Syllabus and Assignments

ENG 353: Women and the Contemporary Novel
Summer Session I, 2017
Course website:

Instructor: Laura McGrath
Office hours on Skype by appointment

Course Description: How are women writers shaping the contemporary novel? What topics, themes, or styles typify contemporary novels written by women? How are women authors and their works marketed, discussed, and celebrated? During this summer course, we will read five (fabulous) books, all published after 2010, that represent a number of trends in contemporary literature—global literature, literature in translation, auto-fiction, upmarket fiction, and commercial fiction—that reflect on both the changing form of the novel and intersectional feminisms in the 21st century. In addition, we will consider communities of female authorship and criticism made possible through popular online communities such as The Hairpin, Rookie, The Toast, and Avidly, as well as private Facebook groups like Pantsuit Nation.

Required Books (in order)
Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, ISBN: 978-0307455925
My Brilliant Friend– Elena Ferrante, ISBN: 978-1609450786
The Argonauts– Maggie Nelson, ISBN: 978-1555977351
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel, ISBN: 978-0804172448
Book of the Month Selection, decided by class vote (see below)

Required Technology
You will need to have access to certain digital technologies in order to complete your work. In some instances, these technologies may be new to you. You are responsible for making time to ramp up, troubleshoot, and learn.

· Access to our course website:
· Your email account
· A Slack account. Follow instructions to sign-up for Slack on our course website. Only your fellow classmates and I will be able to see this channel, so it is relatively private. See for tips and tutorials about how to use Slack effectively for class communication.

Course Objectives

– To read widely, and well
– To survey a selection of trends in the contemporary novel
– To think critically about the ways in which women authors respond to and participate in these trends
– To consider forms of authorship made available to and by women
– To learn to respond thoughtfully and critically to contemporary literature
– To participate in online reading communities

This will be a reading-heavy, interaction-lite course. You will be assessed in a variety of formats, all of which will require you to reflect critically and specifically on the reading that you have completed. You will be assessed through four primary mechanisms: vlogs, blogs, a short essay or creative piece, and a long essay. The best, most successful students will discuss primary and secondary readings in great detail, demonstrating that you have thought hard about the topics we are addressing. One of the best ways that students learn is in dialogue with others; you should expect to read the work of your peers, and have your work read by them.

Grade Breakdown
Vlogs 10%
Discussion Questions 10%
Weekly Blogs 20%
Vlog Responses 5%
Short essay/creative piece 20%
Long essay 35%

Grading Scale
4.0 = 93 – 100%
3.5 = 85 – 92%
3.0 = 80 – 84%
2.5 = 75 – 79%
2.0 = 70 – 74%
1.5 = 65 – 69%
1.0 = 60 – 64%
0.5 = 55 – 59%
0.0 = <54%

Reading Checkpoint Vlog Assignment
This is a reading-heavy course; it will be easy to get behind, and impossible to deal with the readings with the depth that they deserve. To that end, you will complete short, informal checkpoint vlogs (video blogs) to reflect on and respond to the reading. Vlogs are to be uploaded after you’ve read a predetermined number of pages (usually approximately 50% of the book; see reading schedule). Each vlog should 1.) react to the text that you’ve read so far, 2.) pose a question based on a specific quote or passage. This will help you learn to ask good questions of the texts that you read, and help to keep you on track as you complete the reading.

Vlogs will be uploaded directly to our course Slack under the “vlogs” channel. You can take this video on your computer or your phone (see screencast on our course website for more detailed instructions). Vlogs should be a minimum of 2 minutes and a maximum of 5. You are encouraged to watch your classmates’ vlogs; I will be posting my own reaction vlogs, as well.

Weekly Blog Post
After you have completed each text, you will post a short (500-750 word) blog post in the appropriate “blogs-authorlastname” channel on Slack. Your Blog should integrate the primary and secondary readings for the week, and should be completed after you have finished the entirety of the assigned text. The first sentence of each blog should be a thesis statement, and your essay should quote directly from the texts you are analyzing.

Both the Vlogs and Blogs will have last-in due dates, but you are perfectly free to post your responses at your own pace prior to the cutoff. Ideally, this will accommodate those of you who are travelling during summer session.

Vlog Responses
After you have posted your Vlog to Slack, please take the time to watch the Vlogs posted and respond (in writing) to the questions posed by at least two of your classmates. This also needs to be completed by (or on) the last-in date.

Slack Discussion Questions
Every other day (or thereabouts), I will post discussion questions to Slack; many of these questions will come from the questions that you raise in your vlogs; many of them will be directly from the primary/secondary reading. For each unit, you must respond to three discussion questions (six for Americanah). The goal is to help you stay up to date with your reading, and to help you consider critical issues in the text that might interest you in advance of your long essay.

Short Review Essay or Creative Piece
During our course, we will be reading a number of book review essays published in online journals. In addition, we will be reading essays from online spaces (The Toast, Avidly, The Awl, Auto-straddle) that are by and for women. You will be responsible for engaging with these forms by completing either a short review essay (1,500 words) or a creative piece (length dependent on form). Longer descriptions of these options will be posted to our course website.

Long Essay
For our final assignment of the semester, you will complete a longer (5,000 words) essay that places a text of your choosing in dialogue with a critical issue that was raised over the course of the semester. This essay will incorporate primary and secondary sources, and will require some outside research on your part. It must have well-formulated research question, that will be pre-approved with me during week 4 of our course. More information will be posted on our course website.

Grading Policies
After receiving graded material, you must wait at least 24 hours before contacting me. After 24 hours, I am happy to arrange a Skype meeting for us to discuss your questions, concerns and methods for future improvement. Generally, grades are final but I’m open to being convinced of how you feel a given assignment meets the objectives of the assignment. Revisions of written assignments are always possible.

Late work: If you are experiencing difficulty completing an assignment on time, just let me know and we can discuss the possibility of an extension. If you haven’t communicated with me prior to an assignment due date and do not turn it in, you will get a 0.

Academic Honesty
Plagiarism will not be tolerated. I have tried to craft discussion questions/assignments in a way that makes plagiarism difficult, if not impossible. However, if I catch you plagiarizing, you will receive a failing grade for the assignment (at the least, depending on the severity and number of previous offenses). If you have questions about what constitutes plagiarism, please talk with me.