Engl 566-01:
Jazz Age Literature & Culture

Course Syllabus

Course Description:

The glitz and glamour of the 1920s are often associated with the exciting new jazz music which was based on the principle of improvisation or spontaneously creating something new from the materials at hand. This idea of improvisation can also be applied to the literature of the period as writers and their characters explore new lifestyles and invent new kinds of writing to investigate the unprecedented possibilities (or anxieties) of their post-Victorian worlds. Our reading selections are taken from multiple genres (nonfiction, fiction, poetry, drama) with special attention given to 1920s jazz, its relationship to literature, and its association with the Harlem Renaissance.

Required Texts:

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, Babylon Revisited and Other Stories (Scribner: 1996. ISBN-13: 978-0684824482). OPTIONAL.
  • Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (Scribner: 2006. ISBN-13: 978-0743297332).
  • William L. Andrews, ed., Classic Fiction of the Harlem Renaissance (Oxford UP: 1994. ISBN-13: 978-0195081961).
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (Harper Perennial Modern Classics 2006. ISBN-13: 978-0061120060).
  • August Wilson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom: A Play (Plume: 1985. ISBN-13: 978-0452261136).
  • Toni Morrison, Jazz (Vintage: 2004. ISBN-13: 978-1400076215).

The above will be supplemented with online texts by Millay, H.D., Hughes, Brown, Welty, Baldwin, and others (see online Reading Schedule). We will also be listening to some actual jazz/blues available online and from your instructor's CD collection.


  • Analytic paper 5+ pp (on Hemingway)--20% of final grade. See paper directions (online).
  • Research Paper 5+ pp (on Jazz Age Culture and Literature)--20%. See paper directions (online).
  • Three take-home essay exams--20% each.

Note: All major assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Late Papers/Exams Policy:

Late papers will be graded down one letter grade for each day they are late.

Missed exams must be made up just as soon as possible. See me immediately when you return to class.

Extra Credit:

Extra credit (added on to your final grade) can be earned either by watching one or more jazz films (see instructor for a list of films) and/or by attending one or more PSU jazz performances. In both cases, you will need to fill out the online Cultural Events Report Form. Up to 5 points (1 pt. per event) may be earned, with 5 points equaling a half-letter grade. The reports are due the week following the scheduled date of the event. If you learn about other jazz events, check with your instructor about getting them approved for extra credit.

Aside from grades, I urge all students to expand your understanding of jazz literature and culture by sampling at least some of the extra credit events.

NOTE: The reports must be sufficiently detailed and thoughtful to merit the extra credit.

Class Participation:

A successful class depends on your participation--your questions and observations and willingness to explore new ideas in relation to the assigned readings. Therefore, it is crucial that you keep up with the reading assignments. When you get in there and respond to what you have read, literature comes alive.


Attendance is required. Everyone has four pre-excused absences to cover official school business or those difficult times in life that interfere with class attendance, so you do not need to clear absences with me. However, 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 four classes may be dropped from the roster for "excessive absences."

NOTE: Use your absences wisely to cover such things as official school events or illnesses. There is no category of "excused absences" in addition to the four pre-excused absences.

Plagiarism Policy:

Academic honesty is expected of all students. I support the stated policies of the University and the English Department on penalties for plagiarism. Passing off anyone else's work (whether your roommate's or part of a published article) as your own may result in an F for that paper or an F for the course--or worse for the most egregious cases.

NOTE: I am always willing to help students who are making good faith efforts to do their own work.

Class Web Pages:

The class syllabus and research/writing assignments can be accessed online in the following ways:

  • Nichols Home Page:
    arcadiasystems.org/academia/nichols.html--scroll down to the link for our class.

    You can also find my home page by going to the PSU home page and finding the link for the "English Department," then locating the "Faculty" list there and clicking on Dr. Nichols' name. It will take you to my home page.

  • Jazz Age Literature and Culture Syllabus:
    arcadiasystems.org/academia/jazzlit.html --click on the links in the left-column of this page or at the bottom of this page to access the daily "Reading Schedule" and other class pages. Click the BACK BUTTON (top-left corner) one or more times to return to your starting page.

Painting, top-left:
Aaron Douglas, "Song of the Towers"

Web page designed by knichols