Contemporary American Literature


This course teaches critical reading/critical writing skills through the examination of contemporary literature. Students are expected to complete outside reading, and to respond to the literature through analytical essays, timed examinations, and class discussions. Most of the works considered in the course will have been published within the last five years or by authors who are still living. Analysis of the texts will focus on craft and structure, and arguments and themes. Topics will range from coming of age to social justice. Students who pass English 146 will evince some understanding of the themes and historical events depicted in the works we cover. Students who excel will be able to contextualize such materials—esthetically and historically—and offer original insight into their particulars.

It is my hope that English 146 will help you become a better student of American literature and a better writer. The only way to achieve this is to require as many reading and writing assignments as time will allow. I hope that you find this work to be interesting, if not downright exciting. However, should you find what we do to be utterly dull, pretend it is the most thrilling thing since Al Gore invented the Internet. Ask questions during class. Stay awake. Talk to me about what you’re studying and writing.


Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:

  1. Discuss the themes of texts listed on the course schedule.
  2. Discuss the cultural and critical common denominators of what we read.
  3. Write theme essays that provide close readings of a text—that is, readings that offer an awareness of the text’s

themes, and how those themes relate to the cultural and critical contexts discussed in class.

  1. Demonstrate a competent understanding of the materials on the course schedule through work done during timed



There will be a midterm and a final, quizzes and class participation assessments, and two essays. Exams will assess your ability to offer critical and objective information about the materials we read. Quizzes, when given, will come at the beginning of a class, and will provide an objective indication of your daily preparedness. We will discuss your writing assignments at greater length over the course of the semester. The numbers break down like this:

Exams:                                  45% of quarterly grade

Essays:                                  40% of quarterly grade

Quizzes/Blog entries:          15% of quarterly grade

Each quarter’s grade will be worth 40% of your final grade; a final exam will constitute the final 20%. Your score for each quarter will be measured by dividing the number of points you’ve earned by the number possible to that point in the semester.

I will assess students’ progress as writers based on the following rubric:

A writing is characterized by absolute clarity and original thought. A essays expertly incorporate objective details and

subjective perspectives on those details. They also reflect voices that are as wise as they are vivid, as intuitive as

they are organized. An A essay is rare. Effort alone will not merit an A.

B writing is characterized by above-average achievement. Few errors appear. If an essay reveals occasional excellence and

general competence, it is likely a B essay.

C writing reflects average engagement with the task at hand. C essays are not bad, though they often evince errors in

grammar and mechanics; rather, they are not especially good.

D writing is characterized by an intrusive lack of coherence or a lack of awareness of the assignment.


Each student will be issued copies of the books we’re reading. The appropriate text must be brought to class daily. I will also occasionally assign reading material from the internet and from handouts.

Essays should be submitted on time. Late essays will be docked a letter grade for each day they are late.

Barring exceptional circumstances, students who have excused absences must make up missed assignments within a week of the original due date.

Students must complete all major assignments to pass the course.

Also, MSMS’ academic honesty regulations apply to every activity in this course. Do not cheat.



9              Course introduction

14           Vance, Hillbilly Elegy

16           Vance, Hillbilly Elegy

21           Vance, Hillbilly Elegy; Coates, Between the World and Me

23           Coates, Between the World and Me

28           Coates, Between the World and Me

30           Coates, Between the World and Me


4              Writing Workshop

6              Essay 1 due; Test 1

11           Thomas, The Hate U Give

13          Thomas, The Hate U Give

18           Thomas, The Hate U Give; Review

20           In-class essay

25           Hosseini, The Kite Runner

27           Hosseini, The Kite Runner


2              Hosseini, The Kite Runner

4              Lahiri, The Namesake; Traveling Science Carnival

9              Lahiri, The Namesake

11           Lahiri, The Namesake; End of Q1

16           Review

18           Test 2

23           Science Carnival

25           Ward, Salvage the Bones; Math Superstars

30           Ward, Salvage the Bones


1              Ward, Salvage the Bones

6              Iles, Natchez Burning; Essay 2 due

8              Iles, Natchez Burning

13           Iles, Natchez Burning

15           Iles, Natchez Burning

27           Iles, Natchez Burning

29           Smith, Desperation Road


4              Smith, Desperation Road

6              Smith, Desperation Road

11           Review

How to Write a B+ Paper Overnight

  1. Understand what’s being asked of you by the assignment. Your first assignment is but two pages. Your scope is extremely limited; select a topic that lends itself to detailed analysis. I have two main goals: that you demonstrate an ability to analyze a theme from a work, and that you demonstrate an ability to analyze the ways parts of the work lend insight into the whole.
  2. Make certain that you have mastered the content of the material. If you make ungrounded claims or interpretations, your grade will suffer.
  3. Place your name, my name, the name of the course and period time, and the date in the upper left-hand corner. Place a header with your name and the page number in the upper right hand corner. Do not use a title page.
  4. Write an introduction that takes us immediately to the heart of your concerns. At the end of the introduction, include a thesis that makes an informed assessment of your concerns. Be sure that your thesis moves past a summary of the text, or merely an observation about it.
  5. Make certain that each topic sentence relates to the thesis, and that the sentences in each paragraph are adequately governed by the topic sentence.
  6. Write in present tense.
  7. You need to be able to use the text you’re working with to substantiate the interpretation you’re making. Don’t quote too much—after all, this is your essay. When you quote, use good signal phrases and obey MLA guidelines.
  8. Make certain that your works cited page includes bibliographical information for all the materials used over the course of the essay.
  9. Things to avoid because they are pet peeves: contractions; second person; referring to authors by first name; using “they” or “their” as universal third person singular; writing bloated, passive voice prose; split infinitives; wordy or redundant phrases; rhetorical questions; opening paragraphs with quotations; and poor diction.


Your first assignment

Write a typed, double-spaced, two-page essay that meets the following requirements:

  • Explain the ways that the media you digest both inform and reflect your sense of who you are, what you believe, and how you behave.
  • Your thesis justifies your interpretation;
  • Your topic sentences relate not only to your thesis, but also to the support in the paragraph to follow.

Consult the course schedule for the due date. I encourage you to bring me a draft of your work at least two days before the essay is due.

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