“Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did.”

James Baldwin, “Sonny’s Blues”

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Course Description

For as much as we live in language, we are also confined by it. How, then, do we make linguistic sense of that which may appear beyond our textual reach? How may we communicate that which seems incommunicable — the heart-wrenching finale of Tchaikovsky’s Symphonie Pathétique, the ethereal harmonies of Beyoncé’s “Bigger,” the “funny feeling” of Bo Burnham’s Inside, the sound of your grandmother’s voice as she tells you a story? Conversely, can we determine anything — about us, our societies, or our histories — from the ways things sound, and how can we translate these examinations into text?

In this course, we will explore how to do what we can with the linguistic and rhetorical tools that we have by applying our language skills to sound and music. In addition to Beyoncé, Burnham, and Tchaikovsky, we will study texts through a Black, queer methodological lens to analyze how artists address issues of identity and knowledge production through their applications of noise, music, and silence. We will investigate media from film scores to poetry in order to practice writing effectively in multiple genres as well as to expand our conception of language beyond the written word. Importantly, as we encounter each text, we will witness how language is not only verbal, but nonverbal, musical, gestural, fleeting, invisible, silent, and perhaps even illegible. Attuning our “ears” to texts demands a more rigorous and ethical approach to reading. Through exploring language via the sonic realm, we will be challenged to write beyond our limits, thereby honing our skills of observation and evaluation while probing our connection to language itself. By the end of the semester, our understanding of writing—and our relationship to it—will be enriched through learning how to critically listen.

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“This is a story that can only be told by not telling, and how am I to not tell the story has to be told…”

M. NourbeSe Philip, Zong!

Learning Outcomes

  • Compose texts in multiple genres, using multiple modes with attention to rhetorical situations.
  • Summarize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the ideas of others as you undertake scholarly inquiry in order to produce your own arguments.
  • Practice writing as a process, recursively implementing strategies of research, drafting, revision, editing, and reflection.
  • Recognize and think critically about the importance of sound in cultural production (media, films, books).

Course Questions

  1. How do our experiences with sound impact our identities?
  2. How do we use our literacy and listening practices across different settings, and what does it reveal about our culture?
  3. How is sound production knowledge production?

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“Truth always arrives too late because it walks slower than lies. Truth crawls at a snail’s pace.”

Maryse Condé, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

Texts and Technology

This is a multimodal course on sound, which thus requires that you read various written documents as well as view films, video essays, and listen attentively to aural content. Here are the physical, full texts we will be reading, which you may purchase (support your local bookstores, like Charis Books and More or Virginia Highland Books!) or loan from the library, if the same edition is available.

      1. Recitatif by Toni Morrison (ISBN: 978-0593315033)
      2. Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip (ISBN: 978-0819571694)
      3. I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox (ISBN: 978-0813927671)
      4. *The Norton Field Guide to Writing by Richard Bullock, Maureen Daly Goggin, and Francine Weinberg (6th edition; ISBN: 978-0393885729)

*While not required, the Norton is strongly recommended, as it is a great resource that houses answers to many questions you may have about writing, citations, format, structure, style, flow, creativity, and so on. The purchase of the book also gives you access to an online work/guidebook.

Unless otherwise stated, readings are available on our library course reserves (on canvas). Viewing options will be through YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+. Let me know if you have any trouble accessing these materials.

For more specifics regarding technology, see these Student Technology Recommendations: http://it.emory.edu/studentdigitallife/support/tech-recs.html.

Here is also the user guide for Canvas, which will house our readings and assignments : https://canvas-support.emory.edu/canvas-resources/for-students.html

Course Policies


Email is the best way to contact me if you have questions or concerns. Generally, I will respond to all student email M-F 9am-5pm and outside of those hours only if my schedule allows. Please allow 24 hours for a response, and 48 hours if your message is received over the weekend. Likewise, there may be instances when I will need to contact you by email. It is your responsibility to check your Emory-based email account at least once every 24 hours on weekdays.


Class participation and attendance involve coming to class prepared and contributing productively and respectfully in our class meetings. Aside from documented absences for school-related activities or religious holidays, you can miss three classes with no penalty to your grade. After that, absences will be calculated against your participation by one-third of a letter (i.e. B to B-), except for those that are excused for extenuating circumstances. Arriving more than 15 minutes late will be considered an absence. Unexcused absences also put you at risk to miss important in-class activities which may be graded. You are responsible for finding out what was discussed in the course on any days that you miss. If you miss any class periods as a result of the Add/Drop/Swap period, you are responsible for completing all reading and writing assignments from that time. Meet with me if you feel your situation warrants an exception to the course attendance policy. Bring appropriate supporting documentation to our meeting.

Inclement Weather Policy:

University closures: Short-term (one or two days): Should the university close for one or two days, you should continue to do your reading, writing, and analysis according to the weekly schedule posted in Canvas. Unless I otherwise notify you, due dates for reading and writing assignments will remain unchanged in the case of short-term closures.

University closures: Long-term (three or more days): Should the university close for three or more days, we may hold make-up classes synchronously. Our class attendance policy holds for sessions meeting on these days. Make sure to check your email and Canvas regularly for university and course updates regrading make-up dates or online alternatives.

Late work:

All assignments are due by the time and date specified. I will grant you an extension pending you have a valid reason for requesting one and that you reach out to me 24 hours before the assignment is due. Should you submit any assignment after the due date without an extension, your grade for that assignment will decrease by one-third of a letter (i.e. B to B-) for each day it is late or be marked as incomplete (0%). Communication is key as you assess and anticipate potential issues that may impact your ability to turn in work on time.

Academic Integrity:

The Honor Code is in effect throughout the semester. By taking this course, you affirm that it is a violation of the code to cheat on exams, to plagiarize, to deviate from the teacher’s instructions about collaboration on work that is submitted for grades, to give false information to a faculty member, and to undertake any other form of academic misconduct. You agree that the instructor is entitled to move you to another seat during examinations, without explanation. You also affirm that if you witness others violating the code you have a duty to report them to the honor council.

I take plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty seriously. Should I suspect that you engage in academic dishonesty in this course, I will refer the case to Emory’s Honor Council. You may also receive an F on the assignment(s) in question.

Zoom Recording Policy:

While it is more likely that class will be canceled instead of moved online if the need arises, the option may still present itself when necessary. In such cases, lectures and other classroom presentations presented through video conferencing and other materials posted on Canvas are for the sole purpose of educating the students enrolled in the course. The release of such information (including but not limited to directly sharing, screen capturing, or recording content) is strictly prohibited, unless the instructor states otherwise. Doing so without the permission of the instructor will be considered an Honor Code violation, and may also be a violation of state or federal law, such as the Copyright Act. All University policies remain in effect for students participating in remote education.

Respect for Diversity:

I am firmly committed to diversity and equality in all areas of campus life. In this class I will work to promote an anti-discriminatory environment where everyone feels safe and welcome. I recognize that discrimination can be direct or indirect and take place at both institutional and personal levels. I believe that such discrimination is unacceptable and I am committed to providing equality of opportunity for all by eliminating any and all discrimination, harassment, bullying, or victimization. The success of this policy relies on the support and understanding of everyone in this class. We all have a responsibility not to participate in or condone harassment or discrimination of any kind.

As such, this course will be care-centered, which requires both students and instructor to meet each other where they are. As the professor is not an all-knowing deity, neither is the student a mere knowledge receptacle. The instructor-student experience is one of exchange, and we should strive to create as open an environment as we can together to make the classroom a space of respectful challenge and transformation. This means: each person brings their own personal ideas and experiences into the classroom space, and it is a privilege and an honor to witness what can be created from the combination of our very own unique perspectives. Therefore, when practicing critique, target ideas, not people. When we engage with each other respectfully and kindly, the knowledge produced in our classroom will flourish.

Class rosters are provided to me with students’ legal names. If you prefer to be referred to differently than what is listed, please let me know your name and gender pronouns and I will gladly address you by them. Please advise me of this preference early in the semester, preferably via email or after our first lesson, so that I may make appropriate changes to my records.

A Note on COVID-19/Pandemic safety:

We are over two years into a global health pandemic, and with that comes the knowledge that we are all physically and mentally fatigued. The highest risk for COVID-19 transmission still occurs in indoor settings, so be mindful of how you navigate campus. While masks are no longer required by the university, please continue to take caution and care for your fellow students by staying home when feeling ill and masking up to protect yourself from infection in cases where you think you may have encountered or could encounter potential exposure. If you go into quarantine, notify me as soon as possible so that we may discuss options for your continued success in the class. Official campus safety policies are likely to change over the course of the semester, so ensure you pay close attention to any university email updates (especially from Emory Forward).


Since we are composing and listening multimodally throughout the course, you are encouraged to bring to class and operate laptops or tablets. I ask that you silence your (smart)phones before class and stow them during class. Using electronic technology for purposes other than class activities can distract your peers, and I will count you absent for the day if you do so. If you are expecting an important call during class, please inform me and keep your phone on vibrate. We will be experimenting with writing in ways that are not confined to written language, and thus certain digital programs will be necessary to access. I will let you know options for assignments and where to look for resources when the time comes.

[Here is a link to the College student technology recommendation.]

On other occasions, we may hold class sessions that step away from technology altogether, focusing instead on verbal, textual, or gestural communication and performance beyond the digital realm. Thus, pens, pencils, and paper should also be on hand.

Public Nature of the Course:

Please consider all writing for this class to be “public.” Part of becoming an effective writer is learning to appreciate ideas and feedback others have to offer, as well as learning how to write to specific audiences. In this course, our purpose is to come together as a writing community and see what you have gleaned from our class readings/listenings. We will do this in a number of ways, including posting responses to writing prompts on Canvas that will serve as fodder for classroom “debates,” as well as forming peer review cohorts at the beginning of the semester that will act as accountability groups when we have in-class workshops. Thus, avoid writing about topics you wish to keep private; you should not feel like you have to exploit your past experiences or trauma to say something meaningful.

Cooling-Off Period:

When I return a graded assignment to you, I request that you read my comments about your work carefully and wait 24 hours before coming to speak with me or contacting me about your grade. I have found that asking for this “cooling-off” period results in more productive discussions about graded work.

Content Advisory:

In this course we will read about and discuss topics including but not limited to colonization, racism, violence, sexuality, and economic inequality. If you would like advance notice to prepare yourself to approach these topics, please reach out to me to make arrangements. Any conversations of this nature will be held in strict confidence. Refer to the Respect for Diversity section for more information, as those guidelines apply to the texts with which we will interact as well.

Student Success Resources

Accessibility and Accommodations:

​​I strive to create an inclusive learning environment for all. I am invested in your success in this class and at Emory, so please let me know if anything is standing in the way of your doing your best work. This can include your own learning strengths, any classroom dynamics that you find uncomfortable, ELL issues, disability or chronic illness, and/or personal issues that impact your work. I will hold such conversations in strict confidence. No one should feel worry or shame about having accommodations; know that first and foremost I am here to support you.

Students who anticipate barriers related to the requirements of this course due to disabilities are encouraged to contact DAS (the Department of Accessibility Services) to learn more about requesting accommodations, but you are not required to register with DAS to obtain accommodations in this course.* Students should arrange to meet with me during the first two weeks of the semester to discuss the needs of the course as related to these accommodations. Additional information is available at equityandinclusion.emory.edu/access.

*This is not departmentally or universally applicable! Make sure to check with each instructor about their accommodations policy.

The Writing Center:

The Emory Writing Center (EWC) is open year-round to support writers (students, staff, and faculty) in Emory College, the Laney Graduate School, the School of Nursing, and the Medical Imaging Program. We offer one-on-one remote and in-person tutoring for writers working on a range of composition projects (essays, applications, reports, theses, etc.), at any stage of the writing process (from brainstorming to final revisions). Writing Center tutors work on idea development, structure, use of sources, style, grammar, and more. We are not a proofreading or editing service, but rather offer strategies and resources writers can use as they compose, revise, and edit their own work. Tutors also support the literacy needs of English Language Learners (ELL); several tutors are trained ELL Specialists. The Writing Center is located in Callaway N111 and a maximum of two appointments are allowed each week.

You can learn more about the Emory Writing Center and make an appointment on our website: http://www.writingcenter.emory.edu. Our opening day each semester is set one week after the add/drop/swap deadline, to allow for our tutors to finalize their schedules. Please review our policies before your first appointment, including our new policy on inclusivity and respect: http://writingcenter.emory.edu/appointments/policies.html.

​​Counseling Services and Mental Well-Being:

As a student, you may find that personal and academic stressors in your life are creating barriers to learning this semester. Many students face personal and environmental challenges that can interfere with their academic success and overall well-being. Remember, your health comes first. If you are struggling with this class, please visit me during office hours or contact me via email. If you are feeling overwhelmed and think you might benefit from additional support, know that there are people who care and want to help support you at Emory. Beyond our care-centered classroom, there exist services—including confidential resources—provided by staff who are responsive to and respectful of students’ diverse backgrounds.

Free and confidential counseling services and support are available from the Emory

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Center: (404) 727-7450. CAPS can be an invaluable resource when stress makes your work more challenging than it ought to be. Here is the website: https://counseling.emory.edu.

For an extensive list of well-being resources on campus, please go to: http://campuslife.emory.edu/support/index.html.

Also keep in mind that Emory offers free, 24/7 emotional, mental health, and medical support resources via TimelyCare: https://timelycare.com/emory.

Other Emory resources include:

Course Assessment

The following assignments have multiple components, including written reflections. I will provide detailed assignment sheets well in advance of due dates, and we will discuss all assignments in class. Please note that our schedule may change as the semester progresses. I will inform you of such changes in class and via email/Canvas.

Assignment 1: Sonic Memoir

For this assignment, you will narrate a memory of a sound that is personally significant to you. In 2-3 pages (double-spaced), paint a picture of how this sound memory—a noise, a voice, etc.*—made you feel. Essentially: sound will become a protagonist. By articulating a special memory of sound, you will not only think critically about the active roles of sound in your life, but also learn to grapple with communication as an embodied sensory experience. Through exercising this translation, you gain practice in using language in ways you might not have thought reasonable or possible, as well as how to use personal history to make meaning and speak to specific audiences.

*Note: cannot be a song! Part of this assignment exercises how we listen beyond what is understood to be music.

Assignment 2: Sonic Research

For this assignment, you will examine and research a specific piece of music or sound object in a text we have studied in the course. In 4-5 pages (double-spaced), you will expand on an in-class debate and argue your position based on a specific sonic element of the piece. You may wish to think through how specific instruments, vocal techniques, gaps in noise, dialogue, or words are used in your chosen text and thereby relate it to genre, popular culture, or a historical period. Through this project, you will gain research, summarization, synthetization, analyzation, and evaluation skills as well as learn how to use evidence effectively. You will be able to locate important contextual information, counter arguments, and supplementary resources to help you form cohesive, strong support of your own ideas.

Assignment 3: Sonic Narrative

This project asks you to produce your work in a new genre. Choose either your sonic memoir or sonic research paper, and present the information in a new form, like a podcast or video essay. What new knowledge has been produced upon repurposing your work in a new medium? What editorial decisions did you make when translating your previous writing to verbal and/or visual language? Our world is growing continually multimodal, so reckoning with multiple senses and reflecting on how we are being influenced by them is a useful tool for us to be aware of how our surroundings are impacting us and how we affect others as well. In short, this exercise expands the ways we conceive of texts and language by re-thinking how we communicate.

Final Portfolio and Cover Letter

Throughout the semester, you will assemble a portfolio of your work. The portfolio will include short writing assignments, drafts, reflections about writing in progress, and final drafts. Toward the end of the semester, you will use this collection as evidence to argue in a reflective cover letter that you have achieved the learning outcomes for the course. You will present on what you view have been your “greatest hits” throughout the course as a way to begin reflecting. An important part of this reflection process is learning how to think, talk, and write about writing in ways that will enable you to apply (or transfer) your learning from this course to other contexts. To facilitate this metacognition, you will learn and use a set of rhetorical key terms as you meditate on the assignments you complete in this course. This course won’t include a final exam; the last day of class (4/24) we will be hosting a final gathering/celebration for the completion of the semester. The final assignment will be the portfolio and you will have until May 3rd to hand it in via Canvas. If for any reason you are not able to meet the deadline, please write to me in advance.

In order to receive a passing grade for this course, you must submit all assignments listed above.

You will have the chance to make up one of the first three assignments above before the end of the semester. The grade you receive for this re-write will be averaged with your first for your final grade on the assignment.

Participation and Minor Assignments

Each of the above major projects will incorporate scaffolded assignments intended to help you strengthen your final submission (see full handouts for details). These include in-class workshops, peer review sessions, and other group activities as well as the occasional out-of-class writing assignment, which will all be due at the beginning of the class period, depending on the course calendar. Most of these components are graded based on completion; meaning, if you finish your prompts, drafts, and so on by their due date, you will receive full credit (100%). If you do not, you will receive an incomplete or 0. (See late work policy for exceptions.) Completion-based writing prompts that are made up after the due date/time will count for half credit. I count homework as a part of your participation grade, which subsequently requires that you attend class and show up ready to participate meaningfully.

Here is how I view meaningful participation:

    • Preparation: Reading/viewing any assigned material before class.
    • Presence: Being verbally and nonverbally engaged during class.
    • Focus: Avoiding distractions during class (both in person and online).
    • Asking questions in class and in office hours, as well as via email when appropriate.
    • Specificity: Referring to specific ideas from readings and prior class discussions when
      contributing to class conversations and/or in meetings during office hours.

Essentially: Come to class with at least one idea, quote, or question you’d like to discuss based on the text for that day. If verbal presence is not how you show participation, let’s work together to make your presence and ideas felt in the classroom, such as emailing me a short comment about the day’s readings (before the class period or after having missed a class period) or attending office hours. Please let me know if you need help to make your participation known.

If we have to move online, whether due to a campus-wide change in policy, I have to go into quarantine, or another extreme circumstance, being present and attentive on zoom will still factor into your attendance and participation grade.


Please note: If you do not read over your work before handing it in, neither will I! It is very clear who has not proofread their work. Read your writing aloud, make appointments at the writing center, or have a digital reader (like Mac Reader) read your work to you before submission.

If you complete all assigned work, meet the course requirements for attendance and participation, and earn an “acceptable” on all major assignments, you can expect to earn a B+ in the class. To get an A/A-, you will need to do everything required for a B+ as well as earn an “exceptional” on major assignments and interact meaningfully with your work, the course texts, and your classmates. Simply, do more than just getting the assignment done; how might you stretch yourself to critically engage with your work and your fellow students’ ideas? Further, how might this exchange of ideas and constant reflection transform how you think about writing?

Grades and feedback reflect the state of the writing as it is at the time of submission! They are not a reflection of you, your capacity to write well, or a judgment ascribed to the opinions presented. My job is to help you grow as thoughtful, persuasive, intentional thinkers and writers, so improvement is not only hoped for—but expected!