Location: Nanaimo (345), classroom 208
Class Hours: Tues / Thurs 2:30 pm – 3:50 pm
Office Hours: Monday 3-4 pm; Tues / Thurs 1 pm – 2:20 pm
(or by appointment)
Phone: Local  2118
Office: 359/ 101

“The truth about stories is that that’s all we are”
-Thomas King

This course aims to introduce you to university level writing and research by exploring select books (The Truth about Stories; A Short History of Progress), essays, short stories, documentaries (Reel Injun and Surviving Progress), and a film (Arrival), and concerns a question of particular relevance to first-year students: what stories should guide how we design our lives? The major themes we will investigate in each text surround the importance of language and stories in our lives, which includes exploring how certain stories and myths can be dangerous. 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, feminism, and systemic racism, and learn how various rhetorical strategies, such as point of view, are essential to university writing. It is my hope that you will leave this course with a better understanding of academic culture and perhaps with answers to the pertinent questions about how you want to shape and narrate your own life (in relation to others).


  • Thomas King, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (Anansi)
  • Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress (Anansi)
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists (Anchor)


*Participation 5%
*Short Essay (600-750 words) 15%
*Letter to America (one page) 10%
*Open-Book Midterm on Wright 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. Short Diagnostic Essay (15%): Due Sept. 26

The short research essay (600-750 words) asks you to research and write about a specific aspect of Indigenous 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. Letter Assignment (10%): Oct. 12 

From a Canadian perspective, Margaret Atwood writes “Letter to America” to discuss her disillusionment with the path that America is on. Since the letter was written back in 2003, America has shifted its ideologies a number of times, first by electing its first Black president in 2008 and then by electing a billionaire populist in 2016. Taking a look at the current state of America, write your own letter. The letter is to be one-page long (single spaced).

There will be a short workshop where you will bring your first paragraph to class. Some of the letters will be read in class and so participation in the various stages of this assignment is required.

  1. Open Book Midterm (15%): Nov. 2

 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. 14

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. 21

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 a copy 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. 5

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

Passage analysis / Essay

Bonus Assignment (2%): Due by Nov. 24: You have the opportunity to attend a presentation or public lecture on campus and provide a 1-2 paragraph précis of that talk.What was the talk about? 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? What did you learn? You may attend the Gustafson Poetry Lecture on the evening of October 26th, or you may attend an Arts and Humanities Colloquium talk ( All talks are free and open to the public. Your assignment is due by 5 pm via the appropriate folder on D2L by Nov. 24. 

Class Schedule:

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

Sept. 5 
Introduction; Course outline; Expectations; Departmental grading policies
Writing: Planning; Reading to form an interpretation
Discuss: Jay-Z, “4:44

Sept. 7
Approaching an essay assignment; Begin discussion of short essay due Sept. 26; “Writing About Texts” (see Broadview Guide 47-52)
Discuss: Jonathan Gottschall, “The Witchery of Story” (see D2L)

Sept. 12  
Writing: Using appropriate and inclusive language (see Broadview Guide 63-80); Summary versus synthesis
Discuss: Thomas King Part I, “You’ll Never Believe What Happened”
Play Adichie on The Danger of a Single Story (8:30-14:10)
Free Writing Exercise

All King audio, here.

Sept. 14 
Writing: Evaluating sources; Constructing reasonable arguments; Thesis Statements (see Broadview Guide 32-33)
Discuss: King Part II
Start Reel Injun (Selected 1-14)

See Perception by KC Adams.
See Halloween Costumes

Sept. 19
Writing: Avoiding plagiarism (Broadview Guide 175-77); Integrating sources using MLA-style documentation (skim Broadview Guide 190-243)
Discuss: King Part III and IV; Continue Reel Injun (18:49-33; 38-44:50)

Sept. 21
Read sample student research paper: Broadview Guide 215-221
Discuss: King Part V and Afterwords
Finish Reel Injun (49:17-107; 112-124)
Free Writing Exercise

Louis CK

Sept. 26
Writing: Evaluating arguments (Logical Fallacies)
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
Short formal five-paragraph essay due (600-750 words) in class or on D2L

Sept 28
Read sample student research paper: Broadview Guide 215-221
Discuss: Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists
Adichie on transgender controversy.
Article, Brains aren’t actually ‘male’ or ‘female’ and here; opposing view (see here).

Oct. 3 
Library orientation with VIU research librarian in 305, room 508

Oct. 5
Atwood, “Letter to America” (workshop; first paragraph)
Henry Rollins, “Letter to Young Americans”

Oct. 10  
Study Day; University closed

Oct. 12
Atwood, “Letter to America” (letter due; reading)
Discuss Research Essay (& Essay Checklist)
Discuss Annotated Bibliography

Oct. 17 
Writing: Avoiding fragments and run-ons
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part I
Free Writing Exercise
Audio of A Short History. 

Extra Readings for consideration:
Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers” (Oct 18, 2017)
The Fate of the Earth” (Oct 12, 2017)
Record-smashing August means long-awaited ‘jump’ in global warming is here” (Sept 13, 2016)
Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we’re nearing collapse” (Sept 22, 2014)
Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?” (March 14, 2014)

Oct. 19
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part II
Writing: Paragraphing (see Broadview Guide 14-15)
Listening, Daft Punk, Harder, Better, Faster
Extra Reading (if time): Kathryn Schulz, “The Really Big One

Oct. 24
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part III and IV
Writing: The Comma (Broadview Guide 132-135)

Brinkman, “Gilgamesh

Oct. 26 
Ronald Wright (Part V)
Start Surviving Progress
Free Writing

Oct. 31 
Finish and Discuss Surviving Progress
Midterm Review

Nov. 2 
Midterm Exam

Nov. 7 
Black Mirror, “Nosedive”

Nov. 9
“International Hip-Hop Forum”
Telling Your Story: Intercultural Hip Hop Panel
2:30-4:00pm B305 R507
VIU English instructor and hip hop enthusiast, Paul Watkins, will ask this diverse panel of hip hop artists to speak about their personal journeys in finding their voice through hip hop as well as how their art connects with culture, community and personal identity.
Hosted by English 115.
[Full Schedule, here].

Nov. 14
Writing: Revising (see Broadview Guide 14-15)
Discuss: Zora Neale Hurston, “How it Feels to be Colored Me
Annotated Bibliography Due

Nov 16
Writing: Review apostrophe usage (Broadview Guide 139-140)
Discuss: Chiang, “Story of Your Life” (see D2L)

Nov. 21
Peer-Review Workshop for research paper

Nov. 23
Screening, Arrival

Nov. 28  
Finish Arrival and discuss

Nov. 30
Octavia E. Butler, “Speech Sounds

Dec. 5
Final Essay Due; Exam review; See Armstrong, “Keepers of the Earth”