LIT 225. The African Writer
American University, Fall 2014
T &F, 11:45-1:00
Ward 6
Professor Lindsey Green-Simms
Office Hours: T and F, 1:00-2:00 & by appointment
Office Location: 219 Battelle-Tompkins
Course Website:
Password to access assigned readings: LIT225
Given the fact that Africa is a continent with 54 countries and over 3,000 languages, it is
quite difficult to generalize about “the” African writer or African writing as a whole. Africans write
in every form imaginable, from folktales, to realist novels, to fantasy fiction, and, like writers
everywhere, they write about a wide range of topics. In order to anchor our readings for the
semester and to be able to connect our texts together into a continuous conversation, we will focus
on one theme in particular: violence. Our task will be to use literature to think about the forms of
violence that have been inflicted on Africa (through racism, colonialism, economic policies, etc.) and
to understand the complex ways that violence operates on the continent today. In other words, I
will ask us to try to understand how violence works without falling into the trap of seeing Africans
as inherently violent and without reducing Africa to what author Chimamanda Adichie (of Beyoncé
fame) calls a “the single story.” We will therefore examine how violence co-exists with love,
compassion, desire, and everydayness, and we will be asked to question narratives that see Africans
as victims in need of saving. In the process, we will find ourselves reading everything from a
coming of age novel about a young school girl in Zimbabwe (Nervous Conditions), to an epic story
about relationships and psychiatric diseases during the Sierra Leonean civil war (The Memory of Love),
to a novel narrated by a disgruntled dog (Dog Days). The novels, essays, film, and short stories we
encounter will cover topics such as colonialism, independence, war, education, gender, race, class,
romance, AIDS, homosexuality, xenophobia, and immigration.
Required Books:*
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Nigeria)
Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions (Zimbabwe)
Dinaw Mengestu, All Our Names (Ethiopia/Uganda/US)
Patrice Nganang, Dog Days (Cameroon)
Aminatta Forna, Memory of Love (Sierra Leone)
Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to Our Hillbrow (South Africa)
Chimamanda Adichie, The Thing Around Your Neck (Nigeria/US)
All other readings will be available on our course website. The password is: LIT225
*You may use books either in print or digital form. However, if you do use a digital version make
sure that it contains all the pages (many books found for free on Google books do not) and make
sure that your digital version has page numbers that will match up with the paper version. It is
important that everyone be able to find the same passage on the same page number without wasting
too much time. Furthermore, whatever form your book comes in, you MUST bring it to class with
Course objectives:
 To familiarize students with the range and diversity of writing across the African continent
 To expose students to major African writers as well as new, emerging voices
 To explore how the political and economic crises of the past century have shaped African
literary culture
 To develop students’ critical thinking, writing, and communication skills through
presentations, academic essays, and class discussion
 To enable students to practice writing, reading, and research in the internet age
 To cultivate independent thinkers who learn to analyze “foreign” texts on their own terms
and will be unafraid to continue doing so after the course ends
The General Education Program:
Lit 225 meets the General Education Program requirement under Area One, The Creative
Arts. Of the three learning objectives under Area One, we will focus on the second objective, to
“situate creative works, and judgments about those creative works, in their appropriate social and
historical context.” For more information on Area One, see
Additionally, the reading, writing, and research assignments in this class are designed with
the following General Education learning objectives in mind:
Aesthetic Sensibilities: Critical reflections on the nature and history of beauty and art.
Communication Skills: Interchanging ideas and information through writing, speech, and
visual and digital media.
Critical Inquiry: Systematic questioning and analysis of problems, issues, and claims.
Diverse Perspectives and Experiences: Acquiring knowledge and analytical skills to
understand a variety of perspectives and experiences, including those that have emerged
from the scholarship on age, disability, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, race, religion,
sexual orientation, and social class.
Innovative Thinking: Venturing beyond established patterns of thought in imaginative and
creative ways.
Ethical Reasoning: Assessing and weighing of moral and political beliefs and practices, and
their applications to ethical dilemmas.
Information Literacy: Locating, evaluating, citing, and effectively using information.
Teaching Philosophy:
This is a student-driven class and is deliberately designed so that the questions and ideas students
have are what forms and shapes discussions, papers, and exam questions. In order to meet the above
objectives, students are required to take ownership of their engagement with the materials. I tend
not to provide reading questions or discussion questions because I do not want to focus attention
on only the aspects of the reading that I find to be most interesting, and I do not want students to
feel like the point of reading and writing is to figure out what the instructor wants them to say.
Rather, I want to see what students find to be note-worthy and then I will lend my guidance and
expertise to those questions. Above all, I want to cultivate independent thinking in the classroom
with the hope and expectation that as independent thinkers, students will be best prepared to engage
ideas and cultures beyond the classroom.
You should expect to put in an average of 3-4 hours of reading before each class session, or 6-8
hours of reading per week. (Blog posts, papers, and exams will require additional work). Typically,
we will be reading about one novel per week, though some weeks we will read essays, short stories,
or watch films instead of reading a novel. Please note that because all novels are not equal in length,
you will occasionally need to allocate more time and, likewise, will occasionally catch a break and
have a lighter reading week. Please look ahead to give yourself enough time to complete the reading.
Grading System:
Blogs – 30 pts (5 pts per post x 5 blogs, 1 pt per response x 5 responses)
Paper 1 – 30 pts
Paper 2 – 30 pts
Mid-Term – 30 pts
Final – 30 pts
Quizzes and short writing assignments –12 pts (subject to change)
General Participation –20 pts
Digital participation – 8 pts (with possibility of 4 extra credit points)
Total: 190 points (subject to change)
Breakdown of Assignments:
Blogs (5 posts total, 5 responses total): Students will be asked to post a bi-weekly blog entry
(around 300 words, or 1-pg double spaced) in which they will discuss aspects of the assigned
readings for the week. Blogs will be due by 11:30pm on the Thursday before class, and students will
be expected to have read their classmates’ posts before class. There are two types of blogs that
students may write. The first type is analytical. The majority of your blogs should be of this kind.
Here, you may brainstorm about important themes, quotes, motifs, problems, characters, questions,
etc., or you may relate the reading to other discussions we’ve had throughout the semester. It will
help you to focus your blog on one specific topic rather than trying to write an overview of the
book. You should think of each analytical blog as having a mini-thesis statement, or a
hypothesis/argument that you are trying to make about your interpretation of the text. These posts
may be in conversation with other classmates’ posts or they may be of your own initiative. Either
way, the requirements for the analytical post remain the same. The second type of post you may
choose to write is a research post. Here, you can provide any type of historical, political, or cultural
background that you find might help your classmates to better understand the assigned reading. In
all cases though, avoid posts that are centered on your likes or dislikes – this isn’t a book review – or
that center primarily around your own feelings. You need to focus on analysis or research rather
than on what makes you happy, or sad, or angry. Blogs may be informal, but they should be
grammatically correct and articulate. I want to emphasize that blogs are places for you to think
through problems and issues and pose questions or concerns. I am NOT looking for a fully
developed essay and I therefore will not provide individual feedback for each post unless I feel that
you haven’t met the requirements described above. Blogs are meant to provoke discussion and
thought and therefore are, by definition, incomplete and not fully developed. Posing questions that
you don’t know the answer to is entirely legitimate and even welcome. Each post will be worth 5
points and students will receive all 5 points as long as they write a satisfactory post. If a student
receives less than 5 points for the blog, I will provide them with a reason and let them know how to
improve. Please check the gradebook on Blackboard to see how you are doing. I encourage students
to include images, links, videos, etc. and to be creative. PLEASE REMEMBER TO TAG YOUR
Students will be divided into two groups: Group A and Group B. When Group A blogs, Group B
will be required to post a response and vice versa. When it is your turn to respond, you should post
a comment to one of your classmate’s posts. There is no word limit to your response comment and
there are no specific requirements. However, as with the blog posts you should avoid posts that do
not have substance beyond a like or a dislike, or an agreement or disagreement. Responses are worth
1 point and are due before class begins on Friday.
The three students with the most responses total to their blog posts at the end of the semester will
earn extra credit points. (3 pts for 1st place, 2 pts for 2nd place, 1 pt for third place, plus bragging
rights). You can boost your chances of winning by responding to comments made on your post, as
I’ll count those as well. (So, for instance, you write a post. Your friend says she disagrees with you.
Then you respond to your friend’s comments to prove how right you were all along. I’ll count that
as 2 responses even though you authored one of them.)
Papers: There will be two papers 6-8 page papers due throughout the semester. Essay topics will
be handed out for both papers, but students are also welcome to develop and propose their own
topics. You are strongly advised to start the writing process as early as possible and to bring drafts
to my office hours. I will not, however, comment on drafts over email.
Quizzes and Short Writing Assignments: There will be occasional quizzes and short writing
assignments. The number of quizzes depends on whether the class is keeping up with the reading. If
it seems like everyone is on top of the assignments, there will be no need for quizzes. If participation
falls, I’ll add quizzes. If students fail to bring the reading materials to class, I will begin giving openbook quizzes. Shorter writing assignments, like thesis statements, first paragraphs, drafts, etc., are
always designed to help you prepare for longer papers.
General Participation: This grade will be determined by the quality and quantity of your
contributions to the course in general. The general participation grade will be a factor of the
following four elements: your level of engagement during class discussions; your demonstrated
effort throughout the semester; your attitude and openness towards others; and your improvement
and progress throughout the semester. For students who are less comfortable with speaking in large
groups, I encourage you to email me with questions and comments about the readings, to attend
office hours, and to earn extra credit by increasing your digital participation. Also, please note that
part of participating in class means having the assigned reading materials in front of you and ready to
reference. If you do not bring your books/assigned reading (either in digital or printed form), you
will not receive participation credit for the day!
Digital Participation: I include this assignment because I want students to be active participants in
the digital world. I want to encourage digital literacy by forcing students to learn from and
contribute to the flow of information on the Internet. Your digital participation will be out of 8
points total, but students may gain up to four points of extra credit by completing additional
assignments. There are four ways to earn your digital participation points, and you can do any
combination of them that you choose:
•Post a video or a link to our class blog that broadly relates to our class discussion and write
a few sentences about why you found it interesting/how it connects to our class. Note: you
do not have to post only about literature. You can post about film, music, politics, health,
economics, etc. (Worth 3 pts per post)
•If you’re on twitter (or are looking for an excuse to be), you can tweet relevant links and
ideas at me. My twitter handle is @GreenSimms. (Worth 1 pt per tweet)
•Write a review of an African film that was not assigned for this class and post it on our
blog. I love African cinema so I have tons of recommendations and can suggest a film to
you based on your interests. These reviews should be about 300 words and unlike the blog
posts, here you can write about your likes and dislikes because it IS a review. You can also
analyze the film if you’d prefer. (Worth 5 pts)
•Write a book review of an African novel or short story collection that was NOT assigned
for this class and post it on So that we can see your review (and I can give
you credit for it) also post a link to it on our blog. Again, unlike the blog posts, here you can
write about your likes and dislikes because you are, in fact, reviewing the novel for others.
However, you should still be specific, and you should show off your newfound expertise in
African literature. I’ll provide a list of recommendations. (Worth 10 pts, which means you
get all your digital participation points, plus 2 pts extra credit.)
If you have another idea for how to earn digital participation points, I’m very open to creative
proposals. You can edit a Wikipedia article, create a Tumblr post, or do something I’ve never even
heard of. Just bring your idea to me, and I can tell you how many points I think it’s worth.
Course Policies:
Attendance is required. Students can miss no more than two classes before participation grades are
adversely affected. I do not need notes, emails, or explanations for absences. Students are expected
to use their own discretion. After the second absence, participation grades will be lowered by one
full letter grade per absence. Please remember to get class notes from a peer if you are absent. If
you miss more than 6 classes after you enroll, you will fail the course. If you are having a major life
crisis and need some flexibility on this policy, please come see me to work something out.
Punctuality is expected. As a courtesy to your colleagues and professor, please come to class on
time. Lateness will be noted and affect final participation grades.
Electronic devices like cell phones and laptops are not permitted during class, unless a specific
exception has been made. Digital readers like kindles and iPads are permitted only for the purposes
of accessing the assigned readings. Anyone caught using electronic devices for purposes not related
to the course (Facebook, texting, tweeting, IMing, etc.) will be marked absent for the day and will
not receive credit for attending that class session. I know that many of you prefer to take notes on a
computer, but I have found that it is very difficult to resist the temptations of the Internet and that
students are more engaged and focused when they are not on laptops. I ask that you give this policy
a fair chance. If you find that it is getting in the way of your learning, I will be happy to revisit the
laptop policy mid-semester. Students with a documented disability who need laptops will be able to
use them throughout the semester. Also, I make an exception on mid-term and final review days
when laptops are permitted for note taking.
Late Work will be penalized. Papers will be lowered by one full letter grade for each day they are
Email is a welcome way to communicate with the instructor. I will be happy to answer quick
questions about course assignments, readings, or anything that may be unclear to you. If you have a
more involved question or you need to discuss your work, you should come to see me during office
hours or schedule an appointment. Please remember to keep your emails to professors professional.
You don’t begin an email to a professor by saying, “Hey” or “What’s up?” Rather, you should begin
by writing, “Dear Professor X” and then politely stating your query. Furthermore, it is important to
note that I may occasionally email the course through Blackboard, which goes to your AU email
account. You are expected to check your email on a daily basis or to have your AU email forwarded
to an account that you check often.
Office Hours are held each week, unless otherwise noted. Students may stop by office hours at any
time for help, or you can schedule an appointment to meet outside of office hours. Each student is
expected to come to office hours at least once during the semester. Office hours are a great place to
brainstorm about your digital participation project.
Success in this course is achieved through hard and consistent work. I do want students to receive
good grades and will do everything possible to make that happen for those willing to put in the time
and effort. However, students who do the minimum to meet the course requirements should not
expect an above average grade. (And, clearly, those who fall short of the course requirements will
receive below average grades.) I am always willing to listen to student feedback and to adjust the
course to meet students’ learning goals. If you have a need or a suggestion on how to enhance your
experience in the course, you should not wait until the end of the semester to voice it.
Academic Integrity is consistent with the standards of academic conduct and set forth in the
university's Academic Integrity Code. By registering, you have acknowledged your awareness of the
Academic Integrity Code, and you are obliged to become familiar with your rights and
responsibilities as defined by the Code. Violations of the Academic Integrity Code will not be
treated lightly, and disciplinary actions will be taken should such violations occur. Please see me if
you have any questions about the academic violations described in the Code in general or as they
relate to particular requirements for this course.
Other Expectations:
•Each class meeting will include a reading assignment and/or viewing assignment. These
assignments should be completed BEFORE class and students should be prepared to discuss and
answer questions about the reading.
•Each student is expected to actively participate in class.
•Students are expected to stay seated and focused throughout the entire 75-minute class period. If
you have an emergency, please get up quietly and do not disturb the class. Students who leave class
more than three times during the semester will see their participation drop. Students are not
permitted to leave the room during exams.
•When we read a novel or story from a specific country, I expect students to have looked up where
that country is on a map and to know a few basic facts about that country. You should know, for
instance, what the major European language spoken there is, when that country gained
independence (roughly) and from whom, and what the capital city is named. This is where
Wikipedia is awesome: everything you need is there. You don’t need to know any specific names of
political leaders or dates but rather very general background information and geography.
Occasionally, I’ll give a quick reading quiz and ask you for some of this info. There will be a
geography portion of the mid-term and final as well.
Grading standards:
A students demonstrate superior effort and achievement in all aspects of the class. They attend and
participate in almost every class, and they complete all reading assignments on time and to the best
of their ability. Their papers and blog posts are well crafted, free of major errors, and show a deep
engagement with the texts. A students are willing to ask difficult questions of themselves and of the
course material. Since not all students have a natural knack for literary analysis and writing, many A
students will need to come to office hours in order to achieve excellent results on papers, projects,
and blogs. Some A students do not start out as strongly as others, but improvement during the
semester will be weighed in evaluation.
B students demonstrate good effort and achievement in all aspects of the class. They attend and
participate in class on a regular basis, and they complete all reading and assignments in a timely
manner. Their papers and blog posts are free of major errors, and they strive to go above the basic
expectations of the assignment. Some B students will need to attend office hours in order to achieve
the results that they want. Improvement during the semester will be taken into consideration.
C students demonstrate adequate effort in all aspects of the class, but typically struggle to meet basic
expectations in one of the following: attendance, participation, or the completion of reading and
writing assignments. Students struggling in more than one of those categories may find it difficult to
maintain a C.
D students fail to meet the majority of the above criteria.
F students miss more than 6 classes or meet few, if any, of the above criteria.
Reading and Assignment Schedule:
Week 1.
Aug 26:
Aug 29:
Binyavanga Wainaina, “How to Write About Africa”
View in class: Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”
Learning and Unlearning Colonialism
Week 2.
Week 3.
Sep 2:
Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Chapters 1-13)
Deadline for students to sign up for Word Press account
Sep 4:
Group A, Blog 1 due by 11:30pm
Sep 5:
Achebe, Things Fall Apart (Chapters 13-end)
Group B, Response 1 due by class
Sep 9:
Tsitsi Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions (Chapters 1-5)
Sep 11:
Group B, Blog 1 due by 11:30pm
Sep 12:
Dangarembga, Nervous Conditions (Chapters 6-end)
Group A, Response 1 due by class
Decolonization and Independence
Week 4.
Sep 16:
View on your own: Raoul Peck’s film Lumumba (2002),
Available on DVD at the library, also streams on HuluPlus. (Note
that there is another film by Peck called Lumumba, Death of a Prophet
from 1992. These are not the same film).
Selections from Ludo De Witte’s The Assassination of Lumumba
Available on the course website under “Assigned Readings”
(see top of syllabus for password)
Week 5.
Sep 18:
Group A, Blog 2 due at 11:30pm
Sep 19:
Group B, Response 2 due anytime. Class Does Not Meet.
Sep 23:
Dinaw Mengestu, All Our Names (Pgs 1-124)
First paragraph and thesis statement of paper 1 due
Week 6.
Week 7.
Sep 25:
Group B, Blog 2 due at 11:30pm
Sep 26:
Mengestu, All Our Names (Pgs 125-end)
Group A, Response 2 due by class
Sep 30:
First 2-pages of paper 1 due, Mid-term Review
Oct 3:
In-class Mid-term
Oct 6:
Dinaw Mengestu speaks on campus at 8pm
Oct 7:
In-class Writing Workshops, Bring in full draft of paper 1
Oct 9:
Paper 1 Due
Oct 10:
No Class. Fall Break!
Oct 14:
Aminatta Forna, Memory of Love (pgs. 1-143/Chapters 1-18)
Oct 16:
Group A, Blog 3 due at 11:30pm
Oct 17:
Forna, Memory of Love (pgs. 144-301/ Chapters 19-36)
Group B, Response 3 due by class
Oct 21:
Forna, Memory of Love, (pgs. 302-end/ Chapters 37-56)
Oct 23:
Group B, Blog 3 due at 11:30pm
Oct 24:
Achille Mbembe and Janet Roitman, “Figure of the Subject in
the Time of Crisis”
In class: view clips from Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars
Group A, Response 3 due by class
Un-Civil War
Week 8.
Week 9.
Structural Maladjustment
Week 10.
Oct 28:
Patrice Nganang, Dog Days, Part 1 “First Barks”
Oct 30:
Group A, Blog 4 due at 11:30pm
Oct 31:
Nganang, Dog Days, Part 2 “The Turbulent Streets”
Group B, Response 4 due by class
Love, Loss, and AIDS
Week 11.
Nov 4:
View on your own: Darrell Roodt’s Yesterday (2004)
Available on DVD at the library, also streams on HBO Go
In class: view clips from Forgotten Kingdom
Nov 6:
Group B, Blog 4 due at 11:30 pm
Nov 7:
Phaswane Mpe, Welcome to Our Hillbrow (all)
Group A, Response 4 due by class
African Homophobia
Week 12.
Nov 11:
Jude Dibia, selections from Walking With Shadows
Patrick Ireland, “A Macro-Level Analysis of the Scope, Causes, and
Consequences of Homophobia in Africa”
Nov 13:
Author Jude Dibia speaks on campus at 5:00pm
Group A, Blog 5 due at 11:30pm
Nov 14:
Jude Dibia visits class
More selections from Walking With Shadows
Love and (Be)Longing
Week 13.
Week 14.
Nov 18:
Adichie, “Imitation,” “A Private Experience,” “Ghosts” (In The Thing
Around Your Neck)
Nov 20:
Group B, Blog 5 due at 11:30pm
Nov 21:
Adichie, “On Monday of Last Week” “Jumping Monkey Hill,” “The
Thing Around Your Neck” (In The Thing Around Your Neck)
Thesis statement and first paragraph due for Paper 2
Group A, Response 5 due by class
Nov 25:
Adichie, “The Shivering,” “The Headstrong Historian” (In TTAYN)
Tsitsi Jaji, “Can Your Hear Africa Roar? StoryTime and the Digital
Publishing Innovations of Ivor Hartmann and Emmanel Sigauke”
Nov 28:
Thanksgiving. Eat turkey (or Tofurkey if that’s your thing).
African Writing and the Internet
Week 15.
Dec 2:
Find your own African short story on the Internet
Blog a brief review of the story (4-5 sentences) and post link to story
Dec 5:
Final Exam Review
First 2 Pages of Final Paper Due
Week 16:
Dec 9:
Final Exam: 11:45- 1:00 pm
Dec 11:
Final Papers Due: 1 pm