LITR 5731: Seminar in American Minority Literature

Final Exam Assignment,
fall 2007

LITR 5731 Seminar in American Multicultural Literature: Minority

fall 2007, UHCL

Format: You may take your final exam either in-class using paper and ink during the final exam period (6 December, 4-6:50) or by email by 2pm the following day (7 December). The schedule for email testing is more flexible, but email students shouldn’t spend more than approximately 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 4-6:50pm Thursday, 6 December in Bayou 1302.

·        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 2pm, Friday 7 December.

·        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

This exam is so generous with options as to sow confusion, but basically the student is responsible for developing two essays of at least one hour each. Either essay may be from any option offered--if an option offers two essays, you may do both, but you aren't required too. Please, however, indicate which questions you're answering.

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, Love Medicine, 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 Guadalupe story, and The Best Little Boy in the World.

·        You may also refer to our pre-midterm readings from African American literature. Depending on subject matter, some references might be essential.

·        Refer to at least one poem presented in class somewhere in your exam.

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

Topics for essays:

The "Default" plan is a wide-open arrangement that lets you develop your own topic(s) relative to the course objectives and texts. The "Additional options" offer more specific prompts. Create your own best exam by mixing and matching any or all possibilities--or take the path of least resistance and answer the two questions that suit you best.

This arrangement is potentially confusing because it combines two distinct approaches to testing, but as long as you write two essays that fall within the parameters of this exam and our course, your exam will be read on its own terms.


Default Essay-exam topics from syllabus

Option 1: ethnic groups since the midterm

  • One essay reviewing Native American literature in relation to a course objective or another theme relevant to our course;

  • One essay reviewing Mexican American literature in relation to a course objective or another theme relevant to our course.

Option 2: ethnic groups + gender considerations

  • 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

These questions offer more specific prompts. 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. Refer to several texts across the semester to illustrate your learning path.

  • Describe your experience with minority literature beforehand. How did this course continue, challenge, vary, wreck, 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 changing or evolving in the future?

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 issue 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.
  • If your subject was ignored or repressed, what do you learn from this situation and the resulting expression of your theme?

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 = 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).

  • In your own teaching or plans for teaching or research, what balance or priorities would you observe for studying literature and culture as distinct but complementary subjects?