Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Short Story and Ernest Gaines Syllabus

Last post, I talked about the Second Annual Ernest J. Gaines Center Summer Teaching Institute. With that in mind, I want to take the time in this blog post to do something a little different. Instead of writing a critical post, I would like to use today's entry to present you with a possible syllabus for teaching Gaines' works either in a secondary or post-secondary setting. When available, I have provided links to the stories below.

The Short Story and Ernest Gaines


This course will examine various authors from around the world and how they influenced the writing of Ernest J. Gaines in particular. Along with authors that influenced Gaines, the course will also explore contemporaneous authors with Gaines and his work. Through this examination, we will challenge the monolithic view of literature, and in particular African American literature, by showing that authors do not receive their inspiration from a uniformed sources. While the course center on Ernest Gaines, it will provide us with an opportunity to explore other avenues as well: short story structure, peasantry in Russia and the United States, Modernism, the South as a space of memory, and other topics.

Readings (Chronological Order):

Ivan Turgenev A Sportsman's Sketches (1852)
Leo Tolstoy The Death of Ivan Illych (1886)
James Joyce "Ivy Day in the Committee Room" (1914)
Jean Toomer "Blood Burning Mood" and "Avey" (1923)
Ernest Hemingway "Soldier's Home," "Big Two-Hearted River Part 1," and "Big Two Hearted River Part 2" (1925)
William Faulkner "April 7, 1928" (Benjy's section in The Sound and the Fury) (1929)
Richard Wright "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow" and "Big Boy Leaves Home" (1938)
Eudora Welty "A Worn Path" (1941)
James Baldwin "The Outing" and "Going to Meet the Man" (1965)
Ernest Gaines Bloodline (1968) and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971)
Alice Walker "Everyday Use" (1973)
Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers 1967 to Present Ed. Gloria Naylor (1997)
Growing Up in the South: An Anthology of Modern Southern Literature Ed. Suzanne Jones (2003)


  • Response papers: These will be in the form of blog posts. I will set up a blog for the class, and you will post your responses there. Each post will require you to answer to my prompt and to respond to other students' responses as well. We will discuss how to do this in a proefssional manner during class. (Teachers, see Shannon Baldino's "The Classroom Blog: Enhancing Critical Thinking, Substantive Discussion, and Appropriate Online Interaction" for a discussion of blogs in the high school classroom.)
  • Wiki: Students will be placed into groups of four. Each group will be required to construct a collaborative wiki with ________ components on an author and text that we read in class. 
    • Each student must write a paragraph describing the class discussion for that author. For example, if the class discusses narrative voice in Faulkner, the response should talk about narrative voice and what the class said about it. 
    • The group must come up with five questions to think about based off of the class discussion or research. 
    • The group must construct an annotated bibliography of six sources. The annotations must be 250-500 words and contain a section stating the source's credibility, a summary of the source, a way to use that source in a research project. 
    • The group must construct a list of symbols/allusions/or other references in the stories. The number here will vary, but each entry must provide information about where it comes from (especially for an allusion) and what purpose it serves in the context of the story. 
    • The group must construct a review of the short story. The review must be between 500-1000 words. Remember, a review is not a summary. Some summary is necessary, but the thrust of the review should be about the story's meaning and importance. 
    • The group must construct a creative page. This page can be anything that you desire. For example, it could be a hand drawn map of the setting. It could be sketch of one of the scenes. It could be a Prezi talking about the author and the themes of the story. It could be a video discussion. This page is open to whatever you want to do.   
  • Research paper: the paper must explore connections between at least two of the authors discussed in class. For example, you could explore the pastoral in Turgenev and Hemingway. Or, you could explore representations of the South in Wright and Baldwin. The paper must be 8-10 pages. You must use 4-6 secondary sources as well to support your argument.

What other types of assignments would you require in a class like this? For class discussion, I would incorporate the "fish bowl" activity. The "fish bowl" has worked well for me in the past, especially in my literature classes.  As well, the wiki assignment worked well. After the initial apprehensiveness of students to work together in this way, students created some amazing wikis and creative pages. Plus, the information provided them with a head start on their research papers. The wikis helped to show students that learning and writing are not solitary activities; they require interaction with others.

Regarding the readings above, I chose them because of their relationship to Ernest Gaines. Gaines has stated, at various times, the influence of many of the authors above. Along with his influences, I added contemporaries of Gaines such as Wright, Baldwin, and Walker to show his work in relationship to those he wrote alongside. The two anthologies listed provide short stories by African American writers and Southern writers. There are works in there that could be used to expand upon the themes and topics in the class.

List of previous blog posts that may be of help with the readings in this course:

Please provide your insights and suggestions in the comments below. What other texts would you suggest in a class like the one above? What assignments and activities have worked for you in the classroom when teaching literature? If you have a syllabus or reading list you would like to propose, let me know at

1 comment:

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