (of the first paper). Each writing assignment is on an assigned topic. Detailed information about the assignments will be available in advance on Blackboard, and you will have opportunities to discuss the assignments in class. All assignments should be turned in on Blackboard (preferably as a Word document or in .rtf format).
4. Discussion questions: Each week, starting Sept. 10, you will be required to submit a question to the Discussion Board for your particular discussion section (these will be on Blackboard). Questions are due on Tuesdays by 10 a.m. Your question should reflect your genuine curiosity: about something said in lecture, about the reading, about something mentioned by a classmate during discussion. (Please aim for open-ended, thought-provoking questions.) Discussion questions will not be formally graded, although they will count toward your participation grade.

Policy on lateness and extensions: Extensions on papers may be granted at the discretion of Professor Wald. Only reasonable extensions will be granted, and only if you give us adequate notice. No extensions will be granted within 24 hours of the due date of a paper, except in cases of extreme emergency. There will be no extensions on the due date of the final paper.

Academic dishonesty: Academic dishonesty of any kind will be treated as a serious offense. At very least, you will receive a zero; in most cases, you will also fail the course. You can find more on GW’s Code of Academic Integrity at

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