Reconstructive Encounters:

Native American and Euro-American "Classics"

Spring 1997


English 6339-501 Office Hrs: M: 1-2:30; W: 4-5:30; TTH by apt., 405 Carlisle
Instructor: Dr. Roemer Please schedule appointments; Phone: 273-2692
W: 6-9 pm; 201 Carlisle Mailbox:  203 Carlisle

Nature and Goals of the Course

The primary goal of the course is to examine how comparative analyses of (often unfamiliar) American Indian texts and (often familiar) mainstream texts can affect our concepts of genre, author, audience, canon, American literature, literary criteria, and literature.  A secondary aim is to offer a highly selective introduction to four important types of Native American literatures:  (1) oral literatures (ceremony and narratives);  (2) bicultural life story narratives told in the subject's language but written in English; (3)fiction written in English;  and (4) mixed genres that combine oral and written forms.  Means and assessment:  the lectures, the group discussions of specific questions, the films, and the two types of writing assignments (examination essays and the paper) should help students to improve their ability to compare texts analytically.

Sources for Research 

The annual PMLA Bibliographies are useful and computer searches are available, but the single most valuable resource in American literature is still American Literary Scholarship  (ALS ).  These are annual volumes of critical, bibliographical essays published by Duke University.  The major general journals in the field include:  American Literature,  American Literary History,  American Quarterly,  and Resources for American Literary Study.   For period and other more specialized journals see the most recent edition of James L. Harner's Literary Research Guide.   For introductions to Indian literatures see Parts 1 & 2 of A. LaVonne Ruoff's American Indian Literatures  (1990);  Paula Gunn Allen's Studies in American Indian Literature (1983); Janet Witalec's Native North American Literature  (1994);  Andrew Wiget's Handbook of Native American Literature (1996); and Kenneth M. Roemer's Native American Writers of the United States (1997).  Journals in the field include: Studies in American Indian Literatures  (SAIL ),  American Indian Quarterly (AIQ),  American Indian Culture and Research Journal  (AICRJ  ), Wicazo sa,  Native American Literatures  [published occasionally in Pisa, Italy), and Moccasin Telegraph,  the newsletter of the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers & Storytellers.  There are useful web sites and an active listserv: <>.  The most valuable resource at UTA for the study of American Indian literatures is the Minority Cultures Collection housed on the second floor of the library.   Visit the MCC before beginning your paper.   

Required Readings  (Books, distributed excerpts, course packet)

Ruoff, American Indian Literatures;  Whitman, Leaves of Grass  (we will focus on "Song of Myself" and "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry");  Neihardt, Black Elk Speaks;  Underhill,  Papago Woman;  Franklin, Autobiography  (selections); Thoreau, Walden  (selections); Silko, Storyteller;  Erdrich, Love Medicine;  Faulkner, Go Down, Moses;  Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain.

Sign out for excerpts from Matthews' 1902 translation of the Navajo Nightway. 
Also a course packet of "primary" and "secondary" sources (see titles below).

Tentative Schedule / Topics / Readings

Jan 21  Introduction to the Course
                Reading: Ruoff, American Indian Literatures,  skim Pts. 1 & 2
        Oral Literatures

Jan 21, 28      Readings:  Night Way excerpts and notes from Matthews; 
Feb 4           introd. by Bierhorst; analyses by Witherspoon, "Beautifying";  Faris,           Nightway;  and Roemer, "Nightway"; Whitman, "Song of My Self,"          "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," and Harjo, "She Had Some Horses" 

        Narratives:  Comic & Tragic

Feb 11  Readings:  Hopi "Iisaw" Story (video from Words & Place  series);
                "High Horse" in Black Elk;   Twain, "Jumping Frog"; Wiget, "Telling the                 Tale";  Lowe, "Theories of Ethnic Humor"; Twain, "How to Tell a Tale."

Feb 18, 25      Readings: Hopi "Poowak" (2 versions);  Jaskoski, "Witch Lady Story";            Laguna Arrowboy (film version by Leslie Silko);  Hawthorne, "Young              Good Man Brown";  Sarris, "Slaughterhouse."

Mar 4   First Examination (two hours)

        Oral/Written Life Stories

Mar 4   Introductions
                Readings (to be read by March 11): Brumble, "Editors"; Wong, "Native            American Self"

        Bicultural Visionary Lives
Mar 11  Readings Black Elk;  Papago Woman

        Mainstream Spiritual, Secular, Transcendental Lives
Mar 25  Readings:  Edwards, Woolman, Franklin (through "[Thus far written at            Passy, 1784]"), Thoreau, (Chs.: 1,2, 4, 12, 16-18)

Mar 25Paper Prospectus Due

        Multi-genre, Communal Self
Apr 1           Readings:  Silko, Storyteller;  Krupat, from Voice in the Margin

Apr 8   Second Examination (two hours)         

        Fictions Written in English

        Short Fictions
Apr 8           Readings:  Silko, "Storyteller," Sherwood Anderson, "Death"

Apr 15  Readings:  Erdrich, Love Medicine     (Paper prospectus due.)  
Apr 22                Faulkner, Go Down, Moses
        Oral/Written Narratives, Ceremonies, Life Stories, Fictions

Apr 29  Readings:  Momaday, The Way to Rainy Mountain,  Roemer, "Survey                 Courses"; "Inventive Modeling."  (Not required but relevant:  Roemer,           Approaches to Teaching Momaday's The Way to Rainy Mountain. )

May 6   Brief presentations of papers (ungraded); review for third exam; paper due.

May 13Third Examination


Each of the exams will consist of essay questions that require comparisons between Indian and non-Indian texts.  In a study sheet the nature of the essay questions will be presented during the class prior to the exam.  Students will be allowed to bring books, notes, outlines, etc.  Exam one covers oral literatures;  exam two covers the life stories; exam three covers the fiction and Momaday.  Primary criteria questions:  How well does the student address the question?  (as opposed to wandering)  How well does s(he) support claims with specific and relevant examples?  (as opposed to arguing with a chain of assertions)

Paper (prospectus due March 25; paper due May 6;  approximately  3,000 - 5,000 words (12-20 pp.)

Prospectus (ungraded):  approximately one page indicating the central texts analyzed; the primary argument; the dominant method; and the central critical/scholarly sources.

The "topic" of the paper is "open" to any of the texts assigned (or if you consult with me early you can use an unassigned text).  Requirements: The paper must involve a comparison between an Indian and a non-Indian text;  the arguments must demonstrate an ability to integrate critical/scholarly sources and your interpretations.  (See the first page of this syllabus for scholarly sources.)  Primary criteria questions:  Does the paper meet the "requirements"?  Is there a clearly defined focus appropriate for a paper of this length?  Is the organization appropriate for the focus and argument(s)? Are arguments supported by specific and relevant examples?  Also -- "mechanics," e.g., MLA form, spelling, punctuation, etc.  

Grading "Weights":  First exam (20%), Second exam (20%), Third Exam (20%), Paper (40%).  See comments on class participation and improvement below.  

Discouragements and Encouragements:   The former --  Under normal circumstances, no late work will be accepted, and I rarely give incompletes.  Three unexcused absences = a half-grade drop in the semester grade; six = a full-grade drop, etc.  To receive a W, a graduate student must drop before mid-semester;  when dropping be sure to follow University procedures.  Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty will be "turned over" to the appropriate University office.  If you have questions about plagiarism, consult the current Graduate School manual on theses and dissertations and/or consult with me.  The latter --  I am very willing to accommodate students with disabilities.  These students should identify themselves at the beginning of the semester and provide me with authorized documentation from the appropriate University office.  I appreciate constructive class participation, especially since I routinely assign specific group discussion questions for each class.  Good participation can raise a semester grade significantly (e.g., from a B+ to an A-.)  I also appreciate improvement. If an early grade is "low," but later grades improve, I will weigh the latter "heavier."