Queens College – Introduction to Narrative

Introduction to Narrative 161W: Narrative, Fantasy, History

Spring 2015 | Mondays and Wednesdays | 7:45-9:00 am

Rathaus 112


Instructor: Danica Savonick


Office hours: M 9-10 | Klapper 356


Intro to Narrative (161W): Narrative, Fantasy, History

In this class, we will explore the ways in which our lives are structured by narrative and suffused with fantasy, paying careful attention to how understandings of race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and nationality all emerge through contested and conflicting narratives. We will focus less on defining narrative and more on the following questions:

1) Why are narratives important? What do they do? How do they work?

2) What are the different ways we can read narratives?

3) What gets to count as history vs. fantasy and why?

4) How do historical narratives influence our understanding of the present?

In order to better understand the complexity of narratives, we will linger with the nuances, contradictions, and unresolved tensions within and among texts. Our task is to tease out how the narratives we read simultaneously theorize “narrative,” and invite us to try new critical and imaginative reading practices. We will experiment with the narrative strategies we encounter by producing our own textual, visual, cinematic, cartographic, and sonic texts. We will attend to each other’s work with the same care and scrutiny that we give to assigned readings. This course should be undertaken as an experimental, collaborative, and hopefully thrilling intellectual adventure into the processes of meaning-making in our lives.


Course Goals

Upon completing this course, students will be able to…

  1. think more critically and creatively about the stakes of narrative.
  2. analyze and critique narrative effectiveness.
  3. produce compelling, convincing, persuasive, and stylish narratives using a variety of media.
  4. better work collaboratively.


Course Requirements

  1. Active class participation, homework (15%)
  2. Revised blog posts and comments (20%)
  3. Two revised response papers (40%)
  4. Final collaborative project and individual response paper (25%)


Required Texts

  1. Diaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Penguin, 2007.
  2. Hartman, Saidiya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007.

All other readings will be available on our course website: www.futures.gc.cuny.edu/introtonarrative.

Futures Initiative

Congratulations! You are taking one of a dozen courses in the CUNY system chosen to be part of  the Futures Initiative. The Futures Initiative is dedicated to innovative teaching and learning methods and promoting public education. This is an honor, one that will come with many exciting opportunities for you. Upon successful completion of this course, you will officially be a “Futures Initiative Scholar,” a distinguished honor that you can put on resumes, and scholarship and job applications. Futures Initiative Scholars will have the opportunity to apply for a leadership position (possibly with funding) so that you can mentor students in next year’s Futures Initiative classes.

  • Although there are no additional assignments, one difference is that much of what we do this semester will be public.
  • In addition to learning about narrative, we will focus on developing techniques and skills for studying and learning, communication, collaboration, time management, and project management. These will serve you throughout your college career, in the workplace, and in everyday life. We will be doing some group work, guided by research principles that have been designed to ensure your success in the classroom and beyond.
  • You are encouraged to actively talk and write about not only what you are learning, but how you are learning: assignments, activities, projects, etc.
  • As a class, we will contribute to the CUNY Map of New York in order to learn online mapping tools and publicly demonstrate the kinds of work we are doing here at Queens College.
  • There will be extra credit opportunities to attend Futures Initiative events and blog about your experiences. Many will be at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan and some will be live-streamed so that you can attend virtually.


Course Website and Technology

For this course, you will need to sign up for accounts with CBox, Google, and HASTAC.


CBox will be our primary class blog and workspace. This is where you can access the course readings.

The URL for our course website is www.futures.gc.cuny.edu/introtonarrative. In order to access the site, you will need to set up an account with CBox.

  1. Go to futures.gc.cuny.edu and click “Join Us.”
  2. Create an account and fill out your profile. You do not need to check the box marked “Yes, I’d like to create a new site.”
  3. Once you’ve created an account and signed in, you should be able to access our course site from the above URL. Please contact me if you have any trouble.

We will use Google Documents to workshop drafts of our writing and to complete homework assignments. If you don’t already have a gmail account, please sign up for one here.


We will post revised versions of some projects to the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Collaboratory (HASTAC) a scholarly social network for students and teachers.

  1. Create an account on HASTAC: http://www.hastac.org/user/register
  2. Ask permission to join the Group “Queens College – Introduction to Narrative.”


Submission of Work

You must submit hard copies of your two formal response papers: single-spaced with one inch margins, size 12 Times New Roman font, last name and page number in the upper righthand corner, and an MLA Works Cited page. Blogs, comments, and some homework assignments will be submitted electronically and should also include proper citations. Points will be deducted for work submitted late.



This course is designed for you to succeed. If you attend all classes and submit all assigned work on time, you are guaranteed at least a C.



Plagiarism will not be tolerated. A student who has plagiarized any part of a paper will automatically fail the paper and possibly the class. The student will also be listed on a departmental record that will be maintained for the duration of the student’s enrollment at the College and reported to the Dean of Students, who may decide to take further action. See the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity.


Writing Center

Located in Kiely Hall 229, staffed by tutors trained to help you revise your writing at various stages. If you believe you need additional help with your writing, or if I ask you to set up a regular meeting with a tutor, you should make an appointment at least one week prior to an assignment due date. Online help is also available at their website.


Special Accommodations

If you have a learning, sensory, or physical reason for special accommodation in this class, please inform me and contact the Office of Special Services: Kiely Hall 171, 718-997-5870.


How To Do Well In This Class

  • Identify your intellectual investment in the course material. Pay attention to what most interests and perplexes you each class. Take note of these. Try to make connections among them. These will help you craft interesting blog posts and response papers.
  • Come see me during office hours. If you want to come but aren’t sure what you’d like to talk about, start with your list of intellectual investments. I’m here as a resource for you.
  • Ask questions. No question is too small. We are all learning and experimenting.
  • Make an effort to connect our course discussions, readings, and activities to your experiences outside of the classroom. This is called praxis.
  • Be an active classroom participant. Come to class ready to share questions and ideas. This includes reflections on the structure of the class itself. Be vocal about what does and doesn’t work for you, and suggest learning experiments you’d like us to try as a class.
  • Because this class is structured around experiments, take risks and be willing to fail.
  • Care about your work as much as I do. This means proofreading ad nauseum (so many times that you can’t bear to look at it again) and finding people, such as peers and tutors, willing to proofread your work. I won’t proofread your papers but if you come to office hours we can talk specifically about your revising and editing strategies.

Course Calendar

Dates designate the day on which readings will be discussed in class and the due dates of assignments.

Dates and assignments are subject to change.


Week 1

Wednesday, January 28: Introduction


Week 2

Monday, February 2: Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story” (youtube) and Le, “Love and Honor and

Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice”

Join CBox, Google, and HASTAC

Wednesday, February 4: Culler, “Narrative” and Kincaid, “Biography of a Dress”


Week 3

Monday, February 9: Ahmed, “Happy Objects” in The Promise of Happiness

Google Doc – argument, key terms, crucial interlocutors, archive

Wednesday, February 11: Barthes, “Wine and Milk” in Mythologies and Davidson, Now You See It


Week 4

NO CLASS CUNY Monday, February 16 (CUNY is Closed)

Wednesday, February 18 (classes follow a Monday schedule): Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar

Wao  Blog one and comments due


Week 5

Monday, February 23: Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Wednesday, February 25: Class will not meet during regularly scheduled period

Peer review activity

Rough draft of paper one emailed to me by midnight


Week 6

Monday, March 1: Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Peer review activity due

Wednesday, March 4: Hartman, “Prologue” & “Afrotopia” in Lose Your Mother


Week 7

Monday, March 9: Hartman, “So Many Dungeons” in Lose Your Mother

Final draft of paper one due in class

Wednesday, March 11: Hartman, “Fugitive Dreams” in Lose Your Mother


Week 8

Monday, March 16: Douglass, The Right to Criticize American Institutions” & Du Bois, “Crime

and Lynching”

Wednesday, March 18: Baldwin, “A Letter to my Nephew” & Muhammad, “The revolution will be

live-tweeted” Blog two and comments due


Week 9

Monday, March 23: Coates, Ta-Nehisi “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic

Wednesday, March 25: Hall, “Some Paradigms in Cultural Studies”


Week 10

Monday, March 30: Halberstam, “Low Theory” in The Queer Art of Failure.

Google Doc – argument, key terms, crucial interlocutors, archive

Wednesday, April 1: Halberstam, “Animating Revolt and Revolting Animation” in The Queer Art of



NO CLASS Spring Break April 3-11


Week 11

Monday, April 13: Sousanis, Unflattening Blog three and comments due

Wednesday, April 15: Sousanis, Unflattening


Week 12

Monday, April 20: Peer review

Rough draft of response paper two due

Wednesday, April 22:  Student-lead class and discussion, readings determined as a class


Week 13

Monday, April 27: Wesch, “A Vision of Students Today” (youtube) & New York Times essay

Wednesday, April 29: RSA animation & Licastro, digital literacy timelines

Final draft of response paper two due


Week 14

Monday, May 4: Final project working session and group conferences

Wednesday, May 6: Final project working session and group conferences


Week 15

Monday, May 11: Final project working session

Wednesday, May 13: Final project presentations

Final response papers due by scheduled exam period, but can be submitted earlier