Doing the Readings

Required Readings

The only text you need to acquire for this course is Sassafras, Cypress, & Indigo by Ntozake Shange.

All other readings will either be circulated via email as a pdf or posted as a link on the class site (on the syllabus page). Please know that:

  • If you have problems accessing the readings, you should let me know ASAP.
  • While I provide links for many of the readings/clips/etc. on the syllabus page, most of these readings are readily accessible (for free) on line. So if a link’s not working, be proactive. After you email me, try locating the material on your own. With the citation information (i.e. the title and author), you should be able to find the material in the BC catalog if not through a simple Google search.  This proactive course will inevitably be more expedient than waiting for my email response. 

When should I finish the readings?

  • Be ready to discuss the entire reading before class starts on the day the reading appears on the schedule of assignment. For example: If “Packet” appears on the 9/9 line, you should complete and be prepared to discuss all the readings in the “Packet” before the start of class on Thursday, September 9th.
  • You can find the schedule of assignments including the readings on the class site on the page titled “Schedule of Assignments.” The three column chart on the syllabus page lists the specific readings in the middle column. Often the titles in this column are hyperlinked either directly to the text or in the case of the “packets” to a post that contains all the relevant links.
  • Unless indicated otherwise, I expect you to have completed the entirety of the text listed on the syllabus by the first date it appears on the syllabus. SO: Even if the syllabus indicates that our discussion of Harriet Jacobs’s narrative is scheduled over four class sessions, you should plan to have completed the entirety of the narrative before the first of those class days dedicated to that text.
  • Some readings will linked to the “Schedule of Assignments” page. If there is a “Packet” of readings, you can click on “Packet” in the Schedule of Assignments. The link will redirect you to a post with the titles (and where relevant links) to the materials you should be ready to discuss in class.


  • Review the whole reading schedule at the beginning of the semester. Doing so will help you have a general sense of what points in the semester might involve more novel reading and what points might require reading articles and listening to music.
  • Schedule reminders: Use your smart phone, Google Calendars, or an old-fashion paper planner to mark when assignments are due (i.e. when you’re expected to publish your posts). You can also schedule reminders encouraging yourself to start reading the next week’s reading earlier because you anticipate that week’s reading taking you longer or because you have a big project due in another class that week.
  • Read ahead. Remember there is no rule against reading ahead of schedule. You have the most knowledge about your schedule, commitments, and the time you need to reserve for your various academic, health, familial, and social needs.

What’s active reading? 

I have no doubt that you know how to read. You may even be a very fast reader. However a lot of the reading we do in our live is a passive type of reading. We read to receive the necessary content and move along. In this class, your reading should be active and not passive. Active reading means that you are receiving and processing the text but also engaging the text. There are numerous ways to engage a text, but some common ways to engage a text in a humanities course include: asking questions not just about, but to the text; challenging a particular part of the text (e.g. a contradiction you note in a critic’s argument; a justification a character presents for their action that you have trouble accepting); contextualizing the details of part of the text within applicable historical, cultural, and geographical frames. Active reading takes work, but it is important and often quite rewarding.

PRO-TIPS: Active Reading

  • Mark up your readings up with questions, comments, and ideas about both the content and the form (the way the content’s said/presented).
  • Identify the central argument, intended audience, organizing structure
  • Track recurring themes, questions, references.
  • Look up definitions to words you do not know. 
  • Look up (aka Google) references (i.e. names, places, events, etc.) with which you are unfamiliar. 
  • Circle key passages you wish to discuss in class. 

Pop Quizzes

I reserve the right to administer pop quizzes on the reading. Any such quiz will be straightforward multiple choice, true or false, or fill in the blank questions that should be quickly answered if you’ve completed the reading. Pop quizzes effect your participation grade.