online syllabus:


electronic reserves:

password (300)

halle library website:

class handouts:



section one, two, three


English 300W: Writing about Literature

fall 2007

Dr. Abby Coykendall

acoykenda at

Office: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G

Office Phone: 487-0147 (messages only)

Office Hours: MW 12:15-1:30; Th 1:00-3:30 PM

~ or email for an appointment ~

REGISTRATION # 17894; Section #007
MONDAY 6:30-9:10 Pm
Pray Harrold Hall 609


English 300W: Writing about Literature

Course Description: This course will not only provide the background in literature and literary criticism necessary to appreciate and comprehend upper-division literature classes, but it will also furnish the writing and critical-thinking skills necessary to succeed in them.  To this end, we will focus on the three major literary genres (fiction, poetry, and drama), along with surveying the wide variety of interpretive practices and critical strategies that scholars and students have used to approach them.  We will pay especial attention to those approaches that are most representative of the major movements in literary criticism; namely, marxism, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, feminism, queer theory, and cultural studies.  The ultimate aim is to offer a forum in which you can develop and refine your writing and critical-thinking skills at an advanced level, particularly by honing those techniques that most assist in and apply to the study of literature. 

Course Objectives: By the end of the semester, you will have become

¬    Conversant in the techniques, thematic concerns, and formal structure of the principal literary genres;

¬    Acquainted with the history, terminology, and theoretical positions of the major schools of literary criticism;

¬    Capable of applying this new knowledge in writing, first and foremost by developing clear, coherent, and persuasive arguments that reflect the conventions of literary criticism. 

Required Texts

The following books are available at Ned’s (; 483-6400; 707 W. Cross St.):

Literary Criticism [LC].  Ed. Charles E. Bressler.  4th ed. (Prentice Hall, 2006; ISBN 0131534483)

Writing about Literature [WL].  Ed. Janet E. Gardner (Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003; ISBN 0312412827)

Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Signet, 1958; ISBN 0451171128)

Make sure to get the same editions listed above even if you purchase the books online, where they may be significantly less expensive; otherwise, the differing page numbers will make it difficult for you to follow along with class discussions.  The most reliable way to get the correct edition is to search by the ISBN number, a fingerprint of sorts for the book.

Some of the required reading is in the Electronic Reserves (ER):  Print the ER materials in advance as each section of the course begins.  Computers are available for your use on the first floor of the Halle library, along with free printing and technicians to answer questions.  ** Make sure to bring a copy of each text that we will be discussing to class, whether it be a book or a handout from the ER.  You will need to have read the assigned material, and have it on hand, for groupwork and class discussions.

Course Itinerary


Section One:

Psychoanalytic and Feminist Criticism

(Fiction Case Study)

Main Texts:

Isak Dinesen, “The Dreamers”

Sigmund Freud and Monique Wittig

Key Skills:

Organization &


Section Two:

Reader Response and Marxist Criticism

(Poetry Case Study)

Main Texts:

Survey of Select Poems

Stanley Fish and Karl Marx

One Article of Literary Criticism

Key Skills:

Close Textual Analysis & Effective Quotation

Section Three:

Post-Structuralism and Cultural Studies

(Drama Case Study)

Main Texts:

Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner

Outside Research (Context, Criticism, & Theory)

Key Skills:

Research &


Each of the three sections of the course is devoted to one genre of literature (fiction, poetry, or drama), two or more schools of literary criticism, and two writing skills of especial importance: organization and argumentation (section one); in-depth textual analysis and effective quotation (section two); and finally research and documentation (section three).  An essay will be due at the end of each section, with the third essay serving in lieu of a final exam.  That essay must demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the writing and critical thinking skills covered throughout the term.  **See the “Guidelines on Essays” for the requirements for specific essays:

Assignments & Assessment

As with any university course, the homework will take around two hours per week for every unit of the class, and you can thus expect to spend six hours completing the assignments and readings each week.  You will do a significant amount of writing throughout the semester, whether informal responses or more formal essays.  With the responses, the mechanical elements of writing do not matter in the least, and the goal is to express ideas freely and openly; with the essays, the mechanical elements of writing must be attended to very thoroughly and the goal is to defend a focused argument clearly, coherently, and persuasively.  

The participation grade, largely based on responses, in-class writing, and homework assignments, is a considerable portion of your final grade—25%—so keep up with the coursework and contribute to class discussions as much as you feel comfortable.  Aside from assignments that cannot be made up after the due date (like quizzes or exercises), homework is marked down only minimally for being late; however, late homework will receive no commentary so turning assignments in on time is still very important.  Nothing will be considered late simply because you were absent (I always assume that you have a good reason for missing class), but be careful not to exceed the minimum number of absences allowed for the course.


Responses, Homework, & Participation

minimum length:

due dates:


Essay One (Fiction)

4 pgs.

October 15


Essay Two (Poetry)

4 pgs.

November 19


Essay Three (Drama)

4½ pgs.

December 17


Attendance, Lateness, and Classroom Etiquette

Because this course primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—attendance is crucial.  After three absences, your final grade will start being deducted by one full grade; that is, the fourth class missed will turn a final grade of an A into a B; the fifth will turn a final grade of an A into a C, and so on.  These three absences are for emergencies, so make sure to conserve them for the end of the term when you may become ill or have other extenuating circumstances. 

It is your responsibility to ensure that you have not been marked absent because you were late.  Leaving halfway through a class period or arriving halfway into one each count as half an absence.  Please do not distract other students by coming in late, leaving the room, or answering your cell phone.  Once you enter class, do not exit the room unless there is a genuine emergency.  There will always be a break halfway through the class for you to use the facilities or take care of personal business. 

Raise your hand and bring whatever questions or concerns you have to the attention of the entire class instead of talking with other students during class time.  Most students will problem share whatever questions you have and will welcome clarification about them. Also make sure to listen to the comments of your fellow students with the same respect and attention that you would want your own comments to receive.

Academic Integrity

Plagiarism is a very serious offense against the Code of Student Conduct (  Any plagiarized writing will automatically result in a failing, zero-percent grade for the assignment, as well as in further disciplinary action from the Student Judicial Services if egregious. 

The general rule is that if you use three or more words of another writer in a row without enclosing those words in quotation marks and acknowledging your source, you are guilty of plagiarism.  See for more specific guidelines. **Note: turning a paper in that you wrote for another course for this class, i.e. recycling the same words for double credit, also constitutes academic dishonesty at EMU. 


Section I: Psychoanalytic and Feminist Criticism (Fiction Case Study)

September 10: Survey Course; Student Introductions; Conjectural Response; Discuss “Theme for English B”/Homework: 1) Get course books and review the syllabus, noting down any questions that you have; 2) Read “Role of Good Reading” in Writing about Literature (WL), pg. 3-13 and Isak Dinesen, “The Dreamers” in the Electronic Reserves (ER), pg. 271-335 (; password 300); 3) Make up the Conjectural Response if you missed class [ER].

September 17: Discuss Dinesen, Approaches to Literature/Homework: 1) Read Sigmund Freud, “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming” [ER 500-514]; “Psychoanalytic Criticism” [LC 142-61]; and “Analyzing Fiction” [ER 1-21]; 2) If you are in Group One, write a response on “The Dreamers” from a psychoanalytic point of view, directly incorporating and analyzing a quote from Freud; if you are in Group Two, write a response on “The Dreamers” using one of the questions from “Analyzing Fiction” (20-21) as a bouncing off point for your analysis; if you are in Group Three, write a response on “The Dreamers” from what you believe would be a feminist point of view (make your best effort to speculate about feminism, preferably without reading ahead in LC). All responses for this class should be at least 300 words (roughly two full paragraphs) either typed or handwritten.

September 24: Discuss Psychoanalysis, Dinesen, Responses/Homework: 1) Review the Guidelines on Essays (; 2) Read Monique Wittig, “One is Not Born a Woman” [ER 1637-42]; “Feminism” [LC 167-86]; and “Writing Process” [WL 14-37]; 3) See the “Sample Research Essay” [WL 129]; 4) After reviewing the “Sample Essay” file (, use it to write an introductory paragraph with a solid thesis for Essay One (adapt the file by substituting your own title, name, introduction, and other information, deleting the other words and replacing them with your own). **NOTE: Save a second copy of this file on disk for future essays, changing the specific information as the need arises without altering the margins or fonts.

October 1: Discuss Feminism, Dinesen, Essays/Homework: 1) Read “Some Common Writing Assignments” and “Writing about Stories” [WL 38-50, 54-57], looking at the “Sample Paper” if you find that helpful [75+]; 2) Review “Guidelines on Essay Formatting and Organization[ER]; 3) Add at least three body paragraphs to Essay One, revising the introduction as needed; 4) **NOTE: You must bring TWO copies of the resulting draft to next class for Peer Editing.

October 8: Capstone of Section One, Jigsaw of Essay Guidelines, Peer Editing/Homework: 1) Finish Essay One, 4 pgs., due Oct. 15; 2) Begin “Writing about Poetry” [ER 200-213]; 3) Review “Things to Think about When You Think about Poetry” [ER]; 4) Read the Poetry Packet [ER].

Section II: Reader Response and Marxism (Poetry Case Study)

October 15: Discuss Poetry, Poems, and Poetic Devices/Homework: 1) Continue “Writing about Poetry” [ER 213-20]; 2) Read “New Criticism” and “Reader-Oriented Criticism” [LC 54-65, 72-82, 88-90]; 3) After rereading the poems in the Poetry Packet [ER], pick one on which to write a response; 4) If you are in Group One, analyze the poem from a new critical point of view; if you are in Group Two, analyze the poem from what you believe a marxist point of view would be (make your best effort to speculate about marxism, preferably without reading ahead in LC); if you are in Group Three, analyze the poem from a reader-response point of view.

October 22: Discuss New Criticism, Reader Response Criticism, and the Responses/Homework: 1) Finish “Writing about Poetry” [ER 221-42]; 2) Read Karl Marx, “Meaning of Human Requirements” [ER 93-98] and “Marxism” [LC 191-205]; 3) Review the Guidelines on Essays; 4) Bring a sketch of a potential topic and provisional thesis for Essay Two (handwritten or typed) to the conference on 10/29.

October 29: Individual Conferences in Lieu of Regular Class (See Conference Schedule)/Homework: 1) Review materials from the previous week, rereading the Marx essay and bringing all of the Section Two materials to class; 2) Read Stanley Fish, “How to Recognize a Poem When You See One” [ER 1022-30]; 3) Adapting the “Sample Essay” file from before, write an outline for Essay Two, including an introductory paragraph, a solid thesis statement, as well as 3 to 4 complete sentences to serve as the topic sentences (see the “Guidelines on Essay Formatting[ER]).

November 5: Discuss Marx, Fish, & Poetry; Workshop Outlines/Homework: 1) Read “Quoting from Poems” [WL 80] and “Modernity and Postmodernism” [LC 96-133]; 2) Add at least three body paragraphs to Essay Two, revising the introduction as needed; 3) **NOTE: You must bring TWO copies of the resulting draft to next class for Peer Editing.

November 12: Peer Editing; Watch & discuss the film Derrida/Homework: 1) Finish Essay Two, 4 pgs., due Nov. 19; 2) Read Act One of Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Section III: Post-Structuralism and Cultural Studies (Drama Case Study)

November 19: Watch & Discuss Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)/Homework: 1) Read “Analyzing Drama” [ER 42-53]; 2) Finish Tennessee Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; 3) Write down one good discussion question for your peers about the Williams play and be prepared to write on one of their questions next class; 4) Review the Guidelines on the Research Essay and Researching Literature (

November 26: Discuss Williams, Discussion Questions, and Research Demo/Homework: 1) Read Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner, “Sex in Public” [ER 187-94]; “Cultural Studies” [LC 233-63]; and “Writing a Literary Research Paper” [WL 102-20]; 2) Write down the following to discuss in class (make a copy to keep for yourself if it is handwritten): i) the topic or topics that you considering focusing on for Essay Three, ii) one question that you want your research and the resulting essay to answer (the question prompting what will become your thesis after more investigation), iii) the theorist that you are considering using as a source, iv) the historical or cultural context that you will need to research to make your argument more persuasive.

December 3: Discuss Williams, Research Essays, and MLA Documentation/Homework: 1) Read “Quoting from Plays” [WL 85-86]; 2) Find all four of the outside sources required for the research essay, reading the two articles of literary criticism in full and bringing those to class for further discussion; 3) After reading “Preparing your Works Cited List” [WL 120-28], make a Works Cited page of your own for Essay Three formatted according to MLA conventions; 4) If you have any questions about formatting or research, note them down so that we can discuss them in class.

December 10: Discuss Williams, Research Essays, and MLA Documentation/Homework: 1) Finish Essay Three, 4½ pgs., due Dec. 17; 2) Prepare for a brief, 5-min. presentation about your topic, thesis, research, and critical approach.

December 17: Research Presentations



Online Handouts and Links for English 300 (Fall 2007)

·       Course Schedule (

·       Course Syllabus (

·       Electronic Reserves (

·       Extra-Credit Opportunities (

·       Glossary of Literary Terms [Norton Anthology] (

·       Grading Symbols (

·       Guidelines on Essay Formatting and Organization (

·       Guidelines on Essays (

·       Guidelines on the Research Essay (

·       List of Group Assignments (

·       Merriam-Webster Dictionary (

·       Researching Literature (

·       Roget's Thesaurus (

·       Sample Essay File (

·       Writing about Literature [Norton Anthology] (



 [Syllabus last modified September 10, 2007]