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ENGL 1800 American Ethnic Literatures

About the Course

This course introduces students to a diverse sampling of literature by contemporary Ethnic American writers. The course will be book-ended by two works that examine themes of racial passing and otherness, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Mat Johnson’s graphic novel, Incognegro. In between will be books that look at, among other things, issues of ethnic identity, inter-generational conflicts, the role of cultural and personal documents in storytelling, and characters’ abilities to create alternate realities. The works under consideration will also explore themes of place, humor, belonging, otherness, immigration, and diaspora, and issues of race and gender. Through careful readings and lively discussions of the selected texts, students will broaden their understanding of American Ethnic Literatures and, by extension, American Literature.

According to the University of Colorado course catalog, English 1800 introduces significant fiction by ethnic Americans, explores both the literary and the cultural elements that distinguish work by these writers, emphasizes materials from Native American, African American, and Chicano traditions, and is approved for the arts and sciences core curriculum: human diversity.


This course introduces students to compelling literature by Ethnic American writers. By the end of this course, successful students will have:

  • Gained exposure to and understanding of important works of American Ethnic Literatures
  • Developed critical thinking, reading, and writing skills
  • Practiced analytical and interpretive skills by discussing the literature and writing essays about it

Grade Breakdown

  • Initial discussion posts for seven units (25%)
  • Follow-up discussion posts for seven units (15%)
  • Seven reading quizzes, one for each unit (10%)
  • Three-page close reading (10%)
  • Four-five-page paper (15%)
  • Five-seven-page paper (25%)

Required Texts

  • Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye, Vintage International, 1994 (1970) (978-0307278449)
  • Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Grove Press, 2005 (1993) (978-0802141675)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies, Mariner Books, 1999 (978-0395927205)
  • Nicole Krauss, The History of Love, W.W. Norton & Co., 2005 (978-0393328627
  • Ana Castillo, So Far from God, W.W. Norton & Co., 2005 (978-0452272095)
  • Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Riverhead Trade Press, 2007 (978-1594483295)
  • Mat Johnson, Incognegro, Vertigo Press, 2008 (978-1401210984)

Instructor Contact


Jennifer Armstrong earned her PhD at the University of Colorado, where she specialized in nineteenth-century American literature and documentary literature and film. She earned an MA in English from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English and BAs in English and Psychology from Sewanee: The University of the South. She began teaching college courses in 1998 and has taught at CU since 2003. Her research interests include women’s literature, Ethnic American Literatures, literature of the Global South, and documentary writing, audio, and film.

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