LITR 5731 Seminar in American Multicultural Literature

spring 2006, UHCL

Format: You may take your final exam either in-class using paper and ink during the final exam period (4 May, 7-9:50) or by email by noon the following day (5 May). The schedule for email testing is more flexible, but email students shouldn’t spend more than 3 hours writing their exam. Both in-class and email exams are open-book and open-notebook.

Scheduling the exam

·        If you take the exam in-class, you must take it between 7-10pm Thursday, 4 May in Bayou 1435.

·        If you take the exam by email, include a time-log of when you stopped and started. You should limit your writing time to approximately 3 hours, but if an extra hour makes a big difference to you, take it and make account of it in the log. The absolute deadline for turning in the exam is noon, Friday 5 May.

·        As far as timing your exam, you may prepare, outline, practice drafting, etc., as much as suits you, but as far as the actual writing goes, try not to spend much more than three hours writing, just so everyone works from a more or less equal basis. Given the asynchronous nature of online work, you’re certainly welcome to take breaks or rest up between essays without counting that time against your total.


Broad requirements

Develop two essays of at least one hour each. One essay may be longer and more fully developed than the other. Conceivably you might write one essay of more than two hours in which you covered a range of materials from two options, but if you do so, be sure to explain this range and purpose in your introduction.

For subject matter, you are invited to develop your own topics or emphases according to your own sense of priorities. Your emphases may be somewhat personal in terms of your own learning experiences or the challenges that you’ve found in approaching or continuing our subject matter. Remember, however, that the audience for your exam is a member of our seminar: you may range about for material, but apply your observations and lessons to our shared experience with the assigned readings and in the classroom.


additional requirements

·        Across your final exam you should demonstrate familiarity with all our major ethnic-minority reading assignments following the midterm: Black Elk Speaks, Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist-Fight in Heaven, Bless Me, Ultima, and Woman Hollering Creek, but depending on your subject matter you might not refer to each or in detail.

·        Depending on your choice of subjects, you might also refer to the American Indian origin stories, the Virgin of Guadelupe story, and The Best Little Boy in the World.

·        You may also refer to our readings from African American literature, and again depending on subject matter, some references might be essential.

·        You may also refer to poems presented in class.

·        Welcome also to refer briefly to research beyond the classroom (as for your research project) or learned in other courses or to materials posted on the course webpage, including model assignments from this semester and previous semesters.


Other Instructions

  • Provide a title for each essay
  • Indicate which questions you’re answering.
  • Open-book and open-notebook.
  • Abbreviated titles welcome; e. g., Bless Me, Ultima > Ultima
  • No need to list page numbers for familiar quotations.
  • Avoid copying long quotations. Summarize passages. Quote only powerful words or phrases. Comment on quotations.

·        Since this is an open-book and open-notebook exam, essays should not just reproduce course themes but relate them to examples from the texts.

  • Since this is a timed exercise, you won’t be penalized for careless mistakes. However, chronic problems like run-ons, fragments, failure to use apostrophes, and long, disorganized paragraphs will affect the overall grade.


Default Essay-exam topics from syllabus

Option 1: One essay reviewing Native American literature in relation to a course objective; one essay reviewing Mexican American literature in relation to a course objective.

Option 2: One essay comparing and contrasting Native American and Mexican American literature and culture relative to “the minority concept”; one essay comparing and contrasting ethnicity and gender as minority categories.


Additional options for essays

Some of these options include more questions than might reasonably be answered in the time constraints. Don’t regard these questions as a checklist but rather as “starters” for an essay that will develop on its own terms.

1. Write an essay describing your experience with this course relative to your study (formal and informal) of similar subjects before and (potentially) after. Describe your experience with minority literature beforehand? How did this course continue, challenge, alter, expand, or systematize that experience? How essential is this subject matter to your work as a reader or teacher beyond this course? How do you see this course’s emphases and categories evolving in the future? Refer to several texts across the semester to illustrate your learning path.

2. As we moved from text to text across the semester, what concept, issue, or problem kept recurring to you as important or intriguing? Define this concept and apply it to several readings. This concept or idea may be original to you, or it may come from the objectives, discussion, lecture, etc. It may be an idea that didn’t receive adequate discussion but kept surfacing or was implicit or even repressed.

3. Creation / Origin Stories. Andrew Wiget writes that Native American origin or creation stories are “complex symbolic tales that typically dramatize the tribal explanation of the origin of the earth and its people; establish the central relationships among people, the cosmos or universe, and the other creatures (flora and fauna) of the earth; distinguish gender roles and social organization for the tribe . . . . “

Briefly discuss and evaluate the “origin stories” of our course’s three ethnic groups in terms of Wiget’s description.

·        African American origin story = the slave narratives

·        Native American origin stories = stories mentioned or reproduced on handout

·        Mexican American origin story = “The Virgin of Guadalupe”

Also feel free to consider The Declaration of Independence, immigrant stories, and other texts from the course. What do we learn about minorities’ “social contracts” from reading “origin or creation stories?”

4. Is American Minority Literature about Literature or Culture?

How do you resolve this question: Is a course like American Minority Literature primarily about literature, or is it about culture, history, sociology, etc.?

·        You’re not expected to come down absolutely on one side or the other but to discuss the competing pressures for this course or the study of its texts.

·        What kind of balance have we struck, and what are the upsides and downsides of this balance? (Option: How would you “rebalance?”)

·        As an alternative or complement to the “balance” approach,” emphasize how and where literature and culture “meet and merge.”

·        Be prepared to use course themes, such as the “alternative narratives to the American Dream,“ the minority concept, etc. (Objectives 1 & 3).