Fall 2021 - ENGL 209 D100

Race, Borders, Empire (3)

Class Number: 6353

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo, We 11:30 AM – 12:20 PM
    AQ 3005, Burnaby

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 17, 2021
    12:00 PM – 3:00 PM
    EDB 7618, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    12 units or one 100 division English course.



Examines how literature and language work to reflect, perform, complicate, and critique constructions of race, ethnicity, and national and diasporic identities and spaces. May draw from post-colonial approaches, critical race theory, and Indigenous and decolonizing methodologies. May be further organized by historical period, genre, or critical approach. Breadth-Humanities.


Telling the Tale: An Introduction to Black and Indigenous American Literature

“I think,” James Baldwin said in 1955, “that the past is all that makes the present coherent, and further, that the past will remain horrible for exactly as long as we refuse to assess it honestly.” Baldwin was only 31 when he wrote those words. Already he was interested in how art can reckon frankly with the racial atrocities of American history, and already he was calling out American writers for their reticence to do so. Baldwin died in 1987, the same year Toni Morrison published her fifth novel. It was called Beloved, and it did what Baldwin had asked. It certainly wasn’t the first time that had happened, but it’s where this class will start.

This course examines four contemporary novels by Black and Indigenous American writers, all of which tell the tale of race in America: Morrison’s Beloved, Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (2012), James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird (2014), and Tommy Orange’s There There (2018). Along the way we’ll read shorter pieces from the eras discussed in each novel, including work by William Apess, Baldwin (from whom our course subtitle comes), Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak (Black Hawk), Frances E. W. Harper, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, and Henry David Thoreau. Lectures and discussions will focus especially on the roles law, insurrection, violence, colonialism, and white supremacy play in the Black and Indigenous American experience from the early nineteenth century to the present.


comprehend the mechanics of language and especially figurative language;
understand how that language reflects, performs, complicates, and critiques constructions of race, ethnicity, and national and diasporic identities and spaces;
recognize complex relationships between text and context;
develop skills in analyzing and interpreting language and text, broadly defined, and learn strategies for creating and communicating informed claims about both; and
learn to use language, its history, and its capacities to engage with the ideas and experiences of others.


  • Essay 1 (1250-1500 words) 30%
  • Essay 2 (1250-1500 words) 30%
  • Final Exam 30%
  • Seminar Preparation and Participation 10%


Content heads-up: This course will deal frankly and explicitly with unsettling topics, including sexual, physical, and psychological violence; genocide; and child abuse and infanticide.



The novels listed below will be available at SFU Bookstore, though please feel free to order them separately, if you like. If you do, local bookstores would really appreciate the business. I recommend especially Iron Dog Books and Massy Books.

All other readings will be available via SFU Library or our Canvas shell.


Louise Erdrich, The Round House (HarperCollins, 2012)

ISBN: 9780062065247

James McBride, The Good Lord Bird (Riverhead Books, 2014)
ISBN: 1594632782

Toni Morrison, Beloved (Vintage, 2004)
ISBN: 1400033411

Tommy Orange, There There (Random House of Canada, 2018)
ISBN: 0771073038

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2021 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with approximately 70 to 80 per cent of classes in person/on campus, with safety plans in place.  Whether your course will be in-person or through remote methods will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the fall 2021 term.