World Literature in English

English 492, Fall 1998

The Research Paper

Your research project will consist of reading an important work of literature which we have not otherwise read for this class and some criticism about it and writing up a report concerning the most important issues raised by the work and addressed by the criticism. You will also prepare a ten-minute oral report on the work for presentation in class.

Schedule:

September 10: Library orientation and topic sign-up

September 24: Proposal and annotated bibliography due

November 10: Research paper due

December 3: Research paper due


List of topics to choose from:

Africa:

Ayi Kwei Armah: Why Are We So Blest?

Ayi Kwei Armah: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born

Cyprian Ekwensi: Jagua Nana

Athol Fugard: Blood Knot

Nadine Gordimer: Burger's Daughter

Nadine Gordimer: The Conservationist

Ngugi wa Thion'go: Petals of Blood

Ngugi wa Thion'go: A Grain of Wheat

Chinua Achebe: The Arrow of God

Chinua Achebe: No Longer at Ease

Buchi Emecheta: The Bride Price

Buchi Emecheta: Second-Class Citizen

E'skia (Ezikiel) Mphahlele: Down Second Avenue

Wole Soyinka: Death and the King's Horseman

Wole Soyinka: Ake: The Years of Childhood

Amos Tutuola: The Palm-Wine Drinkard

The Caribbean:

Edward Brathwaite: The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy: Rights of Passage, Islands, Masks (You can choose one of the three volumes to write on.)

George Lamming: Water with Berries

George Lamming: The Emigrants

Wilson Harris: Palace of the Peacock

Jamaica Kincaid: At the Bottom of the River

Jamaica Kincaid: Annie John

Claude McKay: Banjo: A Story Without a Plot

Merle Hodge: Crick-Crack Monkey

V. S. Naipaul: A House for Mr. Biswas

India:

Anita Desai: Clear Light of Day

Anita Desai: In Custody

Anita Desai: Baumgartner's Bombay

Amitav Ghosh: Shadowlines

Ginu Kamani: Junglee Girl

Bharati Mukherjee: The Tiger's Daughter

R. K. Narayan: The English Teacher

R. K. Narayan: The Financial Expert

R. K. Narayan: The Dark Room

Salman Rushdie: Midnight's Children (you should have some knowledge of modern Indian history to do this one)

Salman Rushdie: Shame

Salman Rushdie: The Moor's Last Sigh

Vikram Seth: A Suitable Boy (This is not a difficult book, but it is a long one.)

Kushwant Singh: Train to Pakistan


Places on the Web to help you decide which work to choose:

These are among the most important works of world literature in English as defined for this course. Begin by looking up the author's name in the Encyclopedia Britannica online at http://www.eb.com. This will only work if you are connecting with the Web through WSU, or if your Internet service provider has a subscription to the Britannica.

Try searching the "Books Archive" for a New York Times Book Review article on your work at http://www.nytimes.com/books/home/.

You could try looking up book titles at http://www.amazon.com, which sometimes provides some information about them (but note that many of the comments there are not scholarly and may not be reliable).

Other sites to start with:

Contemporary Postcolonial & Postimperial Literature in English ( http://www.stg.brown.edu/projects/hypertext/landow/post/misc/postov.html). Contains some short student papers to draw ideas from (but not copy!).

The Africana Collections at Stanford maintains a fine list of reference works on African and Caribbean literatures at http://garamond.stanford.edu/depts/ssrg/africa/afrlit.html.

An excellent bibliography of criticism of South African literature in English is maintained by the University of the Orange Free State at http://www.uovs.ac.za/engl/bibliog/ which covers Fugard, Gordimer, and Mphalele.

Philip Emeagwali maintains an informal site on Nigerian literature at http://www.emeagwali.com/nigeria/literature/nigerian-literature-jan93.html (you can avoid the annoying synthesizer music on this page by pressing "stop" while it is loading).

African Cultural Studies at Murdoch University maintains an index to online articles and books on African literature at http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au:80/ReadingRoom/afr/index.html. Note that this is a tiny minority of the material available in print, in the library.

A few issues of SPAN: Journal of the South Pacific Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies, which is not available in our library, are on the Web at http://kali.murdoch.edu.au/cntinuum/litserv/SPAN/SPAN.html (issues 32-37 only). One useful item there is Debbie Rodan's "Annotated Critical Bibliography: The Intersection of Postcolonialism and Feminism" at http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/litserv/SPAN/37/Rodan.html.

There are few comparable resources for the study of Caribbean literature online, here is a brief list of works by country: http://www.westindiesbooks.com/.

The University of the Virgin Islands publishes The Caribbean Writer, but only since no. 10 has it begun to publish some of its contents online, at http://www.uvi.edu/extension/Writer/carwrihm.htm. A few book reviews and essays may be of interest.

At Stanford there is a nice set of links on South Asian Anglophone Writing and Writers of the South Asian Diaspora: http://www-leland.stanford.edu/~sujata/india.html.

A brief intro to Narayan with a useful bibliography: http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~anoop/narayan/narayan.html.

Murali Damodaran maintains a very comprehensive list of books by South Asian writers writing in English, but it does not contain criticism: http://www.ntu.edu.sg/home/mdamodaran/sabooks.html. Useful mainly for seeing what works are out there.

The SAWNET Bookshelf list of books by and for South Asian women is slightly more useful because it contains links to reviews and articles: http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/users/sawweb/sawnet/SAW.books.html.

Anoop Sarkar maintains useful pages on Anita Desai, R. K. Narayan, and Vikram Seth at http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~anoop/indian.literature.html.

The most comprehensive site on Rushdie is Subir Grewal's: http://www.subir.com/rushdie.html (click on "Satanic Verses" and you'll find a link to my site).

Ginu Kamani is too new a writer to have accumulated much criticism, but the University of Washington Daily published an interview with her: http://www.thedaily.washington.edu/archives/1997_Winter/February201997/girl970220.html. Otherwise, you'll have to depend on book reviews (have a librarian show you how to locate book reviews).

Note that the Kushwant Singh Gidda who has a home page on the Web is not the famous author Kushwant Singh. Singh is better known as a journalist than as a novelist.


The proposal and annoated bibliography: Describe in 25-50 words how you intend to approach your topic and then list, using MLA bibliographic style, the sources (articles, books, chapters in books, Websites) which look useful and write below each one a brief comment explaining why you think this source will be helpful. You should have at least looked briefly at each of these sources.


The research paper

The minimum length for this assignment is 1200 words. This is very, very short for a research paper. Unless your writing is wonderfully concise, you will need to write more. If you cannot stretch your material to this minimum you don't have enough material or--more likely--aren't examining it closely enough. Believe it or not, the chief reason people run out of things to say is that they have defined their topics too broadly. A narrow, tightly-focussed topic will allow you to get specific and dig into the finer shades of the topic, and finding enough to write about will be no problem. Avoid vague generalizations.


Revising your paper

Almost all research papers will need revision. Be sure to incorporate suggestions that are made, particularly broad, general ones like "this section lacks focus--concentrate on a single topic." Merely cleaning up typos and spelling errors is not revision--it's proofreading.

Be careful about trying to solve problems by simply moving chunks of text around. Usually you have to do some actual rewriting to improve a paper. When a paragraph is moved, it often needs to be adjusted somewhat to fit within its new environment.


Seeking help

The point of this assignment is not to fling you in the sea of knowledge and stand by to see if you can avoid the sharks; it is to teach you something more about how to do research in this field and write about it. You get no credit for struggling silently on your own. Please use the resources available to you:

  • For questions about this assignment, ask me. Keep asking me questions and trying out ideas on me. If you find yourself tempted to tell someone else "I don't know what he wants," it means you need to ask me more questions.

    The oral report:

    This report should not be merely an excerpt from your paper, but a specially prepared presentation designed to interest and inform the other students in the class. No more than one minute of the ten allotted should be used for plot summary (in other words, don't try to retell the story--just briefly characterize the plot, i.e. "the story of a young girl growing up poor in Jamaica."). Tell us what scholars and critics think are the most important issues surrounding the work as well as your own impressions of it.

    Created by Paul Brians, August 5, 1998.

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