2021 Summer Session

Approaches to Literature
Term 1

MW, 1:00 PM-4:00 PM

In this section of ENGL 110, we will encounter literature that explores the divisions and connections between humans and nature, or the non-human. In our reading and writing we will ask: how do humans and nature figure, interact, or mesh in these texts? What differences between the human and nonhuman do these literary works grapple with, define, or deconstruct? How might these works move us into new relation with our environment? Over the term, you will develop your own interpretations of literary representations of human/nature, while honing your skills as a reader, writer, and critical thinker. Spanning multiple genres (fiction, poetry, drama) and two centuries (1818-2018), our literary selections include Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, and works by Emily Dickinson, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Richard Van Camp, Camille Dungy, Joy Harjo, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, among others.

Our class will be held virtually, using a combination of asynchronous (videos, notes, and discussion forums on Canvas) and synchronous (short lectures and discussion on Zoom) activity. You will complete two online tests, and develop a literary essay that will critically analyze texts studied this term. A cumulative final exam will be held online. To provide a more supportive and interactive environment while you learn online, you will join a small cohort of your peers in the first week of class.


Approaches to Literature
Term 1

MW, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM

Rey: “You are a monster.”
Kylo Ren: “Yes, I am.”
– Star Wars: The Last Jedi

“Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world” – Richard III 1.i

What is a monster? We know monsters from myths and legends, folktales, horror fiction and film. We know their variety: the grotesque, the beautiful, the terrifying, the pitiable, the sports of nature and the forces of evil. Dragons, werewolves, vampires, zombies, Frankenstein’s Creature, Dorian Gray, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, Marisa Coulter, many of the characters in The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones: they’re everywhere, from under the bed to the house next door to the battlefield, and right into a great deal of literature. Which leaves us here: in this section of 110 we’ll focus on how literary texts across the genres use representations of monstrosity in ways that inspire both terror and horror, as well as (let’s be honest) fascination and even enjoyment.

We’ll look at William Shakespeare’s Richard III (a play that both meditates on villainy and ambition, and demonized its subject for Tudor audiences yet still fascinates contemporary ones). In doing so, we’ll consider various film and stage adaptations, including Ian McKellen’s 1995 film, which shifts the setting to an alternate-reality 1930s England where fascism takes hold, and more recent adaptations using race and gender-diverse casting, and casting as Richard actors who are themselves physically disabled. Other core texts include Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as selected poetry (with a focus on the sonnet form).

The course will be fully online and will combine synchronous (live video lectures with discussion) and asynchronous (Canvas-based discussion, notes, online resources) material. Evaluation will be based on three short writing assignments, participation in discussion on the course’s Canvas site, and an essay-based final examination.

Please see my blog (http://blogs.ubc.ca/drgmbaxter/2021/03/03/english-110-approaches-to-literature-summer-2021/) for updates.

Approaches to Literature
Term 1

TR, 12:00 PM-3:00 PM

We often hear the phrase “music saved my life” – but what does that mean? How do the experiences of either listening to or making music impact our lives? How are these experiences represented not only in literature, but in songs themselves? In this course, we’ll ask some big questions about what it means to survive, and think through the role(s) of art in survival. These questions feel especially pressing as we pass the one-year mark of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We will read one novel (Songs for the End of the World by Saleema Nawaz), a selection of critical readings, short stories, and poetry (TBA, but available online), and listen to a whole bunch of music.

Our novel, Songs for the End of the World, is about a fictional pandemic set in 2020, and follows a series of connected characters who live through it. Published in early 2020 by Canadian author Saleema Nawaz, this book prophetically meditates on many of the most pressing concerns that we have faced and are facing through the Covid-19 pandemic; isolation and loneliness, greed, varying governmental responses, and increasing xenophobia (especially towards folks of Asian descent). This novel invites us to reflect on our own moment, and consider the roles of art, especially literature and music, during times of crisis.

Note: This course deals with some heavy questions around survival and crisis, and our novel focuses on a pandemic. I ask that you be extra kind to yourself and to each other as we navigate this challenging material together.

Approaches to Literature
Term 1
TR, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM

The renowned writer of weird fiction H.P. Lovecraft famously claimed that “the true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule” – rather “a certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present.” This section of English 110 will consider drama, poetry, and prose fiction that meets these criteria: stories of monsters, demons, unfathomable horrors, metaphysical mystery, and cosmic awe. We will examine the ways that “weird” literature evokes emotions of wonder, fear, and disgust while engaging with political, social, and philosophical questions, interrogating boundaries, norms, and categories. Beginning with the epic poem Beowulf, a blood-soaked tale of monster-hunting in a world governed by a cruel, inhuman fate or “wyrd,” we will trace the literary history of the weird, following it through the fallen, omen-haunted tragedy of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s eerie poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Christina Rossetti’s sensuously malevolent “Goblin Market,” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s chilling tale “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The course concludes with a consideration of twentieth-century weird fiction, including the short stories of Lovecraft, Angela Carter, and Octavia Butler, as well as China Miéville's novel The City & The City.

Approaches to Literature
Term 1
WF, 9:30 AM-12:30 PM

What do we talk about when we talk about love? We’ll ask this question in various ways throughout this course by taking a look at how a variety of texts approach love, and writing about love—different kinds of love—in different ways. If love is constituted, in part, by the language used to describe it, how does the language of love stories shape how we perceive and experience it? How do our love stories shape our expectations of love? Is love merely personal, intense, private or is it also politically useful? What does literature have to say about this?

The philosopher Simone Weil said that love is “intense, pure, disinterested, gratuitous, generous attention.” Love can feel profound, even transformational. The little prince falls in love with a rose and travels from asteroid to asteroid to earth, in part, to mend his broken heart; in the process he learns a great deal about what kind of person he wants to be and what is meaningful. In Brother, two African-Canadian brother growing up in Scarborough, Ontario negotiate how to survive in community and music despite the ravages of racialized state violence. The protagonists in the stories in Islands of Decolonial Love relate to human and non-human species intimately, even lovingly, despite the effects of colonization.

This course introduces you to the skills and practices of literary criticism by inviting you, and equipping you, to interrogate details of language and form, and to pull together and analyze research sources in order to support sound and interesting arguments, i.e. to “read” these primary texts in new and deeper ways.

You will be asked to write TWO short essays in this course. You will be invited to ask rich and provocative questions about literary texts, find and analyze research sources and write good, clear arguments. Lively engagement is a basic requirement of this course!

Approaches to Literature
Term 2

MW, 12:00 PM-3:00 PM

“I’ve developed an aversion to that word normal. … The repetition of ‘when things return to normal’ as if that normal was not in contention.”

-Dionne Brand, “On Narrative, Reckoning, and the Calculus of Living and Dying.”

This course will introduce you to university-level literary study by focusing on a variety of contemporary literatures in Canada, which we will read together within the context of our pandemic present after a year that has been anything but “normal.” Our meetings for this summer section will remain online as we continue to adjust how we live and work within the “new normal” of COVID-19. In Canada, as elsewhere, the pandemic has not only threatened the health of communities, but challenged many of our existing ways of being and thinking amidst the shifting political landscapes and social imaginaries of the worlds we inhabit. Yet there is now cautious optimism that the summer of 2021 may see us closer to our post-pandemic future—closer to answering the question that has been thought and stated repeatedly: when can we get “back to normal”? But what exactly does a phrase like this mean? Where, when, and what was “normal”? Were things in Canada ever normal? While the world to come after COVID may look profoundly different from the one prior to it, the past year has also illuminated and magnified many of the deficiencies of the “old normal.” As Canadian poet and novelist Dionne Brand reminds us, that “normal” has always been contentious and inequitable, made of injustices and “dis-ease” that are too often the norm. So, as we consider what it means to read literature within the complex cultural politics of Canada at this time, it is important to ask: What limitations might “back to normal” place on our imaginaries and aspirations for a better future? How does literature contend with the “normal” and articulate the complexities of the world that is or has been? How can literature make different futures and perspectives visible, and invite us to speculate on alternative ways of being and living in the world we collectively make?

These questions will frame our readings as we explore a selection of contemporary Canadian and Indigenous literatures. Our readings will span a range of authors working in different genres (the novel, short stories, poetry, life writing, film, and graphic narrative) and addressing a range of themes and subjects that, in different ways, invite us to think critically about the “normal.” Some look backwards to Canada’s contentious history; some interrogate the norms of the present; while others speculate on a future that might be. Together, they will challenge us to think critically, read inquisitively, and write effectively about literature in our times.

Texts (provisional list)

  • The Marrow Thieves, Cheri Dimaline
  • I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter, David Chariandy

Selected readings and viewings (on Canvas) from Jeannette Armstrong, Dionne Brand, Wayde Compton, Hiromi Goto, Lisa Jackson, Lee Maracle, Alice Munro, David Robertson, Souvankham Thammavongsa, and others.

Note: Some content in this course will deal directly with subjects of colonialism, racism, and other forms of violence and trauma. I will aim to alert students in advance about potentially disturbing content, and ask that as a community of variously situated learners we enter into our discussions with sensitivity and mutual respect. 

Other Details

Our class will be held virtually and we will use Zoom and a combination of synchronous and asynchronous lectures, discussions, workshops, and group activities with peers. Evaluation will be based on a combination of online quizzes, a short in-class writing assignment, an at-home essay, and a final exam. Participation and regular attendance are required and necessary for success, particularly in the compressed summer semester.

Approaches to Literature
Term 2

MW, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM

Classes will be held synchronously on Zoom.

This section of English 110 will introduce students to basic elements of university-level literary study by examining a wide range of works in three genres: poetry, prose fiction, and drama.  These works are of various literary eras and by authors from diverse cultural backgrounds.  Students will be taught methods of literary analysis that should enable them to read each work with care, appreciation, and (one hopes) enjoyment.

  • Two in-class essays: 20% each
  • One home essay (1000 words): 30%  
  • Final exam: 30%


Lisa Chalykoff, Neta Gordon, Paul Lumsden, eds. The Broadview Introduction to Literature: Concise Edition, 2nd ed. (Broadview, 2019)

Provisional reading list                                                                                                                      


Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”; W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”; Ezra Pound, “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”; Theodore Roethke, “My Papa’s Waltz”; Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”; Adrienne Rich, “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”; Margaret Atwood, “Death of a Young Son by Drowning”; Seamus Heaney, “Digging”; George Eliot Clarke, “Casualties”; Jackie Kay, “In My Country”; Karen Solie, “Nice”


Kate Chopin, “The Story of an Hour”; Chinua Achebe, “Dead Men’s Path”; Alice Munro, “Friend on My Youth”; Alistair MacLeod, “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun”; Margaret Atwood, “Happy Endings”; Thomas King, “A Short History of Indians in Canada”; Kazuo Ishiguro, “A Family Supper”


William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night; Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House

Approaches to Literature
Term 2

TR, 12:00 PM-3:00 PM

Through the study of selected examples of poetry, fiction, and drama, this course will introduce students to the fundamentals of university-level literary study, and furnish them with the skills to think and write critically about literature.  Students will be taught the basic concepts of genre and form in literature and methods of literary analysis in order to prepare them for future courses (in English and other disciplines) which require close reading, critical thinking, open discussion, and analytical writing.  The emphasis in this section will be on Canadian authors and their works.

Course Requirements:

Each student is expected to participate fully in all class activities (reading, writing, discussion, groups, etc.).  Each student will write three essays (in-class and home), keep a Response Journal, and sit the Final Examination.


Because English 110 is conducted as a participatory, hands-on course, regular and punctual attendance is mandatory.  To succeed in this course, students must attend every class, on time, and well prepared, participate co-operatively in group work, and consistently contribute to the initiating and sustaining of small-group and class discussions.  Please register for this course only if you are able to make this commitment.

Required Texts:

  • Custom Course Pack of selections from Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing, 2nd Canadian ed., edited by Kirszner, et al. (Nelson)
  • King, Thomas.  Green Grass, Running Water (HarperPerennial)
  • Various handouts

Optional Text (If You Do Not Own a Good Handbook of English which Contains Updated [2016] MLA Formatting Style):

  • Aaron, Jane E., and Elaine Bander.The Little, Brown Essential Handbook, 6th Canadian ed.  (Pearson)

This three-unit course has been compressed into a brief six-week format.  The readings are extensive.  It is, therefore, recommended that you pre-read the novel.

Approaches to Literature
Term 2

TR, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM

This course is designed to introduce students to the three major forms of literature: drama, poetry, and the novel. We’ll practice a variety of approaches, examining literary works from historical, biographical, and psychoanalytical perspectives. The primary objective will be to teach students how to appreciate literature – what it can and cannot do and what distin-guishes it from other forms of communication – and write about it in an analytical and scholarly manner.

This course will be conducted synchronously, but all classes will be recorded for those unable to attend live.

Please read
 Hamlet for the first class.

Required Texts:

  • Shakespeare, Hamlet (Oxford UP)
  • Milton, Paradise Lost (Norton)
  • Delillo, White Noise (Penguin)