Contemporary American Fiction

603-102-MQ, section 8, Fall 2017

Mondays 12:00-2:00 in 3F.38 & Thursdays 8:00-10:00 in 3F.37

English Department | Prerequisite: 603-101 MQ


Jeff Gandell                                                                        Tel.:  (514) 931-8731   local: 4980

Office: 3D.3-1                                                                               E-mail: MIO

Office hours: Mondays 2:00-3:00 &

Thursdays 10:00-11:00

or by appointment


The best way to communicate with me outside of class and office hours is MIO. I check my MIO once per day between the hours of 8:00 AM and 4:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Please allow up to 24 hours for a response (I’ll usually get back to you sooner than that). I do not check my email outside of these hours or on the weekend. So, if you email me on the weekend, expect a response on Monday.

Course hours per week:   2 hours of theoretical work

2 hours of practical work

3 hours of homework

Course Description

In this course we will read several short stories published in 2015, and one novel published in 2007. Their contemporariness allows for a certain level of accessibility in terms of both language and subject matter. This approachability will hopefully allow us access into the diverse characters’ inners lives. This is a class very much about character—humans beings and their diverse universes. Emotions such as desire, aspiration, disappointment, frustration, lust, joy, and—above all—love and its opposite, fear, will play a large role in our understanding of these characters. One recurring theme will explore how attempts at love and connection often end up leading to loss and isolation. The pieces we will read describe a wide variety of cultural and ethnic experience, something that is of course woven into the fabric of America itself. We’ll begin the semester reading short stories from The Best American Short Stories 2015. In the second part of the course, we will read one novel by Junot Díaz. The pieces in this class are frequently funny, quirky, weird, challenging, heartbreaking, and breathtaking. And the characters we meet will be inspiring, terrifying, magical, humble, and larger than life. The fun and joy in the class will largely come from taking these stories apart to see what makes the fictional people in them really tick.

We are very fortunate to be in a high-tech Active Learning Classroom for all our classes. We will take full advantage of the possibilities that this space provides. There will be some lecturing, but not much. Most of the class time will be spent by completing tasks in small groups. These tasks could range from close reading, to short presentations, to research, to drawing pictures and making collages. All of the work we do in this class will be creative to some degree. We will not simply be reading these pieces and analyzing them—we will be discovering and creating meaning with each task we embark on.

In terms of output, particular attention will be paid to writing and creativity as a process. There is also a structured system of self-assessment in this class, which will allow each student to progress and learn according to your individuality personality and writing/reading skill set.

Required Course Materials

  1. The Best American Short Stories 2015, edited by T.C. Boyle
  2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz
  3. Access to the class blog:

The books are available at the Dawson bookstore and on reserve in the library. You must bring the relevant book to every class.

Assignments and Grade Distribution

  • Participation                                               10%
    • 2%: One office meeting during the semester is required
    • 8%: Participation self-evaluation
  • Reading Responses                                 15%
    • Short, analytical responses to assigned readings. Graded on a check, plus, and minus system, which will be converted into a number grade at the mid-term and at the end of the semester.
  • Classroom work                                        10%
    • Short, group exercises completed in class. Graded on a check, plus, and minus system, which will be converted into a number grade at the mid-term and at the end of the semester.
  • Self-Assessment journal      10%
    • Six short self-assessments that you will complete throughout the semester. Graded on a check, plus, and minus system, which will be converted into a number grade at the mid-term and at the end of the semester.
  • Short story assignment        20%
    • A major writing assignment based on one short story that we will read in the first half of the semester.
      • 5%: Rough draft
      • 15%: Final draft
  • Novel Assignment                                    35%
    • A major creative and analytical assignment based on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. This assignment will contain a team component (creating a blog) and an individual component (a piece of writing or creative piece based on the novel).
      • 5%: Rough Draft
      • 5%: Peer evaluation
      • 5%: Team Work
      • 5%: Showcase
      • 15%: Final Draft

A minimum of 60% is required to pass the course.


Late Reading Responses, Classroom Work, or Self-Assessments, or Rough Drafts will not be accepted under any circumstances.

If you miss your showcase date, you forfeit that entire 5% grade.

I will accept late Final Drafts for the Short Story and Novel Assignments. These will be deducted 5% for each day they are late.

You must be in class on the day the Final Drafts of major assignments. If you submit these assignments on time, but are not in class they day they are due, they will be considered one day late. If you are more than ten minutes late on the day Final Drafts are due, your Final Draft will be considered one day late.

Final Drafts that are more than one week late will not be accepted under any circumstances.

Extensions can be granted for Final Drafts of the short story and novel assignments. If you would like an extension, please come and talk to me in person about it at least one week before the assignment is due. I will not reply to requests for extensions sent by email.

If you feel you will have trouble getting any assignment in on time, or are having any trouble keeping up, please come and speak to me about it as soon as possible.

Academic Integrity Policy

Cheating “includes any dishonest or deceptive practice relative to formal final examinations, in-class tests, or quizzes.” Plagiarism is “the presentation or submission by a student of another person’s work as his or her own” (ISEP V.C). If you are unsure about what constitutes cheating or plagiarism, consult me before submitting work.

Any form of cheating or plagiarism will automatically result in a mark of 0 for the assignment and may result in failure in the course.

According to the Institutional Student Evaluation Policy (ISEP), the teacher is required to report to the Sector Dean all cases of cheating and plagiarism affecting a student’s grade. (ISEP Section V-C)

If you are feeling overwhelmed, confused, unmotivated, or generally lacking in ideas, please come and speak to me about it. The major assignments are not easy, and it’s totally normal to experience moments of discouragement. I am very good at coaching students into crystallizing their ideas.

Student Conduct and Attendance

Course attendance and participation is crucial to successful assimilation of the concepts and material we will be covering. In order for each student to benefit as much as possible, the classroom should be a place of lively and respectful discussion, debate, and cooperation. Any student attending class will be expected to be a part of the sharing of ideas that will make up the fabric of this course. This means that you will be expected to come to class having read the assigned readings, and ready to contribute to the scheduled discussion.

There is no mark for attendance, but a large percentage of your grade depends on work being done in class (participation, reading responses, preliminary exercises, etc.). Missing a couple of classes throughout the semester is not a problem, but once you start to miss three or more classes, your grade will be affected. Because of the in-class work you’ll be missing, being absent for more than six classes will put you in danger of failing the course. In the event that your grade does not add up to a 60% at the end of the course because of missed assignments due to not attending class, you will fail the course. In this case, I will, under no circumstances, offer any kind of make-up assignments.

Being punctual is important. Things happen, and an occasional inadvertent lateness is no problem. If you’re late frequently, we’ll need to have a chat. Usual rules of common sense, honesty, and respect apply. I reserve the right to not let you into class if I feel your lateness is disruptive.

The use of cell phones or any similar electronic device is forbidden during class time. I am very strict about cell phones. Seriously. Students using them in class bothers me, a lot. If you are in this class, you are agreeing to not use your phone for the entire time. Please keep your phone on silent and in your bag. If I see you using your cell phone, I will stop the class and everyone will sit and wait for you to put it away. Don’t be that person, please.

There will be specific times where laptops will be permitted. Otherwise, they are forbidden during class time.

Everyone has the right to a safe and non-violent environment. Students are obliged to conduct themselves as stated in the Student Code of Conduct and in the ISEP section on the roles and responsibilities of students. (ISEP Section II-D)

Students should refer to the Institutional Student Evaluation Policy (Section IV-C) regarding attendance.

If a student is attending an intensive course, the student must inform the teacher within the first two (2) weeks of class of the specific dates of any anticipated absences. 

Policy on Religious Observance

Students who intend to observe religious holidays must inform their teachers in writing as prescribed in the ISEP Policy on Religious Observances. (ISEP Section IV-D)

Ministerial Objectives and Standards

The objective of this course is to enable students to apply a critical approach to literary genres.  Students will learn to recognize literary genres and conventions. Students will also learn to situate a work within its literary and historical contexts and to analyze a representative work.

On successful completion of this course, students will be able to produce a 1000-word analytical essay with the aid of reference material. This essay will demonstrate a knowledge of formal characteristics and literary and rhetorical devices. This essay will also demonstrate use of appropriate terminology and thorough revision of form and content.


A student graduating from an English 102 course:

In reading

  • recognizes formal characteristics of one or more literary genres
  • understands the literal meaning of the text studied
  • recognizes and appreciates the significance of stylistic and rhetorical features in the works studied
  • perceives and appreciates the significance of historical and cultural context to the works studied

In writing

  • can formulate and develop a thesis statement that pertains to some formal aspect of a literary work (e.g., analysis of character, plot, language or patterns of language, etc.)
  • can develop a critical analysis that is distinct from a personal reaction or plot summary
  • can locate supporting evidence within the literary work, present it clearly and logically, and explain  how the evidence supports the thesis
  • can maintain unity and coherence throughout the essay
  • can write relatively clear and error-free sentences

Competency 4EA1: Apply an analytical approach to literary genres.

The following elements of the competency will be fully addressed:

  1. 1. Distinguish genres of literary texts.
  2. Recognize the use of literary conventions within a specific genre.
  3. Situate a work within its historical and literary period.
  4. Write a critical analysis of a literary genre.
  5. Revise the work.



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