Required Reading

  • Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (Vintage, 2010), ISBN-10: 0307739457
  • Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (Vintage, 2014), ISBN-10: 0804172447
  • Cathy Park Hong, Engine Empire (W. W. Norton & Company, 2012), ISBN-10: 039334648X
  • Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad (Doubleday, 2016), ISBN-10: 0385542364
  • Ben Lerner, 10:04 (Picador, 2014), ISBN-10: 1250081335
  • Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers (Scribner, 2013), ISBN-10: 1439142017
  • Various articles, reviews, and other materials available via our course sites

Note: You are required to purchase or otherwise obtain the editions of the texts I have listed above. You can purchase these texts at the campus bookstore, or online (through Amazon, for example) by searching for the ISBN-10 number. No other editions – including electronic/Kindle/Nook editions of these texts – are acceptable UNLESS you are able to prove to me that they have the exact same pagination as the print editions listed above. The primary texts are listed above in the order in which we will read them; the first one we will read is Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

We will refer to the assigned reading every single day in class, and we will often read passages aloud together. Bring the assigned reading with you every day to class. 

Required Work

  • Reading and participation: 10%
  • Discussion inaugurator: 5%
  • Short close reading paper (2-3 pages; 700-1000 words): 10%
  • Longer close reading paper (6-7 pages; 2100-2500 words): 30%
  • Book review (1500 words): 15%
  • Final Exam (9-10 pages; 3100-3500 words): 30%

Reading and participation: Much of the work of this class depends on your completion of the assigned reading. I will assess the reading you have done through the level and quality of your participation in class and in office hours. I will call on you in class, so come ready to discuss the reading.

Additional details on all course assignments and extra credit opportunities are detailed below “Assignments & Handouts” on this site.

Ungraded Assignments

Your reading and participation, discussion inauguration, short close reading paper, and book review will all be graded on an extra credit / pass / low pass / fail basis:

  • Fulfilling all the requirements of the assignment will earn you full credit (pass);
  • Failing to do so will earn you half credit at best (low pass) or no credit at worst (fail);
  • Going beyond the terms of the assignment in an especially ambitious or creative way can earn you extra credit.

Graded Assignments

Your longer close reading paper and final exam will be graded. Graded assignments will be given a letter grade and a percentage. The grading scale is as follows:

A+ = 98-100%

A = 93-97%

A- = 90-92%

B+ = 88-89%

B = 83-87%

B- = 80-82%

C+ = 78-79%

C = 73-77%

C- = 70-72%

D = 60-69%

F = below 60%

Graded assignments will follow this general rubric:

C-range: To earn a C, you must clearly restate the meaning of the text(s) under consideration in your own terms. A C close reading paper may volunteer an original argument, but will likely lack sufficient evidence and/or analysis. It will likely rely more on description or observation, and may summarize or speak too generally about texts. C essays are clearly written, but they may display grammatical or organizational weaknesses.

B-range: To earn a B, you must begin to raise important questions about the text(s) under consideration and use these questions to drive your own interpretive agenda. A B close reading paper typically advances an original argument and provides solid evidence and analysis of the text(s). B essays are clear, concise, and free of grammatical errors.

A-range: To earn an A, you must advance an original argument that builds or progresses toward a climax and that makes a persuasive case for its own significance. An A close reading paper does more than comment on the work of others (including what we discuss in class); it forwards, counters, or transforms what others have to say in order to make its own contribution. A essays are clearly written and often eloquent.

D: A D means that you have not written in clear prose or that you have misunderstood the text and/or the assignment (or not fully completed the assignment).

F: An F means that you did not fully or seriously engage the assignment.

Course Digital Infrastructure

We will make use of two different online systems in this course: this course site, and a Blackboard site.

We will use this Wordpress site to manage course information and our schedule. You will find an online version of our course calendar here (including the most up-to-date version of reading assignments and due dates), as well as a copy of our course syllabus. You will also find all course assignment sheets here. Finally, you will post your book review on our course site.

We will also use Blackboard to manage course assignments and readings. You will find digital copies of assigned articles (that aren’t online) on our Blackboard site. You will also submit your short close reading paper, your longer close reading paper, and your final exam to Blackboard and receive feedback from me on these assignments via Blackboard. Finally, I will use Blackboard’s Grade Center to record your grades.

Late Work

All assignments should be submitted by the date and time indicated in the course calendar. Unless you make prior arrangements with me at least 24 hours in advance of an assignment’s due date, late assignments will be penalized a full letter grade for each day that they are late, and I will not accept assignments that are more than 4 days late. Unless prior arrangements have been made, late final projects will not be accepted at all.

If you find that you need an extension on a particular assignment, please contact me as soon as possible to arrange an alternative due date (again, you must contact me at least 24 hours before the assignment is due, but the sooner the better). Assignment extensions will not be granted retroactively.

Late reading journals or journal entries will not be accepted, and you cannot make up missed reading journal entries.


I do not like to give reading quizzes; I think they infantilize the college-level scholar. However, this is by necessity a reading-intensive course. If it seems to me that people are not keeping up with the reading, I will give pop quizzes despite my philosophical and personal objections. This is your warning.

Technological Failures Are Not Emergencies

Technological failures and mishaps – file corruption, computer crashes, wifi connection problems, uploading the wrong file to Blackboard – are predictable facts of twenty-first century life. They happen all of the time and are thus NOT emergencies. For this course, for all of your courses, for your career, for the rest of your life on this earth, you need to develop strategies that take such failures into account. Start your work early, save it often, and save backup copies of important documents off-site on an external hard drive or in the cloud using services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Technological failure or mishap – including uploading the wrong file to Blackboard – is not an excuse for late or unfinished work.

Please note that I will grade whatever you upload to Blackboard or submit to our course site for grading. If that file is obviously the wrong file, or otherwise incomplete or corrupted in some way, your assignment will be counted as late. If you fail to turn in your assignment after 4 days, you will receive a 0 on that assignment, as per the late work policy. It is your responsibility to turn in the correct version of your assignment for grading.


Attendance and participation are essential components of this course; class discussion, not lecture, will be the primary means through which we investigate texts together. It is therefore crucial that you come to class every day having read the required material and prepared to discuss it.

I generally do not distinguish between “excused” and “unexcused” absences. Doing so puts me in a position I don’t want to be in; you are all adults, and I trust you to manage your own time. If you miss class, I assume you have a good reason for doing so. You may miss 4 class meetings – that’s two full weeks of class – without penalty. You don’t have to tell me about why you miss these classes, even if you have official reasons for doing so; they are yours to miss as needed, for whatever reason. Missing these 4 classes will not affect your grade in any way. However, barring unusual circumstances, missing more than 4 classes will lower your reading and participation grade by at least a letter grade. More than 7 absences may result in course failure. There is no way to make up absences from class. Use your absences wisely, or not at all, and save them for when you need them (i.e., when you are sick, when you are traveling, etc). If you already know that you will be absent for more than 4 class periods because of official university activities like sports, music, etc., this is fine – but please let me know as soon as possible.


All students are required to check their official UM email accounts regularly. I will send course information and announcements through email. I endeavor to respond to all emails that you send me within 24 hours during the week and within 48 hours over the weekend, but please do not send me urgent emails regarding your assignments the night before they are due and expect a reply.

If you have questions on course material, assignments, or policies, the best thing to do is to come to my office hours – or make an appointment if you can’t make my office hours – and talk to me in person. In fact, the best thing to do in almost any situation that affects your class work is simply to come and talk to me about it. I am happy to answer simple questions about the course via email, but I will insist that more involved questions and conversations be done in person. I am also happy to read and discuss advance drafts of your assignments with you in person, but I will not read and comment on drafts of assignments via email before they are due.

Digital Devices

This course embraces the digital world – how could we not? – but it also recognizes that digital tools and environments complicate personal interactions. Studies have shown that students who use laptops in class often receive lower grades than those who don’t. Even more worrisome are studies that show laptop users distract students around them (for example, see On a more positive note, studies also suggest that taking notes by hand increases both your understanding and your retention of course material (

However, I also feel that banning computers and tablets from class infantilizes the college-level scholar. If you are in class, I trust that you are there to pay attention. For these reasons I ask, if you must use a computer or tablet in class, to use it for classroom purposes only. Any student who uses their laptop or tablet during class for purposes other than those related to what’s happening in class at the moment will be asked to turn it off, and will be responsible for starting the next day’s class discussion. Repeat offenders will be asked to leave.

Using your phone in class is not allowed. Any student who uses their phone in class for any purpose will be asked to turn it off, and will be responsible for starting the next day’s class discussion. Repeat offenders will be asked to leave.

You should bring something to write on and with to class with you every day. There will be many times when I will ask that we turn off or put away all screens to focus our attention on something else, and I will often ask you to physically write things down during class.

Inclusive Learning

I am committed to the principle of inclusive learning. This means that our classroom, our online spaces, our practices, and our interactions will be inclusive. No person shall, on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, or national origin, be subjected to discrimination or harassment (including all forms of sexual harassment and sexual violence). For more on the University’s non-discrimination/anti-harassment policy, see For information about how to report discrimination or harassment, see For more information about how to report sexual harassment or violence, see

UM provides accommodations for you if you need additional resources in the classroom. These may include extra time on exams, note-taking services, and so on. Students who believe they may require accommodations in this course should contact me early in the semester so your learning needs can be appropriately met. I am of course more than happy to work with you to make sure you are successful in this course and to make this course most accessible for you. However, without documentation, I am limited in what I am able to do. Therefore, in order for me to help you most effectively, I need you to be proactive in contacting the Office of Disability Services (ODS) on campus. You can find complete information about ODS here:

Academic Integrity

The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations, especially plagiarism, are treated gravely. In terms of this course, academic integrity means that when you are responsible for a task, you – and no one else – will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in performing an aspect of that work, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form. Turning in work for this class that you have not done yourself, or that you have previously completed for other courses is a violation of academic integrity. The University of Miami’s honor code can be found here: Ignorance of what constitutes academic dishonesty is not an acceptable excuse for academic dishonesty. Violations of academic integrity constitute grounds for failure of the course, and they will be reported immediately.

On a personal level, like everyone else, I hate being lied to. You do not need to concoct elaborate stories if requesting an extension on an assignment, or if your work will be late. Simply be honest with me about whatever is going on and we will work it out.

Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. We all enter this classroom with preexisting political, ethical, philosophical, and intellectual commitments. Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with respect.