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Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2013/2014

Term: 2

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Mary O'Connor

Email: moconnor@mcmaster.ca

Office: Chester New Hall 323

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23731


Office Hours: Wednesdays after class in CNH 226 and by appointment

Course Objectives:

Students will be able

- to conduct in-depth examinations of  narrative works by African American women from the nineteenth to the late twentieth century

- to understand the historical context of a literary work

- to improve skills and oral delivery

- to conduct in-depth research and write a considered analysis of two authors' works

- to apply knowledge of critical theories, particularly those of gender, race, sexuality and class, to literary texts and their contexts

Course Description:

A study of a selection of African-American women writers including Hurston, Walker, Morrison and Naylor, with a consideration of gender and race in literary theory. Henry Louis Gates has spoken of the "new literary language" of contemporary African-American women's writing, its "powerfully compelling combination of realistic and lyrical narrative modes . . . replete with its own shadings and timbres, topoi and tropes."  This course studies examples of African-American women's writing from early slave narratives to the 1980s and 90s renaissance in works by Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor.  It includes a significant component of literary theory, raising issues of gender, race and class as we analyze gendered as well as generic modes.  Racial issues are tied to political issues as well as questions of genre: how black women's writing constitute itself out of an African-American heritage (the slave narratives, oral culture, spirituals, jazz, blues, or "conjuring") and within an American context.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required texts:

Jacobs, Harriet.           Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. 1861. In The Classic Slave Narratives, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Penguin).

Larsen, Nella.              Quicksand; Passing. 1929 (Rutgers University Press) (We are reading Passing)

Hurston, Zora Neale.  Their Eyes Were Watching God.  1937 (Perennial Library)

Walker, Alice.             The Color Purple, 1982 (Pocket Books)

Naylor, Gloria.            The Women of Brewster Place, 1982  (Penguin)

Morrison, Toni.           Beloved, 1987 (Penguin)

Morrison, Toni.           Nobel Lecture: http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1993/morrison-lecture.html

Sapphire                    Push, 1996 (Knopf)

DuBois, W.E.B.          The Souls of Black Folk, Chapter 1 http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DubSoul.html

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” July 2009:


Welter, Barbara           “The Cult of True Womanhood” American Quarterly 18.2 (1966): 151-74 (available on Avenue to Learn)

Supplementary readings will be posted on Avenue to Learn.

Method of Assessment:

Evaluation Scheme:

1 seminar (10 minutes)                                                                   15%

Response papers, including final review of course: 4@5%                 20%

Annotated bibliography (due Feb. 12)                                               15%

1 longresearch paper (2500 words; due Mar. 19)                                30%

Participation                                                                                   20%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late Assignment Policy:

All response papers are due at the beginning of class.  They will not be accepted after class or any time subsequent to the class. Bring a copy for yourself. There are two due dates for the long essay. Papers handed in for the first date will receive full commentary and a grade. Those handed in for the second date will receive only a grade. No papers will be accepted after the second date. I will not accept an MSAF form for the second date, since this is more than five days after the actual due date.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

See the Course outline on our Avenue to Learn site.