Paul Watkins
Location: Nanaimo (345.209)
Class Hours:  Tu & Thurs: 11:30 am – 12:50
Office Hours: M, Tu, Thurs: 4 – 5 pm
Phone: Ext. 2118
Office: 345.204

“A Lot of sad feelings about CanLit. A lot of sad feelings about just fuckin’ being alive.”
—Katherena Vermette, Can’t Lit

“But the old pattern can change, and, as the Human Rights Tribunal said the other day, ‘The time is now.’”—Chief Erwin Redsky on the occasion of the visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation

ENGL 220 looks at recent work in CanLit (examining work published in the last five years), amplifying Indigenous writers, Black writers, and writers of colour as foundational to the new CanLit. We will explore questions of historicity, gender, race, and form and production, as we cross disciplinary and media boundaries in fiction, poetry, art, comics, literary theory, film, and music. The course will include two author visits and there will be a creative intervention project. Students will also collectively choose the final primary text of the semester. See the course blog for readings and video shared in class and VIULearn for grades and additional readings. I look forward to an exciting (and hopefully enlightening) semester with you.

Trigger Warning: Some of the material in this course deals with colonial violence, as well as recovery and healing from said violence. There are some scenes of sexual and physical violence, and depictions of vicarious trauma.

Primary Works:

  • Stephen S. Campanelli, Indian Horse (2018)
  • David Chariandy, Brother (2017)
  • Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves (2017)
  • Katherena Vermette, The Break (2016)
  • Jordan Abel, Injun (2016)
  • Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer (2014)
  • and one work to be chosen by consensus


Close Reading (750-1000 words) 15%
Collaborative Seminar Presentation 20%
Creative Intervention 15%
Research Essay (1700-1800 words) 30%
Final Exam 20%

Assignment Breakdown:

 Close Reading (15%): Due Jan 29

For this assignment, you are to write a close reading of no more than 1000 words (from three possible passages) from The Marrow Thieves. A close reading functions to bring out the nature and interrelations of a text in order to illuminate a given passage, page, or work. The act of close reading is an explication: explicate coming from the Latin explicare, meaning “to unfold, to fold out, or to make clear the meaning of.” You may bring in one secondary source beyond the book to inform your answer. Remember that your reading must have a focused critical argument. What essential point are you making about how the given chapter can help us to more fully understand the overall work?

More details, as well as the given passages, will be provided during our meeting on Jan. 15th (and posted to VIU Learn).

Collaborative Presentation (20%): Due on Selected Dates

In groups of around four you will present on a specific primary work along with the media and secondary article assigned for that day (please see the schedule below for presentation dates). The group will not simply summarize the material. The presenters should assume that the class is familiar with the material (primary and secondary) since it is required reading. The purpose of the exercise is to identify key ideas from the secondary material and apply it the assigned text or chapters for that day. The suggestion is to spark discussion rather than tell the class what they should know. Open ended, thought provoking questions are encouraged. Didactic dissection of the text is discouraged. Creativity through media, performance, or whatever else is encouraged but not necessary. Please ensure that such creative ventures are tasteful and serve as learning aids rather than detracting from the material’s focus. All members of the group will share the presentation mark. Presentations will be graded based on clarity, comprehension, class discussion, analysis and (creative or interactive) approach.

There will be a signup sheet on our 2nd meeting together.

Creative Intervention (15%): Due April 2

“I sincerely believe that the best criticism is that kind which is amusing and poetic; not the cold mathematical kind… the best article on a painting could be a sonnet or an elegy” (Charles Baudelaire, “What is the use of Criticism?”).

Taking up the above from Baudelaire, you are challenged to think about the material being discussed beyond the typical classroom setting and hermeneutic approach. Through a combination of analytical and creative pedagogies we can create new hybrid spaces that allow for alternative epistemologies and learning spaces. As Baudelaire states, the best way to critique a work might be a poem, or a painting; or perhaps, given the age we live in: a song, a DJ mix, painting, a comic strip, a creative journal, a one act play, a photography project, a podcast, or a blog. There are any number of possible approaches to this assignment: your piece could be prose, drama, visual, musical, dance, culinary, photography, etc., although it should connect to core course themes (some include gender, race, CanLit now, music, form, history, etc.).You could riff off of a chapter/episode/concept from one of the books, or you could even examine an aspect of CanLit history (works by women, early Indigenous work, Black Canadian writing, Canadian comics, etc.). This assignment asks you to think a little outside the box and go into the world and listen. After that listening you are called to produce a “creative intervention.”

Through critical creative work and soundings—interventions—we can further develop and help to define interdisciplinary approaches among the bordering fields of literature, music, and theories of multiculturalism and citizenship investigated in this course. By “creative intervention” I mean: to intervene through creative means, using the word as the OED defines as “‘stepping in,’ or interfering in any affair, so as to affect its course or issue.” I am also using intervention as in to be “intermediate”: to be between things, as in this case between the creative and the analytical, the scholar and the citizen. The method of the assignment is itself an intervention against simply writing another paper.

You will be graded on the level of engagement you put into your creative endeavor—although it should be stressed that I am not asking you produce something overly long or too complex given the other needs of this course. A few pages of material would be adequate. It is for the above reasons that you are required to write a two-page (around 400-500 words) discussion of why the intervention was conceived as it was. You will present your work via a 5-minute oral presentation (without notes) on the day the assignment is due. You will also be graded on your ability to critically explain or perform your “intervention.”I am also very open to the idea of you collaborating with another student, in which case the grade will be shared. More details as well as examples of past assignments will follow in class. 60% of the mark will be for the creative piece and 40% of the mark will be for the analysis.

Research Essay (30%): Due April 11

The Research Essay will be around 7-8 double spaced pages in length, not including a Works Cited list. You are required to actively engage with at least three (peer-reviewed) secondary sources in the body of this research paper—core 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. More detailed instructions, as well as topics, will be provided in class.I will be grading this assignment based on well-formulated and focused arguments. You are encouraged to write an essay on a topic of your own choosing, although it must still be on course material.

Final Exam (20%): TBA [Part passage analysis /essay]


Please note that this schedule is subject to change as the term progresses. See the changes to the group presentations (and other changes) in red.

Jan 8     
Attendance and syllabus handout
Author Visit: D’bi.Young Anitafrika

Jan 10
Standards and expectations; general discussion about the course
Lecture: CanLit Then and CanLit Now
Reading: Alicia Elliott, “CanLit is a Raging Dumpster Fire” (D2L)
Group Signup

Jan 15
Reading: Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves (1-55)
Discussion of Close Reading Assignment

Jan 17  
Reading:The Marrow Thieves (56-153)
Seminar Discussion (bring one question to class)

Last day to add/drop Fall course before student fees calculated

Jan 22
Reading: The Marrow Thieves (154-230)
Secondary Reading: Please read “Introduction” (1-22) and “Calls to Action” (319-338) from Final Report of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (available, here, or on VIU Learn)

Jan 24  
Film Screening: Indian Horse

Jan 29  
Film Screening and discussion: Indian Horse
Jesse Wente on Metro Morning discussing Indian Horse
Close Reading Due

Jan 31
Lecture on African Canadian Poetry and Wayde Compton and Hogan’s Alley
Read the Compton Poems and “Seven Routes to Hogan’s Alley” (see D2L)

Feb 5   
Author Visit: Taiaiake Alfred Lecture (B250/R125, 11:30am-1:00pm)

Feb 7  
Reading: Brother (Chapters 1-4)
Seminar Discussion
Final Book Option Discussion (vote)


Feb 12
Class cancelled-SNOW DAY

Feb 14    [material moved from Tuesday]
Reading: Brother (Chapters 5, 6, 7)
Secondary Readings: Paul Barrett et al., “The Unbearable Whiteness of CanLit”; Donna Bailey Nurse, “Lives of a Brother”; and Desmond Cole, “The Skin I’m In: I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times—all because I’m black
Group One Presentation
Discussion of Creative Interventions

Indigenous Poetry Reader will be sent via email for review

Feb 19 
Jordan Abel, Injun
Seminar Discussion
Interview: “A Line Can Be Drawn” (on D2L)
Discussion of Research Essays

Daniel Heath Justice Talk in Building 305, Room 507

Feb 21 
Author [Skype] Visit: Jordan Abel in Building 356, room 109

  • See the Macleans interview with Jordan Abel

Feb 25-March 1 

Event: CanLit in Ruins. Sunday, March 3rd, 2:00 pm at Nanaimo Harbourfront Library, main floor.

March 5    
Reading: Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, This One Summer (1-167)
Seminar Discussion

March 7   
Reading: This One Summer (167-319)
Secondary Reading: Marni Stanley, “Unbalanced on the Brink: Adolescent Girls and the Discovery of the Self in Skim and This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki”
See Mariko Tamaki’s “Dear Principle” response to the book’s censorship
Group Two Presentation

March 12  
Katherena Vermette, The Break (1-118, Ch. 1-12) 

  • Check out my review of the novel, here.
  • Vermette Discussing her book, here.
  • Gregory Scofield poem about missing and murdered Indigenous women, here.
  • Vermette poem, “Heart.”

March 14 
Vermette, The Break (119-207, Ch. 13-18)
Seminar Discussion

March 19 
Vermette, The Break (208-350. Ch. 19-29)
Secondary Reading: Carleigh Baker, “The Mythical Indigenous Protagonist
Group Three Presentation

March 21
Tanya Talaga, All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward (Chapters 1 and 2)
Clip from TVO interview and intro of lecture

March 26
Talaga, All Our Relations (Ch. 3)
Thesis Workshop

March 28  
Talaga, All Our Relations (Ch. 4 and 5)
Secondary Articles: “The Death of Kyle Morrisseau” and Leanne Simpson’s Land as Pedagogy (on D2L); also see the short Taiaiake Alfred article (D2L)

Group Four Presentation

April 2  
Creative Interventions

April 4 
Selected Essays from Refuse: CanLit in Ruins

  • “Introduction: Living in the Ruins” (Eds.), 9-28
  • “On Not Refusing CanLit” (Laura Moss), 146-148
  • “Refusing the Borders of CanLit” (Jennifer Andrews), 165-176
  • “Hearing the Artificial Obvious” (Erika Thorkelson), 184-190

April 9    
The CanLit Mix Tape (Music)
Joshua Whitehead, “Writing as Rupture: A Breakup Note to CanLit” (from Refuse, 191-198) and Jeannette Armstrong, “Keepers of the Earth
Exam Review
Essay Workshop

April 11    
Final Gathering at Shq’uapthut (Bldg. 170).
Research Essay Due

FINAL EXAMThu Apr 18, 2019, 9:00am. 345/ 209. 2.0 hr