online syllabus:


electronic reserves:

password (300)

class handouts:




English 300W: Writing about Literature

Winter 2009

Dr. Abby Coykendall

acoykenda at

Office Hours: MW 2:00-4:00 & 9:10-9:40 PM

Office Location: Pray-Harrold Hall 603G

~ or email for appointments ~

Monday 6:30-9:10 Pm
Registration # 26041
Pray-Harrold Hall 317



English 300W: Writing about Literature

Course Description: ENGL 300W is a gateway class that provides the foundation in literature and literary theory that enables you to appreciate, understand, and succeed in upper-division classes.  Over the course of the semester, you will survey the most important critical theories that students have used to interpret literature (such as feminism, marxism, or cultural studies), focusing on three main literary genres in turn: fiction, poetry, and drama.  In the process, you will hone your writing and research skills, fine tuning those techniques that most assist in and apply to the study of literature.  The ultimate aim is to offer a hands-on workshop in which to practice and strengthen your literary critical skills, from the essential how-to’s of close reading and textual analysis to the communication of the discoveries that result in both conversation and writing.

Course Objectives: By the end of the semester, you will be better able to

*  Craft unique interpretations of literary works--and, hopefully, of life itself--by exploring new avenues of thought in class, asking challenging questions of yourself, your peers, and the text, and sharing the upshot of these investigations in writing;

*  Use techniques like in-depth analysis, interactive discussion, and outside research to enhance your enjoyment and comprehension of literature;

*  Recognize the formal and thematic concerns of the principal literary genres, as well as the significance of literary devices found within them (e.g. imagery or symbolism); 

*  Understand, and employ independently on your own, the major concepts and strategies of contemporary literary theory;

*  Engage with the community of literary critics and the larger public by making clear, coherent, compelling, and persuasive arguments about literary works in essays reflecting the basic conventions of literary criticism. 

General Education Rationale: The goals of ENGL 300W meet the outcomes for Writing Intensive courses in the Literature major and the Language, Literature, and Writing major very specifically.  The primary goals of the course are threefold: to have students learn and practice the primary forms of writing employed by professional scholars of English literature, to teach them methods of literary research, and to introduce them to the rich diversity of theoretical approaches to literary criticism early in their studies for the major.

Course Books and Materials

The following books are available at Ned’s bookstore (483-6400; 707 W. Cross St.).  If you order books online, make sure to get the same editions by double checking the ISBN number, a fingerprint of sorts for the book:




Robert Dale Parker, How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies
(Oxford UP, 2008; ISBN# 0195334701)

Tennessee Williams, Streetcar Named Desire  (New Directions, 2004; ISBN# 0811216020)


The remaining texts can be accessed online and then printed for free in any of the campus computer labs.  See the Electronic Reserves (ER):, password 300.  **Make sure to bring a copy of the texts that we are covering to class, whether found in the ER or in a book.  You will need everything on hand for group work and class discussions.

Course Itinerary


Section One:

Psychoanalysis & Feminism

 (Fiction Case Study)


Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Birthmark”

Angela Carter, “The Bloody Chamber”


Sigmund Freud

Naomi Wolf

John Berger

Key Skills:

Formal Awareness & Analysis, Effective Argument

Section Two:

Marxism & Deconstruction

 (Poetry Case Study)


Select poems by Baudelaire, e. e. cummings, Dickinson, Hughes, Millay, Piercy, Poe, Roethke, Shakespeare, & Paul Simon


Karl Marx

Jean Baudrillard

Donna Haraway

bell hooks

Key Skills:

Close Reading, Supporting Detail & Quotation

Section Three:

Postcolonial, Queer,
& Cultural Studies

(Drama Case Study)


Tennessee Williams, Suddenly Last Summer

& Streetcar Named Desire


Edward Said

Judith Butler

Ella Shohat

Key Skills:

Historical Context, Research & Documentation


For the most part, each section is devoted to two literary works, two types of critical theory, and two writing skills of especial importance.  An essay on one of the literary works of your choice (and incorporating quotes from two of the theorists of your choice) will be due after each section, with the third essay, a research essay, folding in additional sources that you will find on your own. 

Assignments & Assessment

Nothing is more vital for success in this course than keeping up with the assignments due each week.  Being prepared to discuss the reading in class, if only in small groups, is mandatory.  If an emergency prevents you from doing the homework, it is better not to come to class at all since you will get little from the lecture and discussion and potentially interfere with the learning of other students.  A brief, straight-forward quiz may be given at the beginning of the period to encourage you to come to class on time and prepared.

The grading of the second and third essays will be increasingly rigorous to account for your growing skills over the span of the term, though of course never onerously or excessively so.  With effort, every student in the class could receive an A if he or she carefully attends to the comments and feedback given on earlier essays.  The final essay, which serves in lieu of a final exam, must demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the skills covered throughout the term.

The Essay Requirements handout describes each of the assignments in detail (/req.htm), as well as the extra-credit opportunities available for you to supplement your learning.  Extra credit is an ideal way to get your grade back on track if you ever fall behind.  The Guidelines on the Research Essay, posted towards the end of the semester, will give further detail about the final essay (/guide.htm).

Grading Weights:


Participation: Homework, Responses, & Quizzes

minimum length:

due dates:


 Essay One (Fiction): On either the Carter or Hawthorne stories

4 pgs.

February 27
(8 AM)


 Essay Two (Poetry): On any of the Section Two poems

4 pgs.

March 31
(8 AM)


 Essay Three (Drama): On  one of the plays by Tennessee Williams

4˝ pgs.

April 25
(8 AM)

Grading Scale:





























Campus Resources & Safety

At some point in the term, you should take advantage of the Academic Projects Center, located in the Halle Library (Room 104).  This support center, open 11:00-5:00 Monday-Thursday, assists with the research, writing, and technology skills necessary for success in academic papers and research projects. 

Consider availing yourself as well of the campus escort service, Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, by calling 48-SEEUS (487-3387).  If you sign up for the emergency text-messaging system (, DPS can notify us of any calamity afflicting the class. 

Instructor Availability

I will be delighted to discuss any course-related questions, interests, or concerns during my office hours in person (603G Pray Harrold) or by phone (487-0147), as well as through email (acoykenda at at any time.  Email is the most reliable way to reach me outside of the office since the messaging system for my office phone is dysfunctional at best. 

Emails with straight-forward questions usually receive a reply within a few hours to a day; those with more complicated issues usually receive a reply before the next class period.  Please limit your emails to inquiries which I alone can answer so that I can give more pressing inquiries the attention that they deserve.  If, for example, you are unsure about a due date, consult the syllabus, the handouts (/hand.htm), or the peers in your group (/groups.htm), and then email me if that confusion persists. 

The first time that you visit my office hours in person with a course-related inquiry, such as to get help with the homework, to discuss the reading that we have lately covered, or to brainstorm essay ideas, I will give you 10 points extra credit for the visit. 


Because this class primarily consists of reading and discussion—rather than facts, figures, or memorization—regular attendance is crucial.  You will never need to explain your absences, as I always assume that you have an excellent reason to miss class.  However, if you have more than 2 absences, your final grade will be reduced by a full mark, and if you have more than 3 absences, you will no longer be able to pass the class.  That is, the third absence would turn a final grade of A into a B and the fourth would turn it into an E.

Reserve absences for illnesses, car accidents, or other emergencies that truly prevent you from coming, and make sure not to exhaust the allowable absences too early in the term.  When you must be absent, contact the students in your group (/groups.htm) to share notes or determine what you missed.  Do not contact me to get your absence excused.  All absences up to the third are excused automatically, and the missed homework is simply due on your return.  Any changes to the schedule will be sent to the class as a whole by email.


The most essential information—due dates, assignment instructions, clarifications of outstanding issues—is given at the beginning of class, so it is important to come on time.  Try to arrive early just in case you encounter any problems along the way (traffic jams, late busses, no parking).  When you must be late, make sure to mark yourself present on the attendance sheet.  Arriving halfway into the period or leaving halfway through the period each count as half an absence.  Extreme or habitual lateness can result in absences as well.

Classroom Etiquette

It is important to be mindful of your peers in class, listening to them with the same respect and attention that you hope to receive yourself.  Once class begins, do not distract your peers by text messaging, browsing the web, or packing up books before the period is finished.  Instead of disturbing nearby students with half-whispered inquires, raise your hand and bring these issues to the attention of class, especially since many of the other students will have the same questions anyway. 

Most importantly, do not walk in or out of the room unless there is a genuine emergency.  If you have a medical condition requiring you to exit from time to time, bring a formal doctor’s note affirming as such; otherwise, stay in the room for the duration of the period and reserve personal business for the break midway through the class.  If you must leave prematurely, do not interrupt class yet again by coming back.  Disruptive exits can be both mental and physical; for example, students discovered using laptops for purposes unrelated to the course will be asked to leave and marked absent.

Academic Integrity

Fundamental to any college course is the free expression of thought, which requires not only learning the subject at hand, but being able to make independent judgments about it.  Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty, and doing all course work on your own, is therefore imperative.  Copying the homework of peers, having parents or roommates do your assignments, taking credit for essays which you find on the internet, or recycling your own essays for double credit are all forms of plagiarism, and for very good reason.  Each interferes with the sole purpose, and the unique privilege, of going to college; namely, the unfettered exercise of an informed mind.

Plagiarism is, put simply, taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  Whether you are drawing on Wikipedia for mundane (and quite possibly specious) information or channeling the most holy of holy books for heavenly inspiration, you must acknowledge when you make use of concepts and/or expressions of other people without any exception under any circumstances.  When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to specify  as such (So and so says X ... ); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (So and so says, “X”).  Writing that lacks these acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source. 

Any cheating, plagiarism, or other academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment.  Any second instance of academic dishonesty will result in outright failure of the course.  There is no excuse for academic dishonesty, nor any exceptions to this policy. 



Online Handouts and Links

Course Schedule                                           (

Course Syllabus                                            (

Electronic Reserves                                      (

Group Assignments                                     (

Extra-Credit Opportunities                          (

Essay Requirements                                     (

Sample Essay File                                        (

Peer Workshop Handout                             (

Checklist for Essay Three                            (

Merriam-Webster Dictionary                       (

Guidelines on the Research Essay               (

Researching Literature                                 (



[Syllabus last modified January 5, 2009]