English 3540

Contemporary American Literature

Utah Valley State College
Fall 2003
Section 01
MWF 2:00-2:50, SB 114


Instructor: Ryan Simmons
Office: LA 109H
Phone: 863-6290 (x6290)
E-mail: simmonry@uvsc.edu
Office hours: MWF 12:00-1:50, or by appt.


Alexie, Sherman. The Summer of Black Widows. New York: Hanging Loose Press, 1996.

Diaz, Junot. Drown. New York: Riverhead, 1996.

Edson, Margaret. Wit. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1999.

Eggers, Dave. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. New York: Vintage, 2000.

Moore, Lorrie. Birds of America. New York: Picador, 1998.

Ozeki, Ruth L. My Year of Meats. New York: Penguin, 1998.

Wallace, David Foster. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997.

Whitehead, Colson. John Henry Days. New York: Anchor, 2001.

Course Description

This course explores the literary work currently produced by American writers. Although we will closely scrutinize the writing of eight emerging authors in various genres--novel, short-story collection, poetry collection, memoir, play, and essay--our primary goal will be to establish contexts and strategies for reading contemporary American literature. In other words, this is a course about eight authors, but also about the nature of reading and writing in the United States today. We will look for trends and modes of thought (such as postmodernism and realism), and examine how individual writers situate themselves within and outside of them. In this discussion-oriented course, we will actively consider questions such as the following:

Course Requirements

Online Journal (20%): At least once a week, you are expected to contribute a journal response to course readings; these journal entries must be submitted online at a WebCT site that has been developed for our course. (Submitting your journal electronically requires you to have a UVSC network ID and access to the Internet, both of which are automatically available to you as an enrolled student. If you need help with this, let me know and I'll point you in the right direction.) I will provide instructions for accessing our WebCT site in class, and will also be available to guide you through the process individually if you'd like. Offline entries are permissible if you are momentarily unable to access the Web, but generally you should try to post entries online. Journal entries should be analytical in nature--raising questions, advancing theories, exploring implications, etc. In most cases, they should concern themselves with readings we are about to discuss, although occasionally you may follow up on a class discussion after the fact. Because all participants' entries will be visible online to everyone else in the class, the entries should also be dialogic--that is, you should read and, as appropriate, respond to each others' ideas, thoughts, and questions.

Participation (20%): This portion of your grade measures the contribution you've made to classroom discussions on a day-to-day basis. Quality counts as well as quantity. Keeping up with the reading assignments, being involved in classroom discussion, and respectfully engaging with others' points of view are factors that count in your favor. Missing class repeatedly will seriously impair this portion of your grade; so can habitual tardiness. Each participant will also be responsible for helping lead class discussion at least twice, which will be factored as part of your participation grade.

Essays and Exams (60%): Three essays and/or exams will each factor in at 20% of your grade. Various permutations are possible, namely:

A midterm and a final exam will be held, but you are not required to take them. As long as you submit at least three items for assessment at 20% each, in accordance with relevant due dates (see below), this part of your grade will be fulfilled. You may submit/take more than the minimum of three items, in which case your three best scores will be recorded.

NOTE: If you wish to submit more than one essay, at least one must be in my hands by 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 15. Thus, if Oct. 15 passes and you have not either (A) taken the midterm or (B) submitted an essay, you will lose at least 20% of your grade. The remaining essay(s) must be submitted by Friday, Dec. 5.

If you skip either the midterm or the final, you are expected, instead, to make an appointment with me to discuss your essay-in-progress.

Essay Policies

  1. Essays should be typed and double-spaced and include a title and page numbers. Essays are not graded on length, but rather on their ability to capture and persuade a reader. This ability arises from correctness of prose, and also from factors including clear expression, thoughtful organization, originality, completeness, and adequate support.

  2. In order to receive a passing grade, an essay must articulate and support an original analysis, moving well beyond summary of other writers' ideas and words.

  3. Material from outside sources must be cited completely and correctly using MLA style.

  4. I am always willing to read and critique work in progress, and to answer questions about your writing. When turning in an essay to be graded, you are expected to submit the best work you are capable of doing, given time constraints; thus, revisions will not be accepted after an essay has been graded.

Academic Honesty

Any course work that is found to violate UVSC's standards of academic honesty will be dealt with as laid out in the college's statement on "Student Rights and Responsibilities." Please read these standards, and the consequences for violating them, carefully, noting that the repercussions are always severe. In particular, be aware that plagiarism is a severe violation of both college policy and the policy of this course.

Plagiarism, or the use of others' words or ideas without proper attribution, is an impediment to your education and to the educational mission of Utah Valley State College. Under the policy of the English and Literature Department of UVSC, work that has been plagiarized must receive a failing grade. A distinction is made between unintentionally plagiarized work, which must be corrected in order to be considered for a passing grade, and intentional plagiarism, which will be forwarded to the Office of the Dean of Student Life as a disciplinary matter in accordance with UVSC's statement on Student Rights and Responsibilities. Please refer to http://www.uvsc.edu/engl/plag/plagiarism_policy.html to read the department's full statement on plagiarism, and speak to your instructor if you have any questions about avoiding plagiarism.

Disability Accommodation

If you have a disability that may influence your ability to meet the requirements of this course, please contact the UVSC Accessibility Service Department (Room BU145) as soon as possible. Any necessary accommodations, as arranged by the Accessibility Service Department, will be made.


W 8/27Introduction to course
F 8/29Wallace, "E Unibus Plurum: Television and U.S. Fiction" (A Supposedly Fun Thing pp. 21-82)
W 9/3Wallace, "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," "Greatly Exaggerated" (Supposedly pp. 3-20, 138-145)
F 9/5Wallace, "Getting Away from Already Pretty Much Being Away from It All" (Supposedly pp. 83-137)
M 9/8Wallace, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," Parts 1-11 (Supposedly pp. 256-306)
W 9/10Wallace, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," Parts 12-13 (Supposedly pp. 306-353)
F 9/12Diaz, "Ysrael," "Fiesta, 1980" (Drown pp. 1-43)
M 9/15Diaz, "Aurora," "Aguantando" (Drown pp. 45-88)
W 9/17Diaz, "Drown," "Boyfriend" (Drown pp. 89-107)
F 9/19TBA
M 9/22Diaz, "Edison, New Jersey," " "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie" (Drown pp. 119-149)
W 9/24Diaz, "No Face," "Negocios" (Drown pp. 151-208)
F 9/26Alexie, "Why We Play Basketball" and "Father and Farther" sections (The Summer of Black Widows pp. 9-46)
M 9/29Alexie, "Sister Fire, Brother Smoke" and "Grand Entry" sections (Summer pp. 47-74)
W 10/1Alexie, "Tourists" and "To Find Sasquatch" sections (Summer pp. 75-110)
F 10/3Alexie, "Bob's Coney Island" section (Summer pp. 111-139)
M 10/6Ozeki, My Year of Meats Prologue-Ch. 4 (pp. 1-83)
W 10/8Ozeki, My Year of Meats Chs. 5-8 (pp. 85-197)
F 10/10TBA
M 10/13Ozeki, My Year of Meats Chs. 9-10 (pp. 199-284)
W 10/15Ozeki, My Year of Meats Ch. 11-Epilogue (pp. 285-361); FIRST ESSAY DUE
W 10/22Moore, "Willing," "Which Is More Than I Can Say about Some People" (Birds of America pp. 5-46)
F 10/24Moore, "Dance in America," "Community Life," "Agnes of Iowa" (Birds pp. 47-95)
M 10/27Moore, "Charades," "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens," "Beautiful Grade" (Birds pp. 96-142)
W 10/29Moore, "What You Want to Do Fine," "Real Estate" (Birds pp. 143-211)
F 10/31Moore, "People Like That Are the Only People Here" (Birds pp. 212-250)
M 11/3Moore, "Terrific Mother" (Birds pp. 251-291)
W 11/5Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius Front matter and Part I (pp. iii-xlv and 1-45)
F 11/7Eggers, Heartbreaking Parts II-IV (pp. 47-122)
M 11/10Eggers, Heartbreaking Parts V-VI (pp. 123-237)
W 11/12Eggers, Heartbreaking Parts VII-VIII (pp. 239-310)
F 11/14Eggers, Heartbreaking Parts IX-X (pp. 311-406)
M 11/17Eggers, Heartbreaking Part XI (pp. 406-437); Optional: Addendum, "Mistakes We Knew We Were Making"
W 11/19Edson, Wit pp. 5-30
F 11/21Edson, Wit pp. 31-51
M 11/24Edson, Wit pp. 52-66
W 11/26Whitehead, John Henry Days Prologue and Part 1 (pp. 1-79)
M 12/1Whitehead, John Henry Days Part 2 (pp. 81-142)
W 12/3Whitehead, John Henry Days Part 3 (pp. 143-241)
F 12/5Whitehead, John Henry Days Part 4 (pp. 243-337); REMAINING ESSAYS DUE
M 12/8Whitehead, John Henry Days Part 5 (pp. 339-389)
W 12/10Course wrap-up
here for Ryan Simmons's main homepage.