Home Away from Home: Short Stories from the Diaspora

Professor Colleen Birchett, Ph.D. –


Participants in this course gather from Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and as far as New Jersey. They gather  in New York, many consider the center of the world. Of course, New York is a magnet that draws people from within the United States and abroad. It is indeed a center of diversity. Some image it as a “melting pot”, others, a “bouquet of flowers’, a  ‘salad’,  or a “fruit basket”,  while others would argue that it is ”none of the above”. Such differing perceptions are evident in short stories published by those considering themselves writing in “the diaspora”. — a home away from home and/or from the lands of their ancestors.

One of the primary objectives of this course is to do a close reading of such short stories. The course examines short stories composed by a group of authors who immigrated to the United States in the very late 20th Century or during the first decades of the 21st century. They come from: Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. More specifically, they are from: Nigeria, India, Russia and the Dominican Republic. While the literary critical approach to their works is eclectic, the course examines the stories, against the backdrop of a larger postcolonial framework. The term “postcolonial” is used broadly here, to encompass the effects of colonialism prior to, during and after its formal termination, also including in the discussion, the impacts of globalization and neo-colonialism.


Upon completion of this course, the participant will be able to:

  • gather, interpret and assess information from a variety of sources and points of view;
  • evaluate evidence and arguments critically and analytically;
  • produce well-reasoned written and oral arguments to support conclusions;
  • revise essays in response to feedback from peers and the instructor;
  • using meta-cognitive strategies, reflect on his/her growth as a literary crtitic;
  • edit essays for mechanical errors;
  • avoid plagiarizing by summarizing, paraphrasing and quoting;
  • employ MLA style for formatting and publishing essays.


Specific Learning Outcomes;


  • analyze works of fiction in class discussion and in writing assignments;
  • assess/evaluate creative and critical literary skills of authors;
  • apply various methods of literary criticism;
  • recognize and describe genres of fiction as evident in short stories;
  • compare and contrast works by the same author or by different authors;
  • engage in informative and analytic oral discussions about selected fiction.




The course consists of four units. Each unit focuses on a different set of authors from each of the four continents represented. More specifically, the authors to be studied this term come from different countries located in different world regions/continents. – Nigeria (Africa), India (Asia), Russia (Eastern Europe) and The Domincan Republic (Latin America). each devoted to the study of short stories by authors from the following continents: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America. We will explore the relevance of: the historical contexts, the author’s biography, the author’s thesis and related support, and the author’s use of literary elements.


Class Sessions


Students will study authors’ works using  worksheets designed for that purpose. Completed worksheets will be submitted weekly. One set will be completed in class in the weekly Wednesday computer labs. The other will be completed outside class in preparation for the upcoming Monday’s class sessions. IOn Thursdays, in panel discussions, students will present their analyses of the short stories, based on information in their completed worksheets.

Literary Circles

The class will divide into small groups, called literary circles. Within each literary circle, each student takes on a different task, exploring whether and how one of the following factors influenced how the central message of the short story is conveyed: historical context, biography, social location, and use of literary elements.  On Wednesdays of each week, students will first complete worksheets related to their individual contributions to the literary circle and then collaborate in small groups. . On Thursdays, individuals from within  the literary circles will present to the larger class, based on their specializations within the group. At the end of each unit, students will enter reflections on their experiences within journal that will be submitted at the end of the term, along with their portfolios.

Work related to the literary circle will be done on Wednesdays, in the computer lab. Presentations based on Wednesday’s work will take place on Thursdays.  Throughout the four units, students will rotate positions, so that each student gains skill in examining short stories from multiple vantagepoints. Students will complete worksheets designed to facilitate the literary circle process.

Term Essay Assignment


For the term essay, each student selects a different author than the ones studied in class, as the subject of his/her term essay.. S/he composes a five to seven page essay about this author and his/her work, to be submitted at the end of the term. The essay is to discuss: the historical context, the author’s place within that context, the theme, tproblem (s) being addressed, the author’s statement concerning the problem (s), and the author’s use of specific literary elements.


Students also compose journal entries and collect them into a portfolio to be submitted at the end of the term. In the journal entries, the student is to reflect on his/her growth as a literary critic over the course of the term and his/her reactions to the process itself.



Birchett, Colleen, Home Away from Home: Stories from the Diaspora. – OER text posted on the Open Lab.

Rules of Thumb or Some other Style Manual.



Regular conference hours are between 1:30 – 2:30pm, in Room NAM 529. However, appointments can be arranged at other times. It would be best to contact the instructor by email to arrange a different time. I am also available to conference via email.

It is recommended that each student meet with the instructor at least once. A sign-up sheet will be distributed during the first week of class. Additional meetings can be scheduled on the days the class meets or by email. The meetings provide the opportunity to detect if there are any problems in the development of the class projects.


To succeed in the class, students are expected to:

  • Access and use resources available via the OER [Open Education Resource Text];
  • Type and submit essays via email, using appropriate MLA format;
  • Submit essays as attachments to emails;
  • Interact with peers in small groups;
  • Participate in larger class panel discussions and related Q & A.



Learning is expected to take place during:

  • lectures;
  • small group work;
  • general class discussions;
  • computer lab sessions;
  • viewing and reacting to videos;
  • completing worksheets;
  • composing journal entries;
  • reacting to assigned readings and films.


Engagement with all of the above is considered class participation. Moreover, remaining on task in class is important. Therefore, all electronic devices (cell phones, IPODs, laptops, etc.) must be turned off completely. No texting is allowed.  Moreover, one or more class sessions will be spent in the computer lab.  In the lab, it is important for everyone to be able to concentrate. That is why it is important for people not to socialize in the lab, but to focus on the assignment of that particular day.  If personal help is needed, it is much less disruptive if it is gotten from the instructor than from another student.


Some class time will be devoted to completing worksheets and discussing them in small groups. Therefore, it is important to be in class and on time every time that the class meets. Abruptly walking in and out of class is considered disruptive, and is computed into the class participation score, and the total number of absences. At the end of the term, the number of times late and absent is computed into the class participation score. More than four absences can result in failure of the class. Students sign their names on an attendance sheet. If tardy, they sign the opposite side of the sheet and note the time. Students who stop attending before the end of the semester without officially dropping will be given a WU.  This is the academic equivalent of an F, and can adversely affect a student’s financial aid.  If the student drops officially, then the student receives a “W” which does not adversely affect the grade point average.


The MLA style will be required for all essays.  The format for essays will be included in the Open Educational Resourcw Text. The MLA format is explained in Rules of Thumb, and on the Purdue OWL website. Links to the Purdue OWL website are provided in the OER. See the English Department Handout distributed the first day of class. It contains a detailed description of the format and length of the essay assignments. Detailed Assignment Descriptions and suggested outlines are all included in the assigned Open Educational Resource text. The essays are to use supportive evidence from the stories themselves, and outside research.



  • #1 – 7/10
  • #2 – 7/17
  • #3 – 7/24
  • #4 – 7/31



  • Essay   50%
  • Class Participation [includes Worksheets] 25%
  • Final Exam   25%



  • Classes Begin – 7/9
  • Final Exam – 8/8



At the midpoint of the term a mid-semester grade will be submitted. The grades at mid-term are:

  • P (Passing)
  • B L (Borderline Passing)
  • U (Unsatisfactory)
  • SA (Stopped Attending)



PLAGIARISM:  “Students who work with information, ideas, and texts owe their audience and sources accuracy and honesty in using, crediting and citing sources.  As a community of intellectual and professional workers, the College recognizes its responsibility for providing instruction in information literacy and academic integrity.  Accordingly, academic dishonesty is prohibited in CUNY and at New York City College of Technology and is punishable by penalties, including failing grades, suspension and expulsion.  The complete text of the College policy on Academic Integrity maybe found in the catalog.” Plagiarized essays must be corrected upon revision, or will receive an “F”




July 9 – 11


7/9 Syllabus and Formation of Literary Circles; Key Concepts, Formation of Literary Circles; Key Concepts [Colonialism, Postcolonialism, the Diaspora, and African Fiction of the Diaspora. Videos: ______ Phiri, Aretha, “Literature by Africans in the Diaspora can create alternative narratives.”

Wainana, Binyavanga, “How to Write About Africa”


7/10 Videos: Video Interviews with the authors, Chimamanda Ngosi Adici (video); Complete worksheets using the Computers. Heerton, Lasse and Dirk Moses, “The Nigerian Biafran War”

Complete Worksheets and Prepare for Class Presentations.

Adici, Chimamanda Ngozi, “A Private Experience” and ______.


7/11 Literary Circles

Literary Cirles – Class presentations.

Jeet, Thayl, “The City Singapore”

Giridharas, Anand, A Letter to All Who Hae Lost in this Era”

Thomas, Susan, Educational Migrants, Nationhood and the Making of the Indian Diaspora in the United States.”




July 16 – 18


7/16 21st Century Immigration from India, Fiction of the Indian Diaspora, Literary Circle Assignments Kim, Elaine, “The Asian American

Short Story, Introduction.”

Jacob, Mina, “Neel Patel on Writing Past the Stereotypes of Indian Americans”


7/17  Interviews with the authors, Lahiri, Jumpha and Patel, Neel,  (videos) – Complete worksheets using the Computers. Lahiri, Jhumpa from “Interpreter of Maladies” and Patel, Neel, “If You See Me, Don’t Say, ‘Hi””
7/18 Literary Circle Class Presentations and Q & A Tennenbaum, Shelley, “Contemporary Jewish Migration to the United States”.

Wikipedia, “Russian Americans Post Soviet Era, 1991-pres.





July 23 -25


7/9 History: Jewish Presence in Russia; Russian Jewish Presence in the United States; Russian Jewish Fiction in the Diaspora; Literary Circle Assignments Katsnelson, Anna, “Introduction to the New Wave of Russian Jewish American Culture”;

Sanderovich, Sasha, “Scenes of Encounter: The Soviet Jew in Fiction by Russian Jewish Writers in America”

7/10 Computer Lab: Video Interviews with the authors, Ellen Litman and Lara Vapnyar. (videos): Complete Literary Circle worksheets using the Computers. Litman, Ellen, “The Russian Club”; Vapnyar, Lara, “There are Jews in My House”.
7/11 The Literary Circle Class Presentations and Q & A Lewthwaite, Stephanie, “Immigration Forum: Critical Responses to Racism”

Shoaf, Jennifer, “the Right to a Haitian Name and a Dominican Nationality: “La Sentencia” and the Politics of Recognition and Belonging”




7/30 – 8/1


7/9 Historical Context: Dominican American Diaspora, Dominican American Fiction; Literary Circle Assignments. Oxford Research Encyclopedia, “Currents in Dominican American Literature”; Diogenes, Cespedes et. al., “Fiction is the Poor Man’s Cinema”; Duany, Jorge, “Transnational Migration and the Cultural Redefinition of Identity.”
7/10  Computer Lab: Video Interviews with the authors, Julia Alvarez and Junot Diaz (videos): Complete Literary Circle worksheets using the Computers. Wikipedia, “Juno Diaz”; Alvarez, Julia, “About Me”. Short Stories: Alvarez, Julia, “Coco Stop” and Diaz, Juno, “The Pura Principle”.
7/11 The Literary Circle Class Presentations and Q & A Prepare for the Take Home Final Exam. Term Essay Due.