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Literature of the Northwest

Course Number: ENG 214
Transcript Title: Literature of the Northwest
Created: September 1, 2012
Updated: September 25, 2013
Total Credits: 4
Lecture Hours: 40
Lecture / Lab Hours: 0
Lab Hours: 0
Satisfies Cultural Literacy requirement: No
Satisfies General Education requirement: Yes
Grading options: A-F (default), P-NP, audit


WR 115 and RD 115 or equivalent placement test scores

Course Description

Studies fictional, factual, and poetic works by Northwest writers from before the arrival of Euro-Americans to the present. Emphasizes relationship between Northwest writing and Northwest social, cultural, and physical environment. Prerequisite: WR 115 and RD 115 or equivalent placement test scores. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Define "Northwest literature" in relation to the physical environments and cultures, both tribal and Euro-American, which have produced it and which are often its central subjects.
  2. Trace the social and environmental histories of the Northwest through its literature.
  3. Connect the literature of the Northwest to other arts practiced in the Northwest and to other literature produced in the rest of the United States at comparable periods.
  4. Write clear, focused, coherent essays about literature for an academic audience, using standard English conventions of grammar and style.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Instructors vary on methods of assessment, but generally instructors employ some combination of quizzes, exams, essays, and reading notebooks. Students who miss more than a week's worth of class may not receive an A; those who miss two weeks' worth of class may not pass the course. The final grade is generally based upon the quality and extent of students' understanding of the course readings and discussions, as demonstrated in writings, discussion in class, and conferences.

Texts and Materials

Texts may be designated by the instructor based on the objectives outlined in this course content guide. The reading list should attempt to represent the Northwest's variety of geographical regions, ethnic groups, and historical eras; it should include a variety of literary genres; and it should fairly represent women's writing as well as men's. The following items are intended as descriptions of instructors' choices of texts in the past as an aid to choosing texts in the future. This is not intended as a prescribed or recommended list of texts. Some of the hundreds of possibilities:


Collections of poems by William Stafford, Carolyn Kizer, David Wagoner, Tess Gallagher, Chris Howell, Sam Hamill, Dorianne Laux, Kenneth O. Hansen, Vern Rutsala, Primus St. John, Barbara Drake, Richard Hugo, Theodore Roethke, and many others.


Alexie, Sherman. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
Berry, Don. Trask.
Erdrich, Louise. Tracks.
Fisher, Vardis. Dark Bridwell.
Gloss, Molly. The Jump-Off Creek.
Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars.
Guthrie, A. B. The Big Sky.
Jones, Nard. Oregon Detour.
Kesey, Ken. Sometimes a Great Notion.
Robinson, Marilynne. Housekeeping.

Literary Nonfiction

Blew, Mary Clearman. All But the Waltz.
Cantwell, Robert. The Hidden Northwest.
DeVoto, Bernard, ed. The Journals of Lewis and Clark.
Doig, This House of Sky.
Egan, Timothy. The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest.
Lopez, Barry. Crossing Open Ground.
Maclean, Norman. A River Runs Through It.
Moore, Kathleen Dean. Riverwalking.
Tisdale, Sally. Stepping Westward.
Venn, George. Marking the Magic Circle: An Intimate Geography.
Pyle, Robert Michael. The Thunder Tree.


Strelow, Michael, ed. Anthology of Northwest Writing: 1900-1950.
Venn, George. The Oregon Literature Series.

Course Activities and Design

Class meeting time consists of lecture, group discussion, and various other activities--small group discussion, in-class writings, and perhaps some guest speakers and viewing and listening to videotape and audio recordings.

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

ENG 214 begins with the question "Is there an identifiable Northwest literature?" The course then addresses related questions:

  • What are the characteristics of Northwest literature?
  • What, then, must be the characteristics of the Northwest culture which has produced the literature?
  • What are the major accomplishments of Northwest literature? What are the minor, often neglected or excluded accomplishments of Northwest literature?
  • What are the relationships of Northwest literature to other Northwest arts - dance, theater, music, film, architecture, sculpture, painting, photography?
  • To what extent is Northwest literature similar to other literatures of North America?
  • To what extent is Northwest literature unique?
  • What is the relationship of Northwest literature to the Northwest's physical environment - climate, weather, geography, flora and fauna, landscape?

In considering answers to these questions, ENG 214 inevitably encompasses such issues as gender, ethnicity, social equality, racism, environmental degradation, private property rights, provincialism, and many others. Like most literature courses, ENG 214 ventures into the territory of many other disciplines, such as history, sociology, ethics, biology, geography, political science, psychology, folklore, religion, and anthropology. The theoretical means to arriving at some answers are equally disparate: The course employs, often invisibly, the techniques of new historicism, ecocriticism, semiotics, new criticism, reader-response theory, feminist criticism, Marxist criticism, and genre criticism.