ENG 304: American Literature and Culture

University of Nevada, Reno

English 304 – American Literature and Culture

The Road: The Culture of the American Highway

(Diversity course)

May 16-June 3: Mon/Tues/Wed/Thurs, 8:00AM-12:00PM FH 019


Course Description:

In this course, we will examine, analyze, and discuss the racial, ethnic and gendered complexity of the road in American literature and culture. Our readings and discussions will help you enhance your critical writing and thinking skills while developing a greater understanding of how the road influences American identity in both American popular culture and literature.


Course Outcomes:

After completing this course, you should be able to

  • Write a coherent, well-supported argument with a clear thesis, relevant claims, and compelling use of evidence about how the road functions in American literature and culture
  • Read, interpret, and analyze texts with attention to thematic content, historical and cultural context, and language
  • Develop an understanding of how the road has undergone literary and artistic treatment to represent plural and diverse experiences
  • Examine the ways in which race, class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality intersect to create complicated realities


Required Course Materials:

Primary Texts to Purchase:

  • Lopez, Erika. Flaming Iguanas (1998) ISBN: 978-0684853680
  • Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower (2000) ISBN: 978-0446675505
  • Waters, John. Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America (2015). ISBN: 978-0374535452

Electronic Primary Texts and Secondary Texts are available to download and print from            Canvas, our new Webcampus site (unr.instructure.com). If you plan to read                       electronically, please use a program like Adobe Pro that will allow you to annotate and          highlight the text.


Course Assignments and Evaluation:                        

Participation and Attendance:                                                                                     35%

Meaningful discussion will be expected and will positively affect your grade. To earn full points each day you must arrive/depart on time, be prepared with the assigned course texts and/or assignments, and contribute your insights to class discussion. 5% of this score also accounts for 3 dates of discussion posts (1%) and responses (.67%) on Canvas. These are four-hour class sessions, so active participation is truly integral to everyone’s success!




Short Writing Assignments:                                                               25%

3 times throughout the term you will construct a tightly focused 250-350 word SWA. In this response you should select a small part of a course text and/or adjoining secondary text to advance a focused argument. These responses should make a compelling claim supported by a close reading of a significant passage or scene. The argumentative structure you must follow is on Canvas for review, including resources for MLA format and formatting your works cited. You must upload your SWA to Canvas by the start of class on the due date. SWA #1 is worth 5%, #2 is 8% and 3 is 12%.


Author and Film(maker) Presentations:                                                            10%

You will sign up for one presentation to provide context and background for a major author or film(maker). These presentations require only informal Internet research to get a feel for the figure’s background and work. So long as you cite your sources in the material you share with the class any source is fair game. You do not need to develop a handout, but you may consider placing some key ideas on a basic Powerpoint or bookmarking a link that can provide a visual to the class.

Areas to consider: Brief biography; Works written, genre; Key issues or topics; Audience reception overall? Critical acclaim? Known for? And anything else you stumble upon that seems important about career, politics, reputation, place in American literature, culture, etc.


Final Essay and Presentation                                                     20/10%

There will be one essay, 1000-1200 words (4-5 pages) due to Canvas by 6PM on the final day of class. While you choose the topic, you must meet with me to discuss your paper during week 2. This essay will make a critical argument with at least 3 texts covered throughout the class, one of which must be literary.


On the final day of class you will present the overall findings of your final paper to the class. These presentations should be no more than 5-7 minutes in length and should contain some multimedia components to support them.


Course Policies


Attendance: I do not differentiate between excused and unexcused absences. In the mini-session we only meet 11 times and missing even one class can impact your ability to keep up with the material. For that reason, anything beyond one absence will result in a 10% deduction from your attendance and participation grade. If you miss a class, it is your responsibility to contact a classmate to find out about missed assignments or what may be due at the start of the next class. I will expect you to fully catch up with assignments and readings prior to the start of class.


Late work: No late assignments or presentations will be accepted. If Canvas is down, you may email me an assignment to timestamp your submission until you can upload it. If you added the class late, you are responsible for completing all readings and assignments that were due before you added within two class periods.


  • Remember: early and proactive communication with me will only benefit you. I am available to answer any questions about your assignments or any content you are struggling with.


Assignment Submissions: You will upload your assignments to Canvas. Please get in the habit of naming your files by your last name and the assignment for easy reference and uploading. For example “ForsbergSWA1.”


Classroom decorum: You are expected to enter class on time and be prepared with assignments, readings, and discussion for that day. You are not to use any electronic devices in the classroom, including cell phones or personal computers, without approval or direct correlation to the task at hand. Students that abuse this will be asked to leave.


In-class discussion: The road is often a volatile location for candid discussions of race, gender and sexuality. Thus, I am committed to establishing a safe space for differing voices and opinions, and assisting students through sometimes-difficult content. Consider your enrollment in this course as your entry into a community of learners that strives to be more cooperative than competitive. Courteous disagreement or debate is welcome, but inappropriate remarks, personal attacks, discrimination, harassment, or intimidation will not be tolerated. All students have the right to a classroom free from hostility, ridicule, or embarrassment, and an atmosphere conducive to learning. Any conduct that disrupts the learning process may lead to loss of participation points and/or administrative disciplinary action mandated under the University’s Student Code of Conduct.


Disability accommodations: If you have a documented disability and will be requiring assistance, please contact the Disability Resource Center at 784-6000 (Thompson Building Suite 101) as soon as possible to arrange for appropriate accommodations.


Academic dishonesty: All work you do for this class must be your own. “Cheating, plagiarism, or otherwise obtaining grades under false pretenses” constitute academic dishonesty according to the code of the University. Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated and penalties may include cancelling a student’s enrollment without a grade or giving an F for the assignment or the course. A more detailed discussion of UNR’s policies is available online: http://www.unr.edu/stsv/acdispol.html. We will work on proper citing of quotations, paraphrasing, and sources in this class, and if are unsure about whether or how to properly cite sources, please ask me.


Statement for academic success services: Your student fees cover usage of the University Writing Center (784-6030 or http://www.unr.edu/writing_center/). This center supports your classroom learning; it is your responsibility to take advantage of their services. Keep in mind that seeking help outside of class is the sign a responsible and successful student.


Statement on audio and video recording: Surreptitious or covert video-taping of class or unauthorized audio recording of class is prohibited by law and by Board of Regents policy.  This class may be videotaped or audio recorded only with the written permission of the instructor.   In order to accommodate students with disabilities, some students may be given permission to record class lectures and discussions.  Therefore, students should understand that their comments during class may be recorded.


Grade percentages:


A         94-100%             C+         77-79%             D-         60-63%

A-         90-93%             C         74-76%             F         59 or below

B+         87-89%             C-         70-73%

B         84-86%             D+         67-69%

B-         80-83%             D         64-66%


Reading Schedule: With the exception of the 3 books you have purchased for this class and Oz, I have made every attempt to keep the reading load manageable (an average of 50 pages/night) for our highly condensed schedule and to give you time for writing assignments. Articles and excerpts have been highly selected for their relation to our class, so please be attentive to the assigned pages.

*All texts are available electronically on Canvas Pages (CV) or the Canvas Course Reserves (CR) link.

Monday 5/16

–Introduction to the course


–Explore Kerouac’s On the Road excerpt in class


–Discuss film analysis


–Watch and discuss On the Road (2012) in class


–Critical writing introduction; making claims



Tuesday 5/17

SWA 1 Due at 8AM

–Read Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways excerpt (CV; 1-9)

–Read Barros’ “Driving that highway to consciousness” (CR; 228-231; 239-240)

-Watch and discuss Smoke Signals (1998) in class


Wednesday 5/18

–Read London’s The Road excerpt (CV; ‘Confession’ only)

–Read Ellison’s “I Did Not Know Their Names” (CV; 89-96)

–Read Battat “Race, Sex and the Hobo” (CR; 15-24)

–Watch and discuss The Tramp (1915), Hallelujah I’m A Bum Again (1933) in class

Discussion Board #1 by Midnight

Thursday 5/19

–Read Thompson’s Hell’s Angels excerpt (CV; 2-33)

–Read Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas excerpt (CV; Chapters I & II)

–Read Mills’ “Road Film Rising” (CR; 110-129)

–Watch and discuss Easy Rider (1969) in class


SWA 2 Due at 8AM

–Read Lopez’s Flaming Iguanas (all)

–Read Ganser’s “Crossing and Queering” (CR; 281-295; 302)

–Watch and discuss Thelma and Louise (1991) in class


–Read Butler’s Parable of the Sower (all)

–Watch and discuss Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) in class

Discussion Board #2 by Midnight



–Read Escadón’s Gonzáles & Daughter’s Trucking Co. (CR; 1-28)

–Read Barros’ “In Search of the Maternal” (CR; 89-102; 112-118)

Final project conferences (second half of class), bring draft of an outline


SWA 3 Due at 8AM

–Read Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (CV; all)

–Read Barros’ “Points of Departure” (CR; 1-18)

–Watch and discuss The Wiz (1978) in class


No Class:

Memorial Day Holiday




–Read Waters’ Carsick

–Watch and discuss True Stories (1986) in class

Discussion Board #3 by Midnight


–Read Laderman “What A Trip” (CR; 41-57)

–Watch and discuss American Graffiti (1973) in class


Final Presentations in class

Final Papers due to Canvas by 6PM