After Eden: Stories of Dystopia, Progress, and Hope


Location: Nanaimo (345), classroom 102
Class Hours: M/ F 1 pm- 2:30 pm
Office Hours: Monday 3-4 pm; Tues / Thurs 1 pm – 2 pm
(or by appointment)
Phone: Local  2118
Office: 359/ 101

“You know, hope is a mistake. If you can’t fix what’s broken, you’ll go insane.”
–Mad Max: Fury Road

Given the fears around the destruction of our current civilization, including the various local and global cultural groups under threat therein, rapid developments in technology, and untenable rises in population, it is perhaps unsurprising that dystopian literature is more popular now than ever. In this course we will examine three written works (and two documentaries) that ask us what can we do after our metaphorical expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The major themes we will investigate in each text surround themes of dystopia, stories, hope, and the myth of progress. We will examine what defines progress, relating questions of rapid population growth and technological development to the practice of university reading and writing. We will start the course with Thomas King’s Massey Lecture Series, The Truth About Stories, read and discuss Ronald Wright’s Massey Lecture Series, A Short History of Progress, and end the course with Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which focuses on biotechnology, and asks the useful question, “As a species we’re doomed by hope, then?” Equally vexing, is the question we must ask ourselves: What can we do? Dealing with the periodic crises of our time, we will venture to ask the difficult questions, using the vantage points of the three selected texts. In this course students will develop a critical voice, analyze discourse, learn how to write a research paper and properly cite material, engage with pertinent social issues, such as the global environmental crises and systemic racism, and learn how various rhetorical strategies, particularly juxtaposition and point of view, are essential to university writing. As dense and dark as this course sounds, we will also have a lot of fun!

Required Texts:

  • Thomas King, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (Anansi)
  • Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (Anansi)
  • Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (Vintage Canada)
  • The Broadview Pocket Guide to Writing (4th ed, Broadview Press)


Participation 5%
Writing Prompts 10%
Short Essay (600-750 words) 15%
Open Book Midterm 15%
Research Essay
*Annotated Bibliography 5%
*Essay Workshop 5%
*Final Paper (1500-1800 words) 25%
Final Exam 20%

Assignment Breakdown:

  1. Participation (5%) 

Since discussion is an important part of this class, active participation and critical thinking about the assigned reading is fundamental to the course. Careful and engaged reading will allow you to achieve success and will prepare you to pose questions, raise problems, and engage with your peers during class discussions. I am an ardent advocate for the dialogical process of pedagogy, and believe that my students should have an equal opportunity to express their opinions with their peers and instructors.

  1. Writing Prompts (10%): Due Periodically

There will be five writing prompts, but only the top four marks will count. See the syllabus for when these writing assignments take place. These prompts are intended to test students’ ability to critically engage with the text or texts assigned for that day. Each assignment is marked out of 10. Please note that your grade is based on quality rather than quantity. Please take time to formulate your ideas rather than writing for the sake of writing. All in-class writings are open book unless otherwise specified by the professor.

  1. Short Diagnostic Essay (15%): Due Sept. 30th

The short research essay (600-750 words) asks you to research and write about a specific aspect of First Nations culture or history in relation to Thomas King’s Massey Lectures. In The Truth About Stories, Thomas King writes a lot about the importance of stories, encompassed in his phrase, “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (2). History itself, as King contends, is not of the past, but is rather the stories we tell about that past. For this essay, you are to include three sources using proper MLA or APA citation, including Thomas King’s The Truth About Stories, one non-academic web source, and one peer-reviewed secondary source. This assignment will teach you the value of summary, how to formulate a thesis, and incorporate evidence from multiple sources.

More details, as well as short essay questions, will be provided during our second meeting together (and posted to D2L).

  1. Open Book Midterm (15%): Oct. 21st

There will be an open book in-class essay on Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress. Details will be provided in class closer to the date.

  1. Annotated Bibliography (5%): Due Nov. 7th

In preparation of your final paper, you will create three entries for an annotated bibliography. You are to choose three critical texts—articles, books, films, recordings—but two must be academic and one must be a book (digital books are fine). Each entry must consist of a bibliographic citation, in MLA or APA format, for the text you’ve chosen, and a one (max two) paragraph annotation, in which you explain the relevance of this text to your chosen essay topic, defining its theoretical position(s). How would this text be useful to you in the critical project you have undertaken for this course? What are its key points? Going back to our discussion on being engaged close readers, what do you take from it?

For a useful resource on Annotated Bibliographies please visit the VIU Library guide on Annotated Bibliographies:

  1. Long Essay Workshop (5%): Due Nov. 21st

You will come to class with the introductory paragraph that will provide your essay’s projected argument (with a thesis). You will also include an outline (in point form with topic sentences) that shows a critical engagement with secondary criticism. You must also provide a works cited list of four to five sources that extend beyond the assigned readings for the course. You do not need to include any of these sources in your final essay, but they should clearly pertain to your argument and/or focus. You will take this outline to class for a workshop in which you will give and receive feedback and advice from fellow students. We will cover best practices in class leading up this assignment. I will sign copies of your marked-up workshop, which you will then attach to your final papers. More detailed instructions (and a handout) will be provided.

  1. Final Paper (25%): Due Dec 5th

The final research essay will be around 5 pages in length (1500-1800 words), not including a works cited list. You are required to actively engage with three academic secondary sources in the body of this research paper—course material does not count. Please note that although secondary research is a necessary component of this assignment, your own ideas and engagement with these resources, rather than your ability to perform and incorporate research, will be graded. I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments. More detailed instructions, including a list of possible topics, will be provided and uploaded to D2L. You are encouraged to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing.

  1. Final Exam (20%): TBA

Part passage analysis / essay (focused primarily on Atwood’s Oryx and Crake).

Bonus Assignment (2%): Due by Nov. 25th

You have the opportunity to attend a presentation or public lecture on campus and provide a 1-2 paragraph précis of that talk.

How did the presenter organize their material? What techniques did they use for gaining audience rapport, including imagery, verbal signposts, and appropriate non-verbal messages? Did the presenter respond to audience questions effectively? Were there aspects of the talk that could have been more successfully presented, and if so, why? You may attend the Gustafson Poetry Lecture on the evening of October 27th or you may attend an Arts and Humanities Colloquium talk ( I am presenting on Nov. 25th on a talk entitled, “Hogan’s Alley Remixed: Learning through Wayde Compton’s Poetics.” So that you have the option to attend this talk we will have no class that day. All talks are free and open to the public. Your assignment is due by 5 pm via the appropriate Dropbox folder on D2L by Nov. 25th.

Class Schedule:

Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term progresses.

Writing Prompt #2 moved from Sept 19 to 23

Sept. 9
Introduction; Course outline; Expectations; Departmental grading policies
Writing: Planning; Reading to form an interpretation
Discuss: Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves” (lyrics), Nina Simone’s version, and Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” (poem/article)

Sept. 12    
Approaching an essay assignment; Begin discussion of short essay assignment due Sept. 30th: Writing About Texts” (see Broadview Guide 47-52)
Discuss: Thomas King Part I, “You’ll Never Believe What Happened”
Writing Prompt #1

All King audio, here.

Sept. 16  
Writing: Using appropriate and inclusive language (see Broadview Guide 45-47; 63-80); Summary versus synthesis
Discuss: Research Essay; King Part II
Start Reel Injun

Sept. 19
Writing: Evaluating sources; Constructing reasonable arguments; Thesis Statements (see Broadview Guide 32-33)
Discuss: King Part III & IV
Continue Reel Injun

The Halfbreed Blues” by Andrea Menard

Sept. 23   

Writing: Avoiding plagiarism (Broadview Guide 175-77); Integrating sources using MLA-style documentation (skim Broadview Guide 190-249)
In-class exercises for MLA and APA style
Discuss: King Part V and Afterwords
Finish Reel Injun
Prompt #2
Louis CK

Sept. 26
Library orientation with VIU research librarian in 305, room 508
Read sample student research paper: Broadview Guide 215-221

Sept. 30
Short formal five-paragraph essay due (600-750 words) in class or on D2L
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part I
Prompt #3
Audio of A Short History of Progress
Flying Lotus, “Putty Boy Strut

Oct. 3  

Writing: Evaluating arguments (Logical fallacies)
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part II

Oct. 7 
Writing: Avoiding fragments and run-ons
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part III and IV


Oct. 10 
Thanksgiving Holiday; University closed

Oct. 14
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part V
Start Surviving Progress
Prompt #4

Oct. 17
Finish and discuss Surviving Progress
Midterm Review

Oct. 21  

Oct. 24
Writing: Paragraphing (see Broadview Guide 14-15)
Discuss: Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake (pgs. 1-46, Chapters 1-3)

Oryx and Crake video animation.

Oct. 28

Writing: Revising
Discuss: Oryx & Crake (pgs. 49-92, Chapter 4)
Prompt #5

Atwood on Q.

Oct. 31 
Writing: Review apostrophe usage (Broadview Guide 139-140)
Discuss: Oryx & Crake (pgs. 95-144 Chapters 5 & 6)
Review Annotated Bibliography

Nov. 4  
Writing: The Comma (Broadview Guide 132-135)
Discuss: Oryx and Crake (pgs. 147-169, Chapter 7)

Nov. 7  
Discuss: Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake (pgs. 173-238, Chapters 8 & 9)
Annotated Bibliography Due

Nov. 11
Remembrance Day; University closed

Nov. 14
Discuss: Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake (pgs. 241-280, Chapters 10 & 11)

AquAdvantage Salmon

Nov. 18
Discuss: Margaret Atwood, Oryx & Crake (pgs. 283-354, Chapters 12 & 13)


Nov. 21
Peer-Review Workshop for research paper

Nov. 25
Bonus Assignment Due (See syllabus). No Class today.

Nov. 28
Black Mirror episode/ discussion

Dec. 2  

Finish discussion on Oryx & Crake (pgs. 357-374, Chapters 14 & 15)

Atwood on the Hunger for God.


Dec. 5  
Final Essay Due; Exam review

Featured Image: The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man or The Earthly Paradise with the Fall of Adam and Eve (1617) by Peter Paul Rubens (figures) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (flora and fauna).