LITR 5731 Multicultural Literature

American Minority Literature

cross-listed with CRCL 5931

Dr. White's



Homepage & Syllabus

Spring 2010   *   T 7-9:50pm, Bayou 1435

Instructor: Craig White   Office: Bayou 2529-8   
: 281 283 3380.       Email:

Office Hours: M 2:30-6:30 and by appointment


Course Policies       


midterm & research plan
(23 Feb-1March)

research options
2 research posts or
1 research essay or
1 research journal or
1 conference proposal & paper

final exam
(4 May)

student presentations

Model Assignments

"All men are created equal,"
declared the USA’s Founding Fathers,
but who counts as "men?"
And in a nation of many differences,
what is "equal?"


Asking and answering such questions,

novels, memoirs, and poems

by ethnic, gender, and class minorities
assert the possibility of
equality and difference
in an evolving American identity.


Reading and Meeting Schedule: (spring 2010)

Tuesday, 19 January: Introductions, assignments. American Dream & Dr. King's "Dream" speech


selection from Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (1925) (representing American Dream / Immigrant Narrative)

selections from The Declaration of Independence (1776)

selections from "I have a dream . . . "  speech by Martin Luther King at March on Washington, 28 August 1963

African American literature

Tuesday, 26 January: begin slave narratives

Reading Assignments

selections from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano . . . the African by Olaudah Equiano (London, 1789)

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
by Frederick Douglass
(Boston, 1845)
(edits continuing)

Reading discussion leader: Ayme Christian

Poetry: Jupiter Hammon, "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penetential Cries"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: instructor

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

Obj. 1d. “The Color Code”


Tuesday, 2 February: conclude slave narratives, begin Song of Solomon

Reading Assignments:

selections from Incidents in Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (Boston 1861)

begin Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon, chapters 1 & 2 (through p. 55?); character family tree

Reading discussion leader (Incidents): Suzan Damas

Poetry: Langston Hughes, "Harlem (A Dream Deferred)"; "Dream Variations"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: Catherine Louvier

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Song of Solomon

+ reaction to online readings

Tuesday, 9 February: continue Song of Solomon

Reading Assignments: Song of Solomon, chapters 3-9, pp. 56-216(?) (complete part 1, up to part 2)

Reading discussion leader: Laura Moseley

Web-highlight (research posts):

Poetry: Countee Cullen, "Incident" & "For a Poet"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: instructor

(Question for poems: Why is "Incident" more familiar from school anthologies and teaching than "For a Poet?" What values or challenges for minority literature follow?--see question above on relation between "literary" qualities and "minority" issues.)

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

Continue questions from 2 Feb:

Color Code? (obj. 1d)

Tuesday, 16 February: Conclude Song of Solomon

Reading Assignments: complete Song of Solomon (through part 2, through p. 337?)

Reading discussion leader: Christine Ford

Poetry: Maya Angelou, "Still I Rise"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: Denielle Alexander

(Suggested question for poem: How does it conform to The Dream? Dr. King's Dream Speech?)

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

American literary aesthetics remain powerfully influenced by Romanticism, which Modern / Postmodern writers like Morrison vary and challenge. 2 examples:

The wilderness gothic, in which the "maze" or "labyrinth" of the gothic space is projected onto nature. What variations when Milkman enters the forest to meet Pilate at the end?

The Romantic impulse to "escape" or "transcend": in Douglass, the "escape" blends Romantic and anti-slavery attitudes. In Song of Solomon, the impulse to escape is figured in the African American legend of the Flying Africans. How does Morrison both indulge the attractiveness of escape while questioning its social responsibility? How does the final image of Milkman's flight resolve (or fail to resolve) escape and responsibility?

Midterm & research plan due by email b/w Wednesday, 24 February & Monday, 1 March

Midterm & Research Plan Assignment

American Indian Literature

Tuesday, 23 February: American Indian Origin Stories; begin Black Elk Speaks

Reading Assignments:

North American Indian Origin Stories

Genesis (creation story)

origin stories

Reading discussion leader: Omar Syed

begin Black Elk Speaks: chapters I-V (pp. 1-66); chapter VII (77-91). Also read any introductory material, esp. by Neihardt.

Reading discussion leader: Barbara Trevino

Instructor: Iroquois Great Law of Peace incl. Wampum

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

Overall questions: Why does America's dominant culture profess to admire Native Americans so much? Even bubbas dig Indians!

What to call American Indians? What is satisfied or frustrated with each term? What are the choices? Evaluate the choices.

(Spoiler: no single satisfactory answer . . . .)

Questions for Creation / Origin Stories: Identify & distinguish "earth-diver" & "emergence" narratives. Compare / contrast Genesis.

"How the White Man . . . ": obj. 1b: "using dominant culture’s words against them" & "conscience to dominant culture (which otherwise forgets the past)"

Questions for Black Elk Speaks: A first reaction to the text is the familiar pop-culture divide: righteous Indian culture, evil-ignorant white culture--but that pop-culture divide used to be righteous white culture, evil Indian culture.

How does Black Elk Speaks confirm yet complicate this simplistic narrative? What evidence of two voices (or more) in the narrative? (Reinhardt's voice as a late Romantic poet, Black Elk's voice as a shaman wishing to share his vision, and the repressed voice of Christianity as picked up by the Sioux)

How much is Indian life "Romanticized?" (Indian as noble savage, close to nature, etc.) Where does it escape Romanticizing?

Tuesday, 2 March: continue Black Elk Speaks

Reading Assignments:

Black Elk Speaks: chapters VII-XIII (pp. 92-161); chapter XVII-end including appendices (pp. 194-298); selections from The Black Elk Reader (handout)

Reading discussion leader: instructor

Poetry: Peter Blue Cloud, "Crazy Horse Monument"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: Samuel Mathis

Instructor's Discussion Topics:

Continue previous discussion of Black Elk as confirming / complicating simplifications

Obj. 3b. Native American Indian alternative narrative: "Loss and Survival"

spoken & written cultures

Tuesday, 9 March: Begin Love Medicine

Reading Assignments: Love Medicine through “A Bridge” (ends on p. 180)

Report: Louise Erdrich & Dartmouth College (confer w/ prof)

Reporter: Julie Garza (replaces discussion leader; may coordinate with research project, but not required)

Additional Reading: Kathleeen Walker Anderson, chapter 1 of creative thesis manuscript

Visitor: Kathleeen Walker Anderson from 2007 course, now MA candidate writing creative thesis on Cherokee

1. "Workshop" manuscript--that is, discuss strengths, issues, more of this or less of that . . .

2. Compare / contrast to course texts & objectives, esp. Erdrich


Instructor's Discussion Questions for Erdrich:

Black Elk Speaks 1932; Love Medicine 1984, 1993: What continuities? What has changed about American Indian literature? How discuss together?

Obj. 3b. Native American Indian alternative narrative: "Loss and Survival"

Erdrich in wave of recent ethnic women writers who balance wide popularity with critical respectability. How? Compare / contrast to popular & critically praised African American and Mexican American women writers (e. g. Maya Angelou, Sandra Cisneros, maybe Toni Morrison)

First Research Post due by Spring Break 

Tuesday, 16 March: spring holidays--no class meeting

Tuesday, 23 March: Conclude Love Medicine

Reading Assignments:

Love Medicine (complete)

Reading discussion leader: Deanna Scott

Poetry: Simon J. Ortiz, “The Margins Where We Live”

Poetry reader / discussion leader: Jennifer Huebenthal

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

Continue previous questions.

Gerry Nanapush as trickster?

Mexican American Literature

Mexico in 1786

thanks to


Tuesday, 30 March: Guadalupe & Ultima

Reading Assignments:

Story of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Bless Me, Ultima through p. 105 or chapter Diez

Reading discussion leader: Rachel Risinger

Poetry: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, "You Men"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: Mallory Rogers (more biography than usual?)

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

"Guadalupe" as origins story of Mexico / Mexican America

What structures, conflicts, values? What human types?

Extend to Bless Me, Ultima


Tuesday, 6 April: conclude Bless Me, Ultima

Reading Assignments: Bless Me, Ultima (complete)

Reading discussion leader: Helena Suess

Poetry: Jimmy Santiago Baca, "Green Chile" or Louise Erdrich, “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways”

Poetry reader / discussion leader: Amy Sidle

name: Gloria Anzaldua

Tuesday, 13 April: begin Woman Hollering Creek

Reading Assignments: Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek, through p. 83 (i. e., through “Never Marry a Mexican”)

Reading discussion leader: Melissa Garza

Poetry: Pat Mora, "Senora X No More"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: Tanya Stanley

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

Compare / contrast Bless Me, Ultima

Minority, immigrant, or new identity?--not to forget latina identity

Style: what doing with viewpoint? Border of 1st person & 3p limited

Compare Love Medicine: story collection or novel?

terms / names: retablo, La Malinche, Frida Kahlo

Completed Research Options Due 14-19 April:
2nd Research Post, Research Paper, or Research Journal

Tuesday, 20 April: conclude Cisneros, begin gay literature

Reading Assignments: Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek (complete)

Reading discussion leader: Sarah McCall DeLaRosa

(Begin Gay Literature)

Poetry: Walt Whitman, "In Paths Untrodden"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: Juan Garcia

Poetry: W. H. Auden, "Lullabye"

Poetry reader / discussion leader: instructor

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

Discuss Cisneros's style: pleasures / frustrations

Ethnicity or gender?

gay poetry: how to speak the recently unspeakable (obj. 5 or obj. 2 on "double language"--cf. Jupiter Hammon, "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penetential Cries" )


Gay Literature

Tuesday, 27 April: The Best Little Boy in the World

Reading Assignments: The Best Little Boy in the World

Reading discussion leader: Barbara Trevino

Poetry: Frank O'Hara, "My Heart"

Poetry reader / discussion leader:

Instructor's Discussion Questions:

Gay community as alternative or mainstream?

gains / pains in teaching gay lit?

Presence in minority literature? (cf. ethnic literature)

What literary strategies / problems unique to gay lit?

(obj. 5 or obj. 2 on "double language"--cf. Jupiter Hammon, "An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ, with Penetential Cries" )

Tuesday, 4 May:  Final exam


Course Objectives:

(to be revised as semester progresses)

* * *

("Objectives" are the ideas and terms developed and reinforced throughout the semester in lectures, discussions, presentations, and examinations. In terms of learning outcomes, this course should enable you to explain these ideas and discuss minority literature in these terms.)

Objective 1
To define the “minority concept" as a power relationship modeled by some ethnic groups’ historical relation to the dominant American culture.

1a. “Involuntary (or forced) participation”
(Unlike the dominant immigrant culture, ethnic minorities did not choose to come to America or join its dominant culture. Thus the original "social contract" of Native Americans and African Americans contrasts with that of European Americans, Asian Americans, or most Latin Americans, and the consequences of "choice" or "no choice" echo down the generations.)

1b.  “Voiceless and choiceless”
(Contrast the dominant culture’s self-determination or choice through self-expression or voice, as in "The Declaration of Independence.")

1c. To observe alternative identities and literary strategies developed by minority cultures and writers to gain voice and choice:

·        “double language” (same words, different meanings to different audiences)

·        using the dominant culture’s words against them

·        conscience to dominant culture (which otherwise forgets the past).

1d. “The Color Code”


Objective 2
To observe representations and narratives (images and stories) of ethnicity and gender as a means of defining minority categories.

2a. Is the status of women, lesbians, and homosexuals analogous to that of ethnic minorities in terms of voice and choice? Do "women of color" become "double minorities?"

2b. To detect "class" as a repressed subject of American discourse.
·        “You can tell you’re an American if you can’t talk about class.”

·        American culture officially regards itself as "classless."

·        Race and gender may replace class divisions of power, labor, or "place."

·        Class may remain identifiable in signs or markers of power and prestige or their absence.

·        High class status in the USA is often marked by plainness, simplicity, or lack of visibility.

2c. "Quick check" on minority status: What is the individual’s or group’s relation to the law or other dominant institutions? Does "the law" make things better or worse?

Objective 3
To compare and contrast the dominant “American Dream” narrative—which involves voluntary participation, forgetting the past, and privileging the individual—with alternative narratives of American minorities, which involve involuntary participation, connecting to the past, and traditional (extended) or alternative families.

Tabular summary of contrasts between the dominant culture's "American Dream" narrative and minority narratives (still Objective 3)

Category of comparison / dominant or minority

"American Dream" or immigrant narrative of dominant culture

Minority Narratives (not traditional immigrants)

Cultural group's original relation to USA

Voluntary participation (individual or ancestor chose to come to America)

Involuntary participation ("America" came to individual or ancestral culture)

Cultural group's relation to time

Modern or revolutionary: Forget the past, leave it behind, get over it (original act of immigration; future-oriented)

Traditional but disrupted: Reconnect to the past (not voluntarily abandoned; more like a wound that needs healing)

Social structures

Abandonment of past context favors individual or nuclear family, erodes extended social structures.

Traditional extended family shattered; non-nuclear, "alternative," or improvised families survive.


3a. African American alternative narrative: “The Dream”

3b. Native American Indian alternative narrative: "Loss and Survival"

3c. Mexican American narrative: “The Ambivalent Minority”

3a. African American alternative narrative: “The Dream”
("The Dream" resembles but is not identical to "The American Dream." Whereas the American Dream emphasizes immediate individual success, "the Dream" factors in setbacks, the need to rise again, and a quest for group dignity.)

3b. Native American Indian alternative narrative: "Loss and Survival"
(Whereas immigrants define themselves by leaving the past behind in order to get America, the Indians once had America but lost it along with many of their people. Yet they defy the myth of "the vanishing Indian," instead choosing to "survive," sometimes in faith that the dominant culture will eventually destroy itself, and the forests and buffalo will return.)

3c. Mexican American narrative: “The Ambivalent Minority”
("Ambivalent" means having "mixed feelings" or contradictory attitudes. Mexican Americans may exemplify immigrant culture as individuals or families who come to America for economic gain but suffer social dislocation. On the other hand, much of Mexico's historic experience with the USA resembles the experience of the Native Americans: much of the United States, including Texas, was once Mexico. Does a Mexican who moves from Juarez to El Paso truly immigrate?)

Objective 4

To register the minority dilemma of assimilation or resistance—i. e., do you fight or join the culture that oppressed you? What balance do minorities strike between economic benefits and personal or cultural sacrifices?

 4a. To identify the "new American" who crosses, combines, or confuses ethnic or gender identities (e. g., Tiger Woods, Halle Berry, Lenny Kravitz, Mariah Carey, K. D. Lang, Dennis Rodman, RuPaul, David Bowie)

 4b. To distinguish the ideology of American racialism—which sees races as pure, separate, and permanent identities—from American practice, which always involves hybridity (or mixing) and change.

 Tabular summary of 4b

American racial ideology (what dominant culture thinks or says)

American racial practice

(what American culture actually does)

Races or genders are pure and separate.

Races always mix. What we call "pure" is only the latest change we're used to.

Races and genders are permanent categories, perhaps allotted by God or Nature as a result of Creation, climate, natural selection, etc.,

Race & gender classifications or definitions constantly change or adapt; e. g., the Old South's quadroons, octaroons, "a single drop"; "crossing"; recent revisions of racial origins of Native America; Hispanic as "non-racial" classification; "bi-racial"

Objective 5
To study the influence of minority writers and speakers on literature, literacy, and language.

5a.  To discover the power of poetry and fiction to help "others" hear the minority voice and vicariously share the minority experience.

5b. To assess the status of minority writers in the "canon" of what is read and taught in schools (plus the criteria determining such status).

5c. To regard literacy as the primary code of modern existence and a key or path to empowerment.

5d. To note development and variations of standard English by minority writers and speakers and related issues of spoken & written cultures.

5e. To emphasize how all speakers and writers may use common devices of human language to make poetry, including narrative, poetic devices, double languageand figures of speech.

5f. To generalize the "Dominant-Minority" relation to philosophical or syntactic categories of "Subject & Object," in which the "subject" is self-determining and active in terms of "voice and choice," while the "object" is acted upon, passive, or spoken for rather than acting and speaking.

Objective 6: Images of the individual, family, and alternative families in minority writings and experience

6a. Generally speaking, minority groups place more emphasis on “traditional” or “community” aspects of human society, such as extended families or alternative families, and they mistrust “institutions.” The dominant culture celebrates individuals and nuclear families and identifies more with dominant-cultural institutions or its representatives, like law enforcement officers, teachers, bureaucrats, etc. (Much variation, though.)

6b. To question sacred modern concepts like "individuality" and "rights" and politically correct ideas like minorities as "victims"; to explore emerging postmodern identities, e. g. “biracial,” “global,” and “post-national.”

  Objective 7
To survey minority representations of the USA's “dominant” culture.

 7a. Primary definition: "American Dream" or "Immigrant" culture.

7b. To observe shifting names or identities of the dominant culture in relation to different minority cultures:

(Tabular summary for Objective 7b)

Minority category

Corresponding designation for dominant culture

"minority" culture

"majority," “mainstream,” "dominant" culture

Involuntary participation

Immigrant culture



African American



European American

Chicano, Hispanic, Mexican American (not identical terms)

"Anglo" or

North American

Native American,

American Indian,

"Red Man"


"White man," European American, plus many local variants such as "Long Knives," "White Eyes," etc.

“hyphenated American” (e. g., African-American, Mexican-American)

"American" or "Real American" (frequently indicates European American)

Woman, female, feminine, feminist

man, male, macho, guys, etc.

Gay, lesbian, homosexual, queer

Straight, heterosexual, "breeders"

Summer 2010 LITR 5731 Seminar in Multicultural Literature

"American Immigrant Literature"

M, T, Th 3-6pm, 1st 5-wks session

Feedback for this webpage?
Contact Craig White at
281 283 3380