Location: Online 
Class: Online (VIULearn) and Zoom
Office Hours: Wednesday 2-4 pm on Zoom
(or by appointment)

ENGL 125 F20N07: Zoom on Thurs 2:30-3:30 pm
ENGL 125 F20N04: Zoom on Thurs 5:30-6:30 pm

“Sound is to people what the sun is to light.”
—Ornette Coleman qtd. in BonnarooMusicFest Interview

This course puts literature, music, and popular culture into conversation with one another. Music provides one formal model of how we can approach the complex interweaving textures and soundings of culture, musical and literary traditions, and current important issues such as the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Not only will we read texts and analyze media, but we will listen to the music found therein. In some ways these texts demand not only to be read, but also heard. The course will include essays, poems, songs, TV, and film, and there are two required texts: Esi Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues, which is about Americans, Afro-Germans, and Jews playing jazz in Nazi Germany, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen: a graphic novel about superheroes and 1980s anxiety around the cold war. We will also watch some episodes from the recent HBO Watchmen series, available on Crave TV. The course will end with Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing. Punctuated by the anthemic refrain of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Do the Right Thing is a landmark in American cinema, and it remains as politically and emotionally charged as ever. Aside from core readings and discussion, the course will include a close reading of a song of your choice, a short mixtape/remix project, and we will host a panel of hip-hop artists as part of the Intercultural Hip Hop Forum at VIU. Due to COVID-19, the course will be conducted through video/ audio lecture, email, VIULearn discussion, as well as optional Zoom discussion on Thursdays for most weeks of the course. Not only will you develop an awareness of the relationship between literature, music, and culture, you will observe how broader struggles for voice, agency, and social justice are integral to a more equitable vision of society.


  • Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
  • Various Readings and media (most available on VIULearn or the course blog)
  • A good style guide, such as The Broadview Pocket Guide to Writing, is recommended.

Free Writing and Citation Guides:


Participation (on VIULearn and/or Zoom) 10%
Songs are Poems Too: Close Reading (600-750 words) 10%
Take Home Midterm on Half-Blood Blues (750 words) 15%
Mixtape, Song, or Remix (with short write-up) 10%
Research Essay (1500-1750 words) 30%
Final Exam 25%

See VIULearn for the full course outline and a breakdown of assignments

Introduction to my courses for 2020-2021

Music page for the course:


Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term (especially with the shifting challenges of COVID-19) progresses.

Week 1: Introduction

Reading: David Byrne, “The World is Changing—So Can We
Listening: The Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” (1981) and Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic Is a Portal” and my remix (DJ Techné, “Another World,” Portals, 2020)

Sept 10 (Zoom and VIULearn): class Introductions; course outline; standards and expectations; short discussions

Week 2: Close Reading the Blues, Baldwin, and Edugyan

Reading: Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues” (VIULearn); Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues (Part I, pp. 1-16)
Listening: Robert Johnson, “Crossroad Blues” (1937) and “Me and the Devil Blues” (1928); Louis Armstrong, “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue”; Billie Holiday, “Am I Blue”; Bessie Smith, “Devil’s Gonna Git You”; DJ Techné, “Devil’s Gonna Get You
Home Viewing: Ken Burns, Jazz (“Gumbo,” first 13 mins); available on Films on Demand 

Sept 17 (Zoom and VIULearn): Discussion on “Sonny’s Blues” and Half-Blood Blues

Week 3: Half-Blood Blues

Reading: Half-Blood Blues (part II- III.ii, read until p. 140)
Listening: Edugyan reading; King Oliver, “Riverside Blues”; Bessie Smith, “Empty Bed Blues”; Jelly Roll Morton, Winin’ Boy; Oscar Peterson, “Hymn to Freedom”
Home Viewing: Ken Burns, Jazz: (The Gift, 1-15:06); (Our Language, 10:50-13:28)

Sept 22 (Zoom and VIULearn): Discussion on Half-Blood Blues

Week 4: Half-Blood Blues

Reading: Finish Half-Blood Blues
Listening: Louis Armstrong, “West End Blues” and Ella Fitzgerald, “Mack the Knife” 
Close Reading of song due

Oct 1 (Zoom and VIULearn): Final Discussion on Half-Blood Blues

Week 5: Bessie and Midterm

Home Viewing: Dee Rees, Bessie (2015)
Take-home midterm on Half-Blood Blues due by Friday, Oct 9 at noon

Oct 8 (VIULearn; No Zoom): Discussion on Bessie

Week 6: Watchmen: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Reading: Watchmen (Chapters 1-3)
Listening: Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”

Oct 15 (Zoom and VIULearn): Discussion on Watchmen (1-3)

Week 7: Watchmen Con’t

Reading: Watchmen (Chapters 4-7)
Listening: Nina Simone, “Pirate Jenny”; Nat King Cole, “Unforgettable”; Billie Holiday, “You’re my Thrill”

Oct 22 (Zoom and VIULearn): Discussion on Watchmen (4-7)

  • Alan Moore HARDtalk Interview
  • See the Watchmen Motion Comics series, here.

Week 8: Watchmen Con’t

Reading: Watchmen (Chapters 8-12) and Jason S. Polley, “Watching the Watchmen, Mediating the Mediators” (VIULearn); See “The Ghost of You: Watchmen and Music
Listening: Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower”; John Cale, “Sanities”
Recommended home viewing: Zack Synder, Watchmen  (2009)

Oct 29 (Zoom and VIULearn): Discussion on Watchmen and film

Week 9: International Hip Hop Forum

Reading: Ed Piskor, Hip Hop Family Tree (VIULearn) 
Listenings: Forthcoming

Nov 5 Zoom: Hip Hop Forum (2:30-4 pm; this event will be recorded)

Week 10: Study Days

Nov 9-13 Fall Semester Study Days 

Week 11: Damon Lindelof, Watchmen (2019)

Home Viewing: Watchmen (HBO), Episode 1 and 6
Reading: Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations
Listenings: Oklahoma!, “Poor Jud is Daid”; The Ink Spots, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”

Nov 19 (Zoom and VIULearn): Discussion on Race, Music, and Watchmen

Week 12: It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop

Reading: Hip Hop Lyrics (links on website)

Additional Reading (on VIULearn): Tricia Rose, Black Noise, “Voices from The Margins”; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Intro to The Anthology of Rap, Luc Sante, “Beastie Boys Revolution”
Optional Reading: Paul Watkins, “Disruptive Dialogics: Improvised Dissonance in Thelonious Monk and Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers
Remix Project Due

Listenings (choose 5): Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, “The Message”; Public Enemy, “Night of the Living Baseheads” and “Fight the Power”; Eric B. & Rakim, “Paid in Full” and “I Know You Got Soul”; Lauryn Hill, “Everything is Everything” and “Doo-Wop (That Thing)”; Queen Latifah, “Ladies First” and “U.N.I.T.Y”; Missy Elliott, “Get Ur Freak On”; MC Lyte, “Cold Rock a Party” and “Lyte as a Rock”; Maestro Fresh Wes, “Nothin’ At All”; War Party, “Feelin’ Reserved”; Snotty Nose Rez Kids, “Son of a Matriarch” and “I Can’t Remember My Name”; Run the Jewels, “Walking in the Snow” and “Just”; Childish Gambino, “This is America”; Anderson .Paak, “Lockdown”; K’naan, “Strugglin’” and “My Old Home”; Nas, “N.Y State of Mind”; Eminem, “Lose Yourself” and “Stan”; Wu-Tang Clan, “C.R.E.A.M”; Aesop Rock, “No Regrets”; dead prez, “Hip-Hop”; Jean Grae, “My Story”; Immortal Technique, “You Never Know”; Atmosphere, “Yesterday”; Fugees, “Killing Me Softly”; Nonname, “Diddy Bop”; M.I.A, “Paper Planes”; Beastie Boys, “Paul Revere” and “Sabotage;” The Roots f/ Erykah Badu, “You Got Me”; Common, “I Used to Love H.E.R.;” Slick Rick, “Children’s Story”; Black Star, “Thieves in the Night”; Macklemore, “Same Love”; Jedi Mind Tricks f/R.A. The Rugged Man, “Uncommon Valor: A Vietnam Story”; Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”; Brother Ali, “Dear Black Son”; Buck 65, “Blood of a Young Wolf”; Shad, “Fam Jam” and “Brother Watching”; Mac Miller, “Good News”

Nov 26 (Zoom and VIULearn): Optional Sharing of projects and discussion on Hip Hop music 

Week 13: Wayde Compton’s DJ Poetics and Hogan’s Alley

Readings: Wayde Compton, ““Seven Routes to Hogan’s Alley” and “Turntable Poetry, Mixed Race, and Schizophonophilia” (VIU Learn)
Home Viewing: “Secret Vancouver: Return to Hogan’s Alley”
Listenings: Charlie Pride, “Is Anybody Going to San Antone”; Kid Koala, “Moon River” (remix); M.I.A., “Borders”; Wayde Compton audio

Dec 3 (Zoom and VIULearn): Discussion on DJing, Compton, and Hogan’s Alley

Week 14: Do the Right Thing

Home Viewing: Spike Lee, Do the Right Thing (1989 | 120 min)
Listening: Public Enemy, “Fight the Power”
Final Paper Due on Dec 10 by midnight

VIU Learn (no Zoom) Discussion on Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing

Featured image for the course is of jazz great Louis Armstrong entertaining neighborhood children on the front porch of his home in Corona, Queens (Louis Armstrong House Museum).