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The Syllabus

Scott Bryson


Office: Bldg 4 Office 7

Office phone: 213-477-2734

Office hours: M 2:50-4:00, and by appointment


Course Description:

The purpose of this course is to help you continue to improve as writers and thinkers. We will examine the principles and practices of writing and give you the opportunity to think critically and read analytically. The course's ultimate goal is that you improve in your ability to interact with the ideas of others and express yourself in response. I will assume going into the course that you are familiar with basic college writing techniques and conventions, and we will work to make you more proficient at using them.

 Students in this course will examine a number of writers who both wrote and set their stories in Los Angeles. As a class, we will add to the beginnings of a Los Angeles Literature website that will be helpful to student-scholars interested in the field. In putting together the website, students will improve their skills in reading, writing, literary analysis, research, and critical thinking. If all goes as planned, students will leave the course with a strong general knowledge of themes often explored in fiction about LA, as well as extensive specific knowledge about at least one text in particular.


Course Texts:

Luis Valdez. Zoot Suit and Other Plays; 214 pages ; Arte Publico Pr; ISBN: 1558850481

Chester Himes. If He Hollers Let Him Go. 203pp. ISBN: 1560254459; Publisher: Avalon

Karen Tei Yamashita. Tropic of Orange. Coffee House Press; ISBN: 1566890640; 270 pgs

Ross MacDonald. The Underground Man. 273pp. ISBN: 0679768084 Publisher: Vintage

Diana Hacker. Writer's Reference. Bedford.

Note: This is a writing intensive course, in which you'll also do a great deal of reading, as well as web creation. You should be aware from the outset that I expect you to complete each assignment on time and be prepared to discuss your ideas and your writing with the class. 


Course Grades:

Essays (4 @ 100 points each)…………………..…………………… ……….…….400 points

Average of Reading Quizzes, Blackboard Discussions, and Daily Work….….. …..200 points

Web Mini-projects (details below).………...…………….……………….….……..200 points

Individual Website grade (determined by instructor and group members)…………100 points

Final Website—Group grade…………………………………….………….………100 points

Grading Scale: 930-1000 A, 900-929 A-, 870-899 B+, 830-869 B, 800-829 B-, 770-799 C+, 730-769 C, 700-729 C-, 600-699 D, below 600 F.


Web mini-projects:

Each group will produce a website that includes the following elements, all of which should be free of distracting mechanical errors:

  • Web links for the assigned author and book: Here you should offer as much helpful information as you can find for your particular author and book. Please provide links to biographies of and interviews with the author (even if they don't all explicitly mention your text); interpretations or reviews of the work; historical information that relates to the book; and anything else you can find. Your goal for this part of the assignment is to produce as exhaustive a list as possible. 
  • Secondary bibliography on the assigned text: A bibliography containing all of the sources that offer analysis of your particular text. This bibliography should be formatted according to MLA guidelines, and it should include only secondary materials. Some of you will face the problem of finding too much information; some of you will meet the opposite obstacle, discovering that not as much has been written about your text. I am not assigning a certain number of works that should be included in this bibliography; I am saying only that it should be, like your list of web links, exhaustive. In other words, you should provide every book review, journal article, interview, and book chapter that has ever been written about your book. This bibliography does not have to be annotated. 
  • Summary of the book's plot: A one-page summary of the story (or stories), for anyone who hasn't read the book. We'll discuss in class what makes up a good summary.
  • A "geographical" reading of the book in which you examine the place-awareness of the text. For this part of your website, which will be the heart of your project, you are looking to produce anything that will make your project better and more interesting. Consider your audience to be someone who lives in, say, Houston or Atlanta or Chicago, and who is counting on your website to help her experience the LA-ness of the novel more fully. This element of your website should include three main parts: 

(1)    A listing, by page number, of every single reference the book makes to LA landmarks, street names, buildings, neighborhoods, etc. Thus, as you read your assigned text, you should keep a pen in hand and mark each specific LA reference, possibly keeping a list of page numbers in the back of the book. 

(2)    Information and images that will prove useful to someone who is studying this book. You might consider, for instance, landmarks around LA; digital/scanned pictures of landmarks; routes that characters in the book drive in or run in or explore; local businesses; quotes about the city.

(3)    A few paragraphs' discussion of how much effort the author seems to have made at being geographically accurate. These paragraphs should introduce this section of your website and should contain at least 300 words.

If you simply do a good job at listing and identifying all the references, you are assured of a B on this part of the project. But if you're looking for an A, you'll need to do a good deal more work and be a bit more creative.

·         Additional materials relating to your text that a prospective student-scholar would find helpful. This is another place for you to be creative. Past groups have provided, for example, a glossary containing English translations of the Spanish words and phrases used in a book; recommended reading of the author's other works; suggestions for what actors might play the characters were a movie to be made of this story; and frequently asked questions concerning the book and its author. 

Student Rights And Responsibilities:

·         Attendance: My policy on attendance has been stated above. College guidelines may be found on page 39 of the MSMU Catalog.

·         Learning Disabilities: See Learning Disability Statement in MSMU Catalog.

·         Academic Freedom: See Student Handbook page 104.

·         Academic Integrity/Plagiarism Statement: See pages 40, 41. Any student found guilty of plagiarism will receive a failing grade for the assignment and possibly for the entire course. Additional measures will be taken if warranted.

Classroom expectations:

I would like to welcome all students into an environment that creates a sense of community of pride, courtesy, and respect; we are all here to work cooperatively and to learn together. In order to create a smooth and harmonious learning community, please make every attempt to come to all the class sessions, to come to class on time, and to stay until the end of the meeting unless you have informed me that you must leave early. There may be a time when you are unavoidably late for class. In that case, please come into the room quietly and choose a seat closest to the entrance; also, please see me after class in order to adjust my role sheet. Once the class session has begun, please do not leave the room and then re-enter unless it is an emergency. 


It is important that we are all able to stay focused on the class lecture/discussion. For this reason, only one person at a time in the class should be speaking. Side conversations are distracting for surrounding students and for me. As you can see, simple norms of courtesy should be sufficient to have our class run in the best interests of all of us. Thank you in advance for your cooperation. 

Late work:    

All assignments are due at the beginning of the class period. I do not accept late daily work (including blackboard assignments), and quizzes cannot be made up. This means that if you miss class, you should arrange to have someone else deliver your assignment. If you miss class when a quiz is given, you will receive a 0 for that day's quiz grade. (If you miss class for an excused absence, you will be offered the option of writing a typed, 2-page paper to replace your missed quiz grade. This paper will be due one week after the missed class, and it is your responsibility to have the paper prepared.)

The final grade on any work turned in late without a properly excused absence will be lowered ten points for each calendar day the work is late. This policy includes essays turned in during or after class the day the essay is due.


Attendance and Class Work: 

Regular attendance is required. If you have more than four unexcused absences, I will lower your final grade by a letter grade. An excused absence is a documented illness or an official school trip. You should do your very best to contact me before class when you know you are going to be absent. Excessive tardiness may also result in a lowered grade.

Also, please understand that you are responsible for each day's assignment when you come to class. If you miss class for any reason, you must be sure to get the assignment for the next class meeting and be prepared. If any written work is due on the day you are absent, arrange for a classmate or friend to bring me the work. You are also responsible for work due the day you return to class.

Names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of two people in your class:




Tentative Course Calendar: 

All readings and writing are due on the day they appear on the schedule.

Week 1: 1/15-7

Wed:   Course introduction

Fri:       Luis Valdez. Zoot Suit and Other Plays

Week 2: 1/20-4

Mon:     No Class: MLK Holiday

Wed:    Luis Valdez. Zoot Suit and Other Plays

Fri:       Luis Valdez. Zoot Suit and Other Plays

Week 3: 1/27-31

Mon:     Ross MacDonald. The Underground Man

Discuss library research

In-class groupwork

Wed:    Ross MacDonald. The Underground Man

Fri:       Ross MacDonald. The Underground Man

Discuss Essay 1: Comparison

Week 4: 2/3-7

Mon:     Ross MacDonald. The Underground Man

Wed:    Ross MacDonald. The Underground Man

Fri:       Ross MacDonald. The Underground Man

Week 5: 2/10-4

Mon:     In-class writing

Web mini-project #1 due: Helpful web links—author and book

Wed:    In-class writing

Fri:       Extensive outline of Essay 1 due

Week 6: 2/17-21

Mon:     No Class: Presidents Day

Wed:    Essay 1 peer revision: Please bring two near-perfect drafts

Fri:       Essay 1 due

In-class groupwork

Week 7: 2/24-8

Mon:     Karen Tei Yamashita. Tropic of Orange

Wed:    Library research day: No class

Fri:       Karen Tei Yamashita. Tropic of Orange

Week 8: 3/3-7

Mon:     Karen Tei Yamashita. Tropic of Orange

In-class groupwork

Wed:    Karen Tei Yamashita. Tropic of Orange

Fri:       Karen Tei Yamashita. Tropic of Orange

Web mini-project #2 due: Secondary Bibliography on your book

Week 9: SPRING BREAK (3/10-4)

Week 10: 3/17-21

Mon:     Chester Himes. If He Hollers Let Him Go

Discuss Essay 2: Research essay with critical context

Wed:    Chester Himes. If He Hollers Let Him Go

Fri:       Chester Himes. If He Hollers Let Him Go

Week 11: 3/24-8

Mon:     In-class writing: Essay 2

Wed:    Library research day: No class

Fri:       In-class writing: Essay 2

Week 12: 3/31-4/4

Mon:     Extensive outline of Essay 2 due

Wed:    In-class writing: Essay 2

Fri:       Essay 2 peer revision:  Please bring two near-perfect drafts

Week 13: 4/7-11

Mon:     Essay 2 due

Discuss FrontPage

Wed:    Web work

Fri:       Web mini-project #3 due: Summary of your book

Web work

Week 14: 4/14-8

Mon:     Discuss Essay 3: Portfolio (including group evaluation)

Wed:    Web work

Fri:       No class—Easter Holiday

Week 15: 4/21-5

Mon:     No class—Easter Holiday

Wed:    Web work

Fri:       In-class writing: Portfolio

Week 16: 4/28-5/2

Mon:     In-class writing: Portfolio

Wed:    Website presentations

Fri:       Portfolio due

Review for final (on Los Angeles literature)