Engl 771-01
American Authors:
Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison


Fall Semester 2008

MWF 10:00-11:50, Grubbs 312

Instructor: Dr. Kathleen Nichols

Instructor's Office: Grubbs Hall 450

Office Hours: M-F 12:00-1:00 or by appt.

E-mail: knichols11@cox.net

Course Description:

This course is an in-depth study of two of the most important post-World War II black fiction writers. Selected fiction by Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison will be analyzed as we trace continuities and revisions of black literary traditions. Some attention will be paid to the cultural contexts of their fictions.

Required Textbooks

  • Ralph Ellison, Flying Home and Other Stories (Vintage)
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (Vintage)
  • Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (Vintage)
  • Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon (Plume)
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (Plume)
  • Toni Morrison, Jazz (Plume)
  • Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (Vintage)

NOTE: Check your American Literature anthology to see if it contains the Morrison short story "Recitatif" and let me know.


  • 1 online report, 2 pp., 5-7 minutes (written and oral)--10%.
  • 1 summary report, 2 pp., 5-7 minutes (written and oral)--10%.
  • 1 short paper, 4-5 pp.--20%.
  • 1 longer paper, 8-10 pp., plus documentation--40%.
  • 1 Take-home Final Exam--20%.

See online paper directions.

All major assignments must be completed to pass the course.

You may e-mail papers to me at knichols11@cox.net, but make sure they are attached as a .doc file.

Late Work Policy

Late papers and take-home exams will be graded down one letter grade for each day they are late.

Absence Policy

Regular attendance is required. Everyone has THREE pre-excused absences for those difficult times in life that interfere with class attendance, so you do not need to clear absences with me, but it is a good idea to check with me (or a classmate) to make sure an assignment was not changed while you were gone. Students who miss more than three classes may be dropped from the roster for "excessive absences."

Plagiarism Policy

I strongly support the policies of the English Department and the University on plagiarism. Undocumented use of someone else's material (including "borrowing" their language or their ideas) will result in an F on the paper or for the course--or worse for the most egregious cases.

See me if you have questions about what is or is not plagiarism. I'm always happy to help students who are making good-faith efforts to do things right.

Course Web Pages

You can quickly access our online syllabus by typing in one of the following addresses:

You can also access my home page (which links to all my web pages) by going to the PSU home page and then typing "Nichols Home Page" in the "PSU Search" box (top of page).