University Writing and Research
After Eden: Stories of Dystopia, Progress, and Hope

Location: Cowichan (700), classroom 140
Class Hours: Wed. 4:30 pm– 7:20 pm
Office Hours: Wed. 2:00 pm – 3:50 pm
(or by appointment)
Phone: 250-746-3552
Office: 314

“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:

  • Diana Hacker, A Canadian Writer’s Reference (5th, Bedford Books)
  • 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)


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.

2. Online 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. I will assign a question (prompt) on D2L and you will need to post your response to Dropbox by 4:30 pm of the assigned class for it to be marked. 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.

3. Short Diagnostic Essay (15%): Due March 2nd

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).

4. Open Book Midterm (15%): March 23rd

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.

5. Annotated Bibliography (5%): Due April 6th

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 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:

6. Long Essay Workshop (5%): Due April 13th

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. Please see page 12-14 of A Canadian Writer’s Reference for the format of an essay outline. 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 workshop, which you will then attach to your final papers. For those who cannot attend in person, please paste a copy of your outline to the Discussion page labelled “Workshop” and provide feedback to other students’ outlines in that space. More detailed instructions will be provided.

7. Final Paper (25%): Due April 20th

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.

8. Final Exam (20%): Due April 27th

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


Class Schedule:

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

Feb. 3   

Introduction; Course Outline; Standards and expectations; departmental grading policies; “Planning” 3-6; reader-response criticism; Reading to form an interpretation (541-547).

Discuss: Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves” (lyrics), Nina Simone’s version, and Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” (poem/article)

Feb. 10     
Approaching an essay assignment; Begin discussion of short essay assignmentdue Mar. 2; Intro to critical thinking, reading, and writing; A Canadian Writer’s Reference (WR); “Academic Writing: Writing About Texts” (67-77); Using appropriate language: WR 159-62; 165-69
Discuss: Thomas King Part I and II (pg. 1-60)
Prompt #1

All King audio, here.

Feb. 17   
Discuss research essay; Inclusive language: WR 162-64; Summary versus synthesis; WR 153-58; What is plagiarism? WR 357-65 and 376-79; Integrating sources using MLA-style documentation: WR 379-98 (and skim WR 398-428) in-class exercise

Discuss: King Part III-IV (61-119).
Selected Scenes from Reel Injun.

Feb. 24 [ONLINE]
No “physical class” this day]. See online lecture on D2L]
Introduction to using and evaluating sources: WR 346-57; Constructing reasonable arguments WR 78-91
Discuss: King Part V and Epilogue (121-167).
Prompt #2 (submitted online via Dropbox by Feb 24)
Louis CK

Mar. 2  
Short formal five-paragraph essay due (500-750 words)
Library orientation with VIU research librarian in Lab. 130 @ 4:30 pm
Read sample student research paper: WR 435-40
Evaluating arguments: WR 92-100 (Logical fallacies)

Discuss Ronald Wright Part I
Prompt #3
Audio of A Short History of Progress

Mar. 9
Discuss sample student research paper: WR 435-40
Avoiding fragments and run-ons: WR 212-22
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part II and III

Mar. 16  
Paragraphing: WR 32-45; WR “Revising” 20-28
Discuss: Ronald Wright Part IV and V
Start Surviving Progress
Prompt #4

Mar. 23   

Watch and discuss Surviving Progress; review for Midterm

Mar. 30
Midterm (4:30-5:50)
Start Oryx and Crake (read chapter 1)

April 6
Review apostrophe usage: WR 278-81
Discuss: Oryx and Crake (read until page 92, chapters 2-4)
Prompt #5 (in class)
Annotated Bibliography Due

Atwood on Q.
Oryx and Crake video animation.

April 13
Peer-Review Workshop for research paper
WR, The Comma (259-269)
Discuss: Oryx and Crake (read until page 280, chapters 5-11)

April 20  
Discuss: Oryx and Crake (pages 281-376, chapters 12-15); exam review
Essay Due 

Atwood on the Hunger for God.


April 27

Featured ImageThe 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).