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Freshman English 003 Themes
- Spring 2014

Short Stories of the African Diaspora

Ada Vilageliu-Diaz, Instructor

These theme-based sections of Freshman Composition will focus on analyzing short stories written by writers of the African diaspora. Regardless of geographical or linguistic boundaries, the stories written--in the United States of America, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, or Barbados--by people of African descent share similarities in the way narrators shape their arguments about belonging, identity, memory, and community. The class will focus on how those literary arguments challenge and protest assumptions about race and gender. As a result, students will shape their own arguments by following this tradition of resistance in narratives that dehumanize or undermine communities of color. Through class discussions, oral presentations, group projects, argumentative essays, journals, and websites, students will explore how these short stories suggest arguments about memory and renewal. In this context, arguments written by students join this tradition of liberating writing and become weapons of resistance and of self-affirmation.

Yardie Fiction

Dennis L. Winston, Instructor

This theme-based section of Freshman Composition focuses on “yardie fiction” by Black British writers. Yardie fiction borrows from dancehall culture as a way to critically engage the history of Caribbean and sometimes African, Asian and even African American immigration to England. Yardie fiction, in which the trope of the yardie embodies or manifests the conflicting messages of dancehall culture and music (such as the paradox of socio-cultural liberation coexisting with misogyny or homophobia), offers insightful analyses on race relations and societal transformations. Yardie fiction’s ability to analyze effectively social, economic, and racial inequality is a credit to writers observing and illustrating dancehall culture. A number of important questions guide this course. Chief among them are the following: What are the connections between popular cultural expressions of black male violence—such as street literature, yardie fiction, rap music, and dancehall—the African diaspora and postcolonialism? How are we to understand popular productions of violent black male cultures as a common and/or unifying aspect of the African diaspora? Might the popularity of violent black male identities such as the “street nigga” trope and the yardie trope be considered a form of revolutionary postcolonial intervention? That is to say, are both of these popular literary and cultural tropes actively engaged in the discussion of decolonization and resistance to imperialism? Thus, the crux of this course pivots on negotiations between defiant-black-male-youth cultures, postcolonial theory and a theory of the African diaspora.

Double Consciousness, the Talented Tenth, and Africology

Samuel Doku, Instructor

Although racial, political, national, and political forms of subjectivity define modern collectives, interestingly, black subjects were excluded in the past from being beneficiaries of the national promise. From that perspective, black intellectuals like W.E.B. Du Bois and Carter G. Woodson based their educational treatises on capturing the humanity and dignity of blacks in texts. Consequently, their texts resonate profusely with Africological or Afrocentric themes. In this course, we will focus primarily on Du Bois. Throughout his life, Du Bois wrote tirelessly in his books, essays, and lectures to help in the restoration of the dignity, subjectivity, humanism, and intellectual appreciation of black people. He engendered the metaphor of the Veil as double consciousness, first as a psychological battle of the individual and then as an external drive to fight against racism and discrimination, even as black subjects strive to maintain their cultural distinctiveness without necessarily assimilating. Additionally, Du Bois introduced the concept of the Talented Tenth in 1897 in which he advocated for highly educated blacks to help the less fortunate in society; today, Howard University students are the vanguards and extension of Du Bois’s vision. This course will also explore the role our students are playing in promoting this laudable idea.

Empowerment

Claudia Vilato, Instructor

We all want to feel confident. What if you could discover how to create a successful life for yourself and even others in English 003? In this 003 class, we will not only learn how to write argument papers with research, but we will also learn how to change the world--- starting with ourselves. We will start with psychology--- looking at character and individual possibility. Then we will move on to reviewing career opportunities in terms of race and gender, and thinking about how to be successful at school and work regardless of social biases. Finally, we will examine people who are empowering others around the world. Some possible assignments may include sending letters to elected officials and making business plans to start charities. For this class you will need 3 books: They Say/I Say, your Howard University Student Handbook, and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. You’ll also need access to Netflix online.

Half the Sky

Kathleen Grathwol, Instructor

These theme-based sections of Freshman Composition examines from a global perspective the issue of gender inequality and the oppression of women and girls. The course will be centered on the text, Half the Sky, the groundbreaking work of the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In examining the heartbreaking challenges faced by women detailed in these works, students will come to a deeper understanding of one of the central moral challenges of the 21st century. Our exploration of the responses to those challenges, responses that are frequently marked by dramatic transformation and enduring hope, will hopefully lead students to appreciate the resilience of the human spirit and to understand the potential of one individual to withstand oppression. To facilitate the exploration of this issue, we will consider the position of women and girls first in the developing world, then in the developed world outside of the US, and finally within the United States. We will also watch the PBS series inspired by the work of Kristof and WuDunn, and students will write a review of that series. Lastly, we will explore the question of how one turns oppression into opportunity through student research projects that will examine a situation of oppression (of their choosing) and develop proposals for possible solutions to that situation.

Reading the New Yorker

Alis Sandosharaj, Instructor

In this course we study argument by reading essays and film reviews from the New Yorker Magazine or another similarly styled magazine. Using a paper or online subscription to the bimonthly periodical, we engage not only with issues in news, art, books, sports, music and politics, but with the best contemporary writers. These often award-winning writers model how to construct convincing arguments using specific examples, lucid prose and deep attention to refutation, all while remaining a pleasure to read. In addition, the contemporary nature of the reading material provides ample opportunity for students to connect to broader communities and current events. For example, readings for newly released books at Busboys and Poets or Politics and Prose, independent films at the historic E Street Cinema, or traveling exhibits at the National Gallery.

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