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ENGLISH 2C03 Contem Can Fiction (C01)

Academic Year: Fall 2019

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Lorraine York


Office: Chester New Hall 304

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23739

Office Hours: Tuesdays 3:00-4:00PM

Course Objectives:

            This course takes the temporal designation of its title—“contemporary”—seriously, focusing on a selection of 6 fictional texts published in Canada in 2017 and 2018, in order to offer students as much as possible the experience of reading fiction today. At the same time, as will become apparent in many of the texts under discussion, the contemporary is, as Giorgio Agamben so memorably put it, a “relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it.” Many of these texts, while appearing in the present moment, meditate deeply on the ways in which the present is compounded of the narratives and legacies of the past, as well as the imagining of potential futures.

            The designation “Canadian” in our title is even more tenuous, since not all of the authors represented on our course identify with the geopolitical entity that that term refers to. This will inspire an important tension in our readings of this fiction, as contesting understandings of nation and belonging present themselves in this literature.

            This course also anchors itself in contemporary debates about the institution of “Canadian Literature,” or “CanLit”: debates that have to do with social justice, power, representation, access to publication, appropriation of voice, and resistance to official or widely celebrated national narratives.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:


Online essays by Giorgio Agamben, Alicia Elliott

Esi Edugyan, Washington Black (ISBN 978-1-4434-5958-7)

Sharon Bala, The Boat People (ISBN 978-0-7710-2429-0)

David Chariandy, Brother (ISBN 978-0-7710-2333-0)

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost (ISBN 978-1-4870-0127-8)

Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves (ISBN 978-1-77086-486-3)

Jillian Tamaki, Boundless (ISBN 978-1770462878)

Avenue to Learn site for the Course: will contain powerpoints and other course materials. You will also submit your essays for the course on Avenue, and I will return them to you there.


Method of Assessment:


1 short diagnostic essay (750-800 words): 20% due October 3rd on Avenue and to Turnitin

1 longer essay (1500-2000 words): 40% November 12th on Avenue and to Turnitin

Final exam: 40%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Speak with Dr.York 

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 for the Lectures:

September 3: Introduction to the course

September 5: The Contemporary and the contemporary moment of “CanLit”

Readings:  Giorgio Agamben, “What is the Contemporary?” found at:

            Alicia Elliott, “CanLit is a Raging Dumpster Fire,” available at:

10, 12, 17, 19: Washington Black

24, 26, October 1, 3: The Boat People

                                    [October 3rd: Diagnostic Essay due]

8, 10, 22, 24: This Accident of Being Lost

            [mid-term break: no classes October 15, 17]

29, 31, November 5: Brother

7, 12, 14: The Marrow Thieves

                                    [November 12th: Longer Essay due]

19, 21, 26, 28: Boundless

December 3: review

Information about Essays:

            Diagnostic essay: This short piece of writing allows your marker and myself to see a sample of your writing, and it allows you to gain an idea of the marking standards in the course before you submit a longer piece of work. Format: MLA style (see details here: ).

            For information about essay writing, I recommend a series of YouTube videos developed at McMaster a few years ago that deal with:

1. Introduction to University Writing:

2. Phases of Writing:

3. Editing (Introduction):

4. Editing (Sentences and Grammar):

4. Editing (Concision):

5. Editing (“So What” Analysis):

Some of the details in these videos may be dated (Siri, what is a “tape recorder”??), but they contain a good deal of useful advice.

Expectations of Essays:

  • have a clear thesis or organizing argument
  • write in paragraphs that are logically consecutive
  • write in a grammatically proper, error-free style
  • follow MLA style (directions at end of course description)
  • draw upon secondary sources in the longer paper especially but make those sources truly secondary to your own critical argument
  • do not exceed or fall short of the length requirement
  • fully reference secondary sources in accordance with Academic Integrity policies

These are the grading expectations of the department and this course:

First Class (A+, A, A-): Excellent. The essay thoughtfully develops an interesting thesis or shows a sophisticated understanding of concepts under study. The student is in command of the topic and shows some originality and enthusiasm in discussing it. The essay is well organized, convincingly argued, and clearly expressed --

a pleasure to read. It is virtually free of errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation, and uses the conventions of scholarly documentation correctly.

Second Class (B+, B, B-): Very Good to Good. A competent, accurate treatment of its topic but not as sophisticated as essays in the A range. The essay is well written and has a clear thesis or shows a good grasp of concepts under study. Essays at the bottom of this range may not have fully digested the material, and may lean uncritically on secondary sources. The organization is good and the sentences are all comprehensible. There are few errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation. The essay follows standard conventions of scholarly documentation.

Third Class (C+, C, C-): Good to Fair. A fairly basic or superficial treatment of the question or a fuzzy comprehension of concepts under study. The thesis is unclear, or trivial, or undeveloped. Much of the essay is summary or paraphrase, with only occasional analytical comment. There may be inaccuracies; essays at the bottom of this range may rely exclusively on secondary sources. The essay is disjointed; some sentences may be convoluted and incomprehensible. There may be mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation, as well as carelessness about scholarly documentation.

Credit (D+, D, D-): Poor. Has serious inaccuracies or inconsistencies. The student has some grasp of the topic, but not much. Where sources are cited, they tend to be misused or misinterpreted. The student may express opinions, but does not support them with evidence or argument. The essay lacks coherence, is unclear, and has many errors in grammar, spelling and punctuation.

Failure (F): Below University Standards. A serious misunderstanding or inability to grasp basic concepts. The essay is disorganized, obscure, full of grammatical errors, and difficult to understand.



Other Course Information:

Important Note 1: In the event of class cancellations, students will be notified on Avenue and the English Department Website.  It is your responsibility to check these sites regularly for any such announcements.

Link:  (Department)

Link:  (avenue to learn)

Important Note 2: In this course we will be using a web-based service ( to reveal plagiarism. Students will be required to submit their work electronically to and in hard copy so that it can be checked for academic dishonesty.

Link:, for more information:

See McMaster’s Office of Academic Integrity website for more information: policy, processes, etc.:

Important Note 3: Email 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 the 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.

*          Students will be requested to complete an online course evaluation at the end of the course.

                            I am excited to read these texts with you. Have a wonderful semester! Dr. Y.