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ENGLISH 1AA3 Lit. in English: Longer Genres (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2019

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Nadine Attewell


Office: Chester New Hall 311

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 24492

Office Hours: Wednesdays 11:30-1:30pm

Course Objectives:


In the first of his 2002 Massey Lectures for the CBC, Cherokee writer Thomas King says that “stories are wondrous. And they are dangerous” (9). How stories work in the world, he also suggests, is complex and difficult to pin down. In this course, we will read literary texts that both tell powerful stories about the often disorienting world in which we find ourselves, and invite us to reflect on the place of literature in the world. The course therefore functions as an introduction to the study of literature, equipping you with many of the conceptual and writing tools that you will need to become an expert reader of fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction. In addition to learning how to ask good questions of literary texts, however, we will explore how literary texts can help us to ask good questions of the world. How can literature speak to our times? What makes works of literature “timely”? What can literary works tell us – if anything – about what it means to live, love, relate, know, remember, and die in a world shaped by colonialism, slavery, authoritarian rule, racism, sexual violence, war, capitalism, poverty, misogyny, homophobia, and the slow violence of unfolding environmental disaster?

Instructor Contact Information

Brief, logistical questions can be handled by email (please ensure that the course code [1AA3] appears in the subject line). If you wish to discuss course content or your written work in detail, please visit your TA during their posted office hours. You are also very welcome to drop by Dr. Attewell’s office hours or during the office hours of the senior TA. Finally, don’t forget that the syllabus contains valuable information! Read and keep it close.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Course Materials

The following required texts are available for purchase at the campus store or through any online retailer:

1) Thomas King, The Truth About Stories (2003)

2) M. G. Vassanji, Nostalgia (2016)

3) Dionne Brand, No Language is Neutral (1990)

4) David Chariandy, Soucouyant (2007)

5) Solmaz Sharif, Look (2016)

6) Daniel Coleman, Yardwork (2017)

Method of Assessment:

Grade Breakdown

Attendance and Engagement: 10%

Lecture Notes: 5%

Tutorial Assignment: 10%

Short Essay (3 pages double-spaced; due in tutorial the week of February 4): 15%

Long Essay (6 pages double-spaced; due in tutorial the week of March 25): 30%

Final Exam (to be scheduled by the Office of the Registrar): 30%

Course Requirements

1. Regular attendance and in-class engagement are worth 10% of your final grade. This class is about critical inquiry. That is, it’s about asking and attempting to answer interesting questions raised by literary texts. Class participation is therefore important, since class is the place to raise comprehension questions, as well as to demonstrate and develop your skills of critical thinking, speaking, and writing. Tutorials, in particular, depend upon your informed, active, and respectful participation. Active in-class engagement includes contributing to discussion with thoughtful questions and comments. It is therefore imperative that you not only attend class and complete the readings by the beginning of the week in which they are assigned, but that you do so with care, attention, and engagement. Bring the readings to class. Take notes! Scribble in the margins! If you are anxious about speaking in public, prepare something, however brief, to say. Your participation grade will largely depend upon your performance in tutorial. However, you will also be invited to participate in discussion during the lecture period, and we will occasionally form smaller discussion groups in order to vary the opportunities for interaction. Check out the reflection questions posted online!

Note: attending lectures and tutorials is not mandatory, insofar as it is possible to pass the course without doing so. However, two decades of experience in the classroom has taught me that people who regularly attend class, do better. We hope this will be true of all of you as well. It helps, as well, to revisit the syllabus periodically, as it contains useful information. As a reward for reading this far, please send Dr. Attewell an email 1) naming something important that you learned from the syllabus and 2) listing a favourite book, TV show, or film: we will add a bonus point to your final mark. Make sure your email adheres to the guidelines above!

2. Lecture notes: as a way to facilitate your engagement and comprehension in lecture, and to generate an archive of course notes for those requiring them, once during the semester, you will be responsible for assembling a readable, point-form record of the weekly lecture. These should not be circulated online without the express permission of the lecturer and notetaker: they represent considerable intellectual labour. Although these notes are worth 5% of your final mark, they will not be graded. I will dock marks only if your notes seem skimpy or inaccurate. Otherwise, you will receive full marks.

3. Tutorial assignment (10%). You will complete a tutorial assignment designed both to foster discussion in tutorial and practice your skills of close reading and critical thinking. The assignment has two equally-weighted components: you will 1) analyze a passage from one of the readings; 2) and, drawing on your analysis of the passage, indicate (in a sentence or two) the significance of the passage for the text as a whole. Please see the assignment guide attached to this syllabus (and available through Avenue to Learn) for more details. Your TA will also discuss the assignment with you in tutorial.

4. Two papers, worth 15% and 30% of your grade respectively. The first, due in tutorial the week of February 4, is an essay of 3 pages double-spaced; the other, due in tutorial the week of March 25, is an essay of 6 pages double-spaced. Each develops and offers detailed support for a critical thesis in response to one of a set of assigned questions (to be posted online at least two weeks previous to the due date). You will receive letter grades and substantive feedback for each of your papers. 

5. A final exam, worth 35% of your overall grade, to be held in April 2019.

Tutorial Assignment (worth 10% of your final grade)

The tutorial assignment, worth 10% of your grade, is designed to both foster discussion in tutorial and develop your skills of close reading and critical thinking. The assignment therefore has two components: you will 1) analyze and annotate a passage from one of the readings; and 2) and, drawing on your analysis of the passage, indicate (in a sentence or two) the significance of the passage for the text as a whole.

Both components of the assignment are due to your TA in tutorial the week before your assigned date. That is, if you have been assigned the passage for January 28, the assignment is due January 21. In tutorial on the date assigned, your TA may ask you to share aspects of your tutorial assignment with your peers. If you’re nervous about speaking off the cuff, prepare a short statement that will help you to convey your thoughts clearly and succinctly. 

Component 1: The Annotation (worth 50% of the assignment)

1. First, sign up to analyze one of nine passages to be discussed in tutorial beginning the week of January 21. The passage you will be analyzing has been selected for you (the list of passages is available as a Word document through Avenue to Learn). Read it carefully, both by itself and in context. Make sure that you understand how the passage fits into the book, novel, or poem/poetry collection as a whole. You will find it useful to read the passage several times, and even aloud.

2. Next, write on the passage everything that it suggests to you. This part of the assignment is called the annotation. You may print the passage out and annotate it by hand, circling and underlining words, drawing arrows – whatever helps to make your notations more comprehensible to your reader – or you may type it up as an electronic document and use your word processor’s notetaking function. Think of the annotation as an exercise in squeezing as much meaning as possible out of the text. A successful annotation selects an important passage and picks up on stylistic details of language and structure, on thematic issues, on repetitions and returns. You should focus both on what the passage says or means, and on how it says what it says, how it means what it means. Here are some questions and tips to help you get started:

― Who’s narrating or speaking? What kind of voice is this? How does this matter?

― Does the passage articulate a conflict, or appear to resolve a conflict? Does it make an

            argument? How? What “story” is the story telling?

─ If the passage introduces a significant theme, metaphor, image, or trope, what does it have to

            say about this theme? What and how does the metaphor, image, or trope, signify? Are the

            allusions “straight” or are we being asked to rethink or reread the text alluded to?

― Do the themes or images present in the passage appear elsewhere in the text? Thinking about

            how a particular theme or image is developed in the text as a whole can help you think

            about how it is developed in the passage you have been asked to annotate.

― Think about what is apparently being said vs. how it is being said. Does the “how

            complement or undercut the “what”?

― Scrutinize parts of the passage that appear ambiguous, confusing, or contradictory. Meaning

            is often to be found in such moments of difficulty.

― What does the passage leave unsaid? How might this silence be significant?

― Take a look at the context in which the passage appears. Why is the passage where it is? Does

            the context shed any light on the significance of the passage or how it signifies?

Always remember to ask yourself the “so what” question: if you make an observation about the

text, you must always follow this up by asking “so what”? How does it matter that the word “blue” is repeated throughout the passage, or that the sentences are very short?

Component 2: From Annotation to Argument (50%)

Consider the passage that you have just annotated. Based on your reading of the passage, and drawing on any course concepts introduced thus far, write one or two well-crafted sentences in which you discuss the significance of some element (or some combination of elements) of the passage for the text as a whole.

This part of the exercise is designed to help you move from noticing and making sense of textual details to transforming these observations into larger claims about the text. In developing your argument about the significance of the passage for the text as a whole, you do not need to reference or account for all of the things you have noticed about it. Rather, select one or a few of your most striking – most interesting – observations, and ask yourself what argument (about the text as a whole) this observation could be used to support. In composing your sentence(s), you may find the following structure useful to follow as a rough guide: in this passage, [elements a and b] do/suggest/hint/undercut/complicate/contradict/fuel [x and y about the text].

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late work: essays are due in tutorial during the weeks indicated.  Late assignments will be penalized two percentage points per day (excluding weekends). Students are expected to retain a copy of each essay they submit. Please check the detailed late policy posted on the course website for more information.

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

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 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 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:

Schedule of Readings and Assignments (subject to revision)

Please note: tutorials begin the week of January 14 and end the week of April 1

January 7                                 Introductions

January 9                                 Thomas King, The Truth About Stories (Chapters I and II)

January 14                               Writing Workshop: Reading Closely

January 16                               Thomas King, The Truth About Stories (Chapters III and IV)

January 21                               Thomas King, The Truth About Stories (complete)

January 23                              M. G. Vassanji, Nostalgia (Chapters 1 – 10)

January 28                               M. G. Vassanji, Nostalgia (Chapters 11 – 18)

January 30                               M. G. Vassanji, Nostalgia (Chapters 19 – 26)

Essay 1 due in tutorial the week of February 4

February 4                               M. G. Vassanji, Nostalgia (complete)

February 6                               David Chariandy, Soucouyant (Chapters 1 and 2)

February 11                             David Chariandy, Soucouyant (Chapters 3 and 4)

February 13                        David Chariandy, Soucouyant (Chapters 5)

February 18                             Reading Week

February 20                             Reading Week

February 25                             David Chariandy, Soucouyant (Chapters 6)

February 27                             Dionne Brand, No Language is Neutral (pp. 3 – 16)

March 4                                   Dionne Brand, No Language is Neutral (pp. 9 – 31 )

March 6                                Dionne Brand, No Language is Neutral (complete)

March 11                                 Writing Workshop: Building Complex Arguments

March 13                                Solmaz Sharif, Look (Part I)

March 18                                 Solmaz Sharif, Look (Part II)

March 20                                 Solmaz Sharif, Look (Part III)

Essay 2 due in tutorial the week of March 25

March 25                                 Solmaz Sharif, Look (complete)

March 27                                 Daniel Coleman, Yardwork (pp. 7 – 12)

April 1                                     Daniel Coleman, Yardwork (pp. 13 – 90)

April 3                                     Daniel Coleman, Yardwork (pp. 91 – 162)

April 8                                     Daniel Coleman, Yardwork (complete)