The Short Story in the U. S


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English 71D: “The Short Story in the U.S.”

Fall 2013, MWF 9:30am – 10:20am, LPAC 301

Professor , Department of English Literature, Swarthmore College

email: pschmid1

office hours: LPAC 206, MW 10:30 - noon; and by appointment

office phone and voicemail: 8156

Course Description

“The Short Story in the U.S.” is an English Department Core Course. This course is open to all sophomores, juniors, and seniors and is intended to provide a solid introduction to the study of literature at the college-level. It is also an appropriate survey course for English majors and minors, or those who are considering either focus. The only prerequisite is a Writing (“W”) course from any Department on campus—which means first-year students are not eligible for enrollment in this course.

Reading assignments will primarily be short stories, but will also include selected other relevant materials. The course will begin in the early 19th century with Poe, Irving, Hawthorne, and Melville, include significant late 19th- and early 20th-century authors (such as James, Chopin, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hurston, and Faulkner, among others). After fall break there will be a significant emphasis on post-World War II authors, including important older and younger contemporary figures such as Eudora Welty, Ray Bradbury, Toni Cade Bambara, Thomas Pynchon, George Saunders, Junot Díaz, Jennifer Egan, Edwidge Danticat—who will visit Swarthmore on October 10—Charles Yu, and many others. Note also that our syllabus features published work by 1990s Swarthmore graduates Adam Haslett (You are Not a Stranger Here), Rishi Reddi (Karma and Other Stories), and Jonathan Raymond (Livability), plus a story by Gregory Frost, who teaches many of Swarthmore’s Fiction Workshops; Prof. Frost will visit our class in September to discuss his story with us.

Reading assignments will primarily be from the anthology Major American Short Stories (A. Walton Litz, ed.), supplemented by pdfs posted on the 71D Moodle site, or the occasional sound file (where instead of reading we’ll listen to a story read aloud).

According to preregistration figures, ~35 students are enrolled in the course, so it will be taught mixing brief lectures and large- and small-group discussions.

Course assignments will primarily take the form of 2 8-12pp. double-spaced papers on a story and author of your choice from the syllabus. For more details on course assignments, see the Course Requirements and Syllabus sections below.

Note for English majors and minors: this course counts as a post-1830 course.

Course Requirements

Regular attendance and participation in discussion: more than 3 unexcused absences over the course of the semester will severely hurt your grade. To get an excused absence (sickness, family emergency, etc.) you need to get a note from the Health Center and/or the Dean’s office; please try to let me know ahead of time through yourself or a friend if you know you’ll miss class. Also, this class begins at 9:30am: be in class ready to go on time. Don’t plan on regularly missing Friday or Monday morning classes; if you do, you’ll get a grade penalty.

• This is a large class, so it will mix lecture and discussion. Discussions will occur in many different kinds of groups, from very small (2-6 or so) to the entire class. Come to class having studied the readings and other materials assigned for that day, including the student comments on the stories posted on Moodle (see below). You should also come to class with your own particular questions and topics, as well as passages or scenes you would like to focus on. During the discussion sessions you should begin with the study topics given by the professor and posted by students, but you will have plenty of opportunities to add your own topics and issues to the discussion in your group.

Students should also be prepared to be called upon individually in class. In other words, be sure to do the reading for each day of class.

The primary means of assessment will be 2 assigned papers analyzing particular stories of your choice from the syllabus. December’s paper #2 may be either a normal literary/historical analysis of 1-2 stories of your choice, or it may be a “teaching project,” in which you prepare a free lesson plan to post on the Internet to encourage teachers to add your chosen story to a junior high, high school, or college syllabus and use your guidelines when they teach it to their students. For more information on all these assignments, see the Syllabus below.

The Professor reserves the right to assign other work for the class or individual students as necessary, but the primary assigned work planned is listed above.
Grading for English 71D: Quality of class participation (including attendance and participation in class discussions) counts 10%; first paper, 40%; final paper or project, 50%. Poor attendance (more than 3 unexcused absences) and/or poor class participation will turn an A- into a B+ or a B into a B- (for example).
A note about citing secondary sources and honesty regarding your coursework: All writing that you turn in for this English class should be yours alone and done solely for this course. If you borrow from other sources (either quoting them, paraphrasing them, or using their words without quotation marks) and don’t cite those sources, that’s plagiarism, which is basically stealing and then lying about it. Honesty is always the best policy: acknowledge your sources of inspiration.

Work in the humanities is essentially collaborative: we get our own best ideas via exchanging ideas from others, arguing with them, building on them, striking off from them. Always adding a Bibliography to your Humanities papers is the best way to honor the fact that you are part of a community of readers and explorers.

You are welcome but not required to cite another commentator or two on the stories you write about for your two papers, but the primary ideas grounding your papers should be yours; the papers are not meant to focus mainly on what others have said about a story. Be sure to check out the information about your chosen author and story available in Major American Short Stories and if you use this information in your paper, cite it.

Check out the Swarthmore English Department website, our Citations link, for examples of how to cite books, journal articles, articles in anthologies, relevant web pages that you use, etc. In general, you don’t need footnotes for your papers merely to cite authors and page #s. Instead, cite an author and page # parenthetically within the body of the paper (Jones 35), then give the full citation of the referenced citation at the end of your paper, in a Works Cited section, following the formats indicated on the English Department’s “Citations” page. For instance, our anthology would be cited this way:

Litz, A. Walton. Major American Short Stories. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Note: Engaging with at least one secondary source (essay, interview, review, etc.) is especially encouraged for paper #2, due at the end of the semester. Older stories (i.e., from the 1980s back into the 19th century) will probably have scholarly articles on them that you can find using Tripod’s English Literature databases. For more recent stories,

The recommended database to use (aside from the anthology) when hunting for secondary articles is the MLA Bibliography sponsored by the Modern Language Association. To access it, go to Tripod>Research Guides>English Literature Subjects>English Literature, and the MLA Bibliography will show up as the first resource. You’re welcome to explore the others too. Of the “Multidisciplinary” databases, try JSTOR first: Tripod>Research Guides>Multidisciplinary

For very contemporary authors, look online for book reviews, author interviews, etc. using your favorite Internet search engine. You will need to cite web pages and other sources in your paper, just as you would cite a print source. For examples of how to cite a web page source, see the English Department’s Citations link.

English 71D Syllabus: Reading Assignments

Sept 2 Introduction to course. Reading and discussion of selected passages from Washington Irving’s “Rip van Winkle”

Sept 4 concluding discussion of “Rip van Winkle.”

NOTE: All assigned stories listed in this syllabus are in the Litz anthology Major American Short Stories unless indicated. The other assigned readings will be posted on the English 71D Moodle site, usually as either pdf or a link to a sound recording of a live reading. For stories in the anthology, information on all authors and their era precede their stories; please consult this secondary information before each class as appropriate. If there’s other assigned reading to accompany a story, it is noted in the syllabus below and/or on the 71D Moodle site.

Sept 6 Hawthorne, “Rappachini’s Daughter”

Sept 9 Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener.” [Please allow extra time to read this story; it’s really a novella rather than a short story. But it’s Melville at his best. Optional recommended secondary reading: Lee Edelman, “Occupy Wall Street: ‘Bartleby’ Against the Humanities” (2013), pdf on Moodle. Edelman’s reading of Bartleby’s and the story’s “radical irony,” which refuses the lawyer-narrator’s attempts to know and explain Bartleby, will be briefly discussed in class. Edelman argues that Bartleby’s negative dialectic, his resistant unknowability, is essential to what makes the Humanities necessary; it reject easy claims to “know” another person or to define a “community” we all should join or the meaning of history itself.]

Sept 11 Poe, “Ligeia”

Sept 13 Gregory Frost, “Madonna of the Maquiladora” (1999), from Attack of the Jazz Giants (2005). We’re reading this story out of chronological sequence so you can see one example of how a contemporary short story is influenced by the past, including the “weird tales” of Poe (the title of an influential nineteenth-century repackaging of Poe stories). Gregory Frost, who often teaches our fiction workshops at Swarthmore, will visit our class. See the following link for Frost’s story, plus an additional link to an interview with Frost posted on Moodle site.

Sept 16 Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper”

Sept 18 Kate Chopin, “Desirée’s Baby”

Sept 20 Sui Sin Far, “In the Land of the Free”, ca. 1900 (pdf on 71D Moodle site)

Sept 23 Henry James, “The Real Thing” [please allow extra time to read this story, for though it’s not particularly long it’s extra full of Jamesean paradoxes about identity and art.]

Sept 25 Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat”

Sept 27 Ernest Hemingway, “Big Two-Hearted River”

Sept 30 Faulkner, “That Evening Sun” [for those of you who know Quentin’s story in The Sound and the Fury, this story of Q’s early childhood will be a revelation]

Oct 2 Zora Neale Hurston, “The Gilded Six-Bits”

Oct 4 F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Babylon Revisited”

Oct 4 due in the LPAC 206 mailbox by 5pm Friday: paper #1, an 8-10pp. (double-spaced) analysis of any single story we’ve read so far (Poe through Fitzgerald). No extensions. Plan ahead so you will turn in this paper on time. Students are welcome to consult with Prof. Schmidt ahead of time about strategies for writing on the author and story you’ve chosen.
Oct 7 Eudora Welty, “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” (pdf). See also the recent New Yorker piece on the genesis of this story in the assassination of Medgar Evers, 1963.

Oct 9 Edwidge Danticat, “Children of the Sea” (from krik? krak! [1995]) and ch. 1 from Creating Dangerously (2011) (pdfs)

Oct 10 Edwidge Danticat visits Swarthmore, 7-9pm, LPAC Cinema (?). Your attendance is required.

Oct. 11 Discuss Danticat’s visit and further reflections on her story and essay

Fall Break

After Fall Break: your week to read freely in Major American Short Stories

Oct 21 Open readings for this week, focusing on other stories from the anthology from the 1910s through the 1980s. Pair up with a partner from class and choose at least 4 stories from the anthology by authors not included in our readings from the first half of the semester or our readings below. After you and your partner agree on 4 stories, read them ahead of time and decide which stories you will discuss together in class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week. Authors especially recommended include Cather, Sherwood Anderson, Porter, Baldwin, O’Connor, Bellow, Wright, Updike, Cheever, Paley, and any of the writers in the “The Short Story Today” section. Don’t choose the Roth story for this week; it is assigned below. One additional story to consider as one of your 4 (uploaded as a pdf: Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral.” Cheever and Carver are arguably the two most influential U.S. short story writers in the post-World War II period.

Oct 23 continue paired discussions in class

Oct 25 continue paired discussions in class

Beyond the anthology: Peter Schmidt’s selection of some of the best recent U.S. short stories, from the 1950s to the present

Note: most of the texts below will be available as pdfs or sound files on the 71D Moodle site.
Oct 28 Shirley Jackson, “The Lottery”; and Ray Bradbury, “The Veldt” (pdfs; see our class Moodle website). See also 1) the link on Moodle to this astonishing piece from a recent New Yorker (where Jackson’s story was originally published) on how Jackson’s original readers “interpreted” her story—it’s an author’s worst nightmare come to life; and 2) links to Stephen Colbert (!) reading Bradbury’s “The Veldt” to a live audience.

Oct 30 Philip Roth, “The Defender of the Faith” [in the Litz anthology]

Nov 1 Nathan Englander, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” from a 2012 story collection of the same name. pdf
Nov 4 Toni Cade Bambara, “The Lesson,” from Gorilla My Love (1972) pdf. For a good slide show on YouTube put together by (high school?) students that analyzes key quotations from the story and gives us relevant background, see

Nov 6 Nicholasa Mohr, “The English Lesson,” from In Nueva York (1988) pdf

Nov 8 Gish Jen, “In the American Society,” 1986, from Who’s Irish? (1999) pdf

Nov 11 Sandra Cisneros, “Barbie-Q” and “Eleven” from Woman-Hollering Creek (1991); and “We Wanted More,” chapter one from Justin Torres’ novel We the Animals (2011) (all 3 are pdfs)

Nov 13 Junot Díaz, “Negocios,” from Drown (1996) pdf

Nov 15 Rishi Reddi, “Karma,” from Karma and Other Stories (2007) pdf

Nov 18 Tobias Wolff, “That Room,” from Our Story Begins (2008), read by the author (sound recording; see Moodle)

Nov 20 Adam Haslett, “The Volunteer,” from You Are Not a Stranger Here (2002) pdf

Nov 22 Jonathan Raymond, “Train Choir,” from Liveability (2009) pdf. At a time tba, I’ll screen McCabe Library’s DVD of Kelly Reichardt’s great indie film Wendy and Lucy (2008) based on this story; it stars a then-unknown Michelle Williams. Wendy (Verna in the story) is a down-on-her-luck young woman who's hoping to turn things around for herself with a summer job in Alaska, but she finds herself stranded with no money in a small northwestern town with only her dog Lucy for company.
Nov 25 George Saunders, title story from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996) pdf

Nov 27 Thomas Pynchon, the Chums of Chance Time Machine episode, from Pynchon’s novel Against the Day (2006), pp. 397-428. pdf [Note, this story is 30+pp.; please allow extra time. Due to the story’s Pynchonian wild complexities, I recommend reading it at least twice; it will be even funnier and more sublime on second reading]. Optional: listen to Pynchon’s entire story brilliantly read aloud by Dick Hill for Audiobooks. 31 ~3-minute sound files are posted on our Moodle site: about an hour and a half of amazing adventures and metaphysical conundrums.

Nov 29 no class: Thanksgiving break

Dec 2 Charles Yu, “Third Class Superhero” and “Autobiographical Raw Material Unsuitable for the Mining of Fiction,” from Third Class Superhero (2006). pdf. Optional: check out Yu’s recent Authors@Google event, where he reads and discusses portions of his 2010 novel How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, about a time-machine repairman in a damaged and unfinished universe filled with sci-fi characters who have been kicked out of their own stories:
Dec 4 Lorrie Moore, “Paper Losses” (2006), read by the novelist Gary Shteyngart. The link is available below and on Moodle; please listen to the story and then read the fine accompanying discussion of the story by Shteyngart and the current fiction editor of The New Yorker, Deborah Treisman, on this page as well:
Dec 6 Jennifer Egan, “Emerald City,” from Emerald City (1996) pdf
Dec 9 Karen Russell, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” from her first story collection of the same title (2006). pdf. Course conclusion.
Dec. 16 (Monday) second paper or teaching project due. The paper should be 8-12pp. double-spaced and turned in to the LPAC 206 mailbox by 5pm. The teaching project guidelines are sketched below; more information will be given later this semester about this option. To turn in your “lesson plan” work by Dec. 16, you may either post it (or a link to it) on our Moodle website’s blog and/or print it all out and turn it in to LPAC 206.
See below for more info on the paper vs. teaching project options
If you chose the paper option:

No extensions without grade penalty. Students may focus on a single story, or your paper may be a comparative topic comparing and contrasting several stories and authors from the syllabus. You must write on a different author than your paper #1 topic. You should begin planning paper #2 by Dec. 1, so that you can spend about 2 weeks off and on researching, writing, and revising your paper for English 71D.

In paper #2 I also want you to show me that you’ve learned from criticisms and suggestions I gave you regarding paper #1, as well as from our class discussions this semester. Students are encouraged to draw on our class discussions and to discuss their topic and approach with Prof. Schmidt ahead of time.
You are not obligated to do research of secondary sources for this paper, but if you’d like to do so I will be happy to advise you. Older authors such as Hurston or Cheever may have published scholarly articles on the particular story you choose (search on Tripod). With more recent authors, search for online interviews, reviews, and other materials. Try several different search terms—such as “Egan” “Emerald City” “interview” etc.—both in Tripod databases such as the MLA Bibliography or JSTOR and using your favorite Internet search engine. Don’t rely just on Internet search engines to search for secondary sources: Tripod’s databases will give you much less junk in your results.

To find the Literature databases, go to Swarthmore>Tripod>Research Guides [in “Other Search Options”] >English Literature>English Literature>

If you choose the “lesson plan” option for a story, please follow the instructions below. You are also encouraged to talk over your project with Prof. Schmidt at an early stage of your planning.

  1. This is a solo project, not a collaborative one, though you’re of course encouraged to try out your ideas on friends from our class.

  2. If you choose this option rather than a final paper, you must confer with Prof. Schmidt first and get your project approved before proceeding.
  3. Your goal is to be able to make your materials available on the Web to teachers and students (aim for junior high through college, as appropriate). Plan your project with this goal in mind: graphic images should be high quality in an accessible format; documents should be in common formats such as Word or pdf, etc. However, for turning in your work to me at the end of the semester, you may do so either in print form or via posting it on our class’s Moodle blog page: your choice.

  4. Your lesson plan for teaching a story should have the following sections at a minimum. You are welcome to confer with Prof. Schmidt about other additional approaches/materials that would enhance the project more useful for teachers and students.

    1. You should have a title for the project and a table of contents or overview section clearly listing all the component parts.

    2. state your overall goals or outcomes for your lesson plan: what do you want students most to learn about this story?

    3. your lesson plan should be structured to allow students to explore the story and their responses to it more closely with your goals in mind.

      1. Have introductory, middle-level, and concluding discussion questions. Inventing good rather than vague discussion questions takes energy and imagination. Have a mix of questions, with some focusing on small but significant details, while others focus on large ideas and issues that the story raises. Make sure your questions are worded clearly and forcefully; don’t make them too long or opaque. The questions are to help the teachers, but they must be understandable to the students.

      2. To help focus your discussion questions, be sure to identify what you think is the single most interesting issue for interpreting the story—ways in which people might read the story differently and how they might debate with each other regarding their different readings.

      3. Carefully choose selected passages from the story for the students to discuss in detail. Linking special passages to particular discussion questions is a good idea.

      4. What references in the story need to be researched and annotated? You may provide some of this necessary background information yourself, but it would also be good to assign students the task of looking up and discussing some of the references themselves.

      5. What other biographical or historical information is necessary to understand the story? Make decisions about what information you would like to provide, what information you’d like the students to research, and what discussion questions you would ask the students about how to apply this information towards an interpretation of the story. Consider using a mix of texts, still photos, and video, all accessible via live links. The “Bambara Group” YouTube presentation on “The Lesson” provides one simple model.

      6. Add any other elements to your lesson plan that you think would be helpful and appropriate.

5) As well as a lesson plan as sketched above, you should have a Discussion section of your presentation explaining and justifying the choices you made. This will probably be as long or longer than the lesson plan itself. These materials are primarily for Prof. Schmidt, not for the Web, though you may incorporate some of them into what you post if you think it will help make your lesson plan more understandable to teachers. Prof. Schmidt is happy to speak with you further about the contents of the Discussion section, but a strong one carefully presents the reasons why you made the choices that you did in light of the overall goals for your lesson plan. It may also discuss alternatives that you rejected or modified, and why. In contrast, a weak Discussion section would be sloppily done, showing little reflection and self-knowledge about what choices you made and why.

As mentioned above, Prof. Schmidt will be happy to consult with you during the early and later planning stages of your lesson plan. Remember that you must get a rough outline of your project and its goals approved by Prof. Schmidt before you begin.
It’s best to plan on devoting portions of about 2 weeks in December to working on this project. Don’t expect to be able to do it in just 1-2 days!

Short Story in the U.S.


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