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Advanced Topics in Narrative

William Labov
University of Pennsylvania
Hiphop Inclusive
Before 2005

This course is designed for creative writers and artists who are interested in the relation between oral narratives of personal experience and literary narrative, and who would like to use their skills to create reading texts for elementary school children.

The course will develop our understanding of narrative structure on the basis of narratives told by speakers from a wide range of social classes, with special emphasis on narratives told by African American speakers. The general theory includes an analysis of the organization of temporal sequencing, the evaluation of the narrative as a whole, the polarization of participants, the maintenance of credibility, and the underlying folk theory of causality that links the chain of events reported. A central theme of the class will be the general principles of interest: the study of what makes a narrative interesting, what holds the attention of the audience or the reader, and the relation between interest and entertainment. The principles that emerge from the study of oral narrative will be re-examined in literary narrative, including Scandinavian, Greek and Hebrew epics, medieval romances, and modern novels, with attention to the differences between vernacular, literary and academic style. The class will then consider the narratives written for children of elementary school age, particularly those designed to reflect the cultural and linguistic framework of African American children.

Students will then undertake to write narratives for the teaching of reading to African American children in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades of West Philadelphia schools. Narratives will be judged by the extent to which they motivate reading, by the level of comprehension achieved and the advancement of decoding skills. Narratives will be developed in four cultural frameworks: Hip-hop, Traditional Southern, African-centered and Inspirational (Gospel).

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