Course requirements


WRTG 101

WRITING AND FIGHTING:  From the boxing ring to the MMA cage, fight writers examine culture,

race, gender and the human condition in a sport that juxtaposes unrelenting

aggression with heroic fortitude.


Professor Nancy Kidder

  • Email:

  • Office Hours: Tuesdays, 1-2pm, Battelle Basement, T01-B-1

  • Classes:

    • WRTG 101: MTH 9:45pm-11am, Anderson Hall Lower Level 1


At its moments of greatest intensity it seems to contain so complete and powerful an image of life—life’s beauty, vulnerability, despair, incalculable and often self-destructive courage—that boxing is life, and hardly a mere game.” Joyce Carol Oates, “On Boxing,” New York Times Magazine, 1985.

He came out proudly for the ninth, and stood and fought back with all he had, but Marciano slugged him down, and he was counted out with his left arm hooked over the middle rope as he tried to rise. It was a crushing defeat for the higher faculties and a lesson in intellectual humility, but he had made a hell of a fight.” A.J. Liebling, “Ahab and Nemesis,” New Yorker, October 8, 1955.


Prizefighting has inspired many of our finest journalists, essayists, fiction writers, and filmmakers. From A.J. Liebling, Leonard Gardner, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, George Plimpton and Norman Mailer to Joyce Carol Oates, David Remnick, Martin Scorcese, Sylvester Stallone, David O. Russell, and Kerry Howley, the scene of two humans fighting against each other in combat for sport has served as a window into cultural moments and the setting for great stories. What is it about this spectacle that compels our attention and inspires such art?

In this class, we will examine the genre of fight writing and fight stories with an eye towards the use of language to describe conflict and the use of real and fictional fights and fighters to examine cultural issues. We will study fiction, nonfiction, and film, as well as websites, blogs, and podcasts. We will look at how writers have examined race in the context of fights and fighters, from the histories of Joe Louis and Muhammed Ali to the iconic cinematic portrayals of Rocky and Raging Bull. We will also discuss the significance of gender, as the rise of Mixed Martial Arts has propelled female fighters like Ronda Rousey into what was once thought of as an exclusively male domain. Since the goal of this writing seminar is to deepen and complicate students’ academic skills, students will engage in scholarly research and build upon their writing strategies. Fighting, like writing, is a combination of moves. From the beginning hook to the supporting jabs to that final knockdown, writers must know their audience and plan for their next punch.

Learning Outcomes

 College Writing courses offer a core set of skills and experiences, emphasizing both continual practice and increasing complexity of reading and writing assignments.  All College Writing students should achieve the following objectives, which arise out of programmatic goals and evaluative criteria:

  • Based on the idea that writing is a recursive series of choices, students should learn how to make effective choices in their own writing.

  • Students should learn how to give critical feedback to their peers’ writing and to receive critical feedback on their writing.

  • Students should learn how to formulate an original thesis in their writing projects and to develop that thesis into a well-supported argument.

  • Students should learn a range of research methods and how to incorporate source material into their writing so that it develops and supports their ideas.

  • Students should learn effective organizational strategies for their writing.

  • Students should develop critical thinking and reading skills, so that they can devise original ideas, rather than simply echo the ideas of others.

  • Students should learn how to evaluate the credibility of sources, to use academic/scholarly resources, and to incorporate sources effectively and ethically.

Course Materials

 Required Readings:

·      Josh Rosenblatt, Why We Fight

·      Additional course readings will be posted on BlackBoard.

 I will provide excerpts from these during the semester. However, I advise reading them in entirety outside of class.

·      Leonard Gardner, Fat City

·      Joseph Harris, Rewriting

·      Gerald Graff, Cathy Birkenstein, They Say, I Say

I will also post “suggested readings” throughout the semester for further study.


Fighting (especially boxing) has become a cinematic staple noted for framing the protagonist as a battling underdog. We will be exploring several dramas and documentaries throughout the year. Most are available through iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, or YouTube streaming services. All films will be made available at Media Services at Bender Library on DVD. Since they are reserved for my class, you must watch it at the library. If a small group wants to schedule a screening time in one of the rooms, please let me know. I also may add a few more films for later in the semester.

·       Rocky (1976) 

·      Raging Bull (1980)  

·      The Fighter (2010)  

·      Tyson (2008)  

·      When We Were Kings (1996)  

·      Million Dollar Baby (2004)  

·      Girlfight (2000)

 ·      Warrior (2011)  


Course Components

 Class Citizenship: I use the term “citizenship” to encompass your participation in classwork, discussions, and writing workshops. We are a community of writers, and each student needs to be responsible and actively engaged for a successful class.

·      Please make every effort to make every class that you can (see attendance policy below).

·      Readings and assignments directly contribute to class lessons. I may assign short responses or worksheets to go with readings. Work will be graded on check plus/check/check minus/zero system. (30 points total)


In-Class Mid-Term Exam:  This exam will consist of short-answer essay questions based on readings, screenings, and lectures. The midterm is worth up to 30 points.


Response Essays: Students will be required to write two response essays of about 4-5 pages each based on our current reading and screening assignments. Each essay is worth up to 25 points (50 points total)


Critiques: Essential to the writing process, you will write critiques for fellow classmates. Your goal is to highlight and encourage what’s working and to identify what’s not. Critiques serve a larger purpose: they are, in a way, short essays about writing. Strong critiques will be supportive yet direct and use terms and techniques to assist writers during revision. These documents will be professional in tone and in appearance. Each critiques is worth up to 10 points (20 points total)


Film Discussion Group Activity: Like writing, fighting and films have a unique partnership. Writer DJ Summers explains, “In over 150 boxing films made from the medium's beginning, the boxer guides us through society's ugly bits, from the Depression's debased poverty to man's instinct for cruelty and need for redemption.” In order to explore six films outside of our required list, the class will break up groups to watch a film and then briefly present it to class. A10-minute discussion will include:

1)    The fighter(s);

2)    The place and its importance to the characters;

3)    The narrative arc (i.e. coming of age, the comeback, rivalry, etc.);

4)    The cultural context (i.e. economic instability, political or corporate corruption, gender, geopolitical impact, etc.).

The list of five films we will explore include:

1)    The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933);

2)    The Harder They Fall (1954);

3)    Champion (1949);

4)    Someone Up There Likes Me (1956);

5)    Fight Club (1999).

6)    Southpaw (2015)

(10 points total)


Research Project: Students will write a 8-10 page research paper analyzing a fighter or a specific fight and then exploring its significance to our society by choosing a lens (i.e. social, political, historical, gender, psychological, etc.) through which to examine your subject.

I must approve all essays through a one-page proposal outlining. In addition to the annotated bibliography, students will deliver oral presentations of their research papers during our final exam period.

·      Proposal                                                         10 points

·      Annotated Bibliography                                      25 points

·      Oral Presentation                                              25 points

·      Final Paper                                                       50 points

                                                                            110 points total


Overall Grading Scale:

Class Citizenship                    30 points

Midterm Exam                        30 points

Response Essay 1                   25 points

Response Essay 2                   25 points

Critiques                               20 points

Film Discussion                      10 points

Research Project                   110 points

Total                                   250 points


A         232 points or more

A-        223-231 points

B+       217-222 points

B         207-216 points

B-        199-215 points

C+       192-198 points

C         182-191 points

C-        174-181 points

D+       167-173 points

D         149-166 points

F          148 points or less


Academic Integrity Code Violations

American University takes academic dishonesty very seriously; as such, all College Writing Program faculty members are required to report cases to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  Please read the AU's Academic Integrity Code closely, and be sure to ask your professor if you have any questions.  The code is available online at:

In writing papers, you must properly cite all sources (1) directly quoted, (2) paraphrased, or (3) consulted in any fashion. Sources include all printed material, any ideas or words you gather from interview or survey subjects, and any ideas or words you acquire from the Internet.  Proper citation for this class means using MLA style.

Please note that it is considered plagiarism to submit informal assignments such as drafts and response papers without properly citing sources and acknowledging intellectual debts. And you may not submit one paper for assignments in two different classes without formal permission from both instructors.

The Dean's standard policy for responding to academic dishonesty is failure of the course.


Late Work

 I discourage, but accept, late process assignments and essays. For each class day such an assignment is late, it’s marked down one full letter grade. For example, a paper that would have earned a grade of “B” would now earn a “C.”  More than a week late is an automatic “F.” For major essays, I will only accept up to the next class after the due date.


Extensions and Revisions

Please stay in contact with me if something unforeseen happens (medical emergency, death in the family, etc.) to prevent your ability to make a due date. I may or may not grant an extension considering the circumstances.

You have the option to revise your Response Essays for the possibility of a higher grade. I have high standards for revisions and will not review yours unless you’re committed to doing it well. You will need to meet with me beforehand to receive permission and you will need to turn it in by the new due date I assign.


Incomplete Grades and Freshman Forgiveness Rule

 An "I" is a temporary final course grade assigned in response to an extenuating, documented situation. In order to receive this grade, you must qualify and you must complete a contract with your professor.  This contract outlines the work to be done, the completion date, and the default grade should the work go unfinished. For more information on Freshman Forgiveness, please visit this Web page:


Students with Disabilities and/or Special Needs

If you wish to receive accommodations for a disability, please notify all of your course professors with letters from the Academic Support and Access Center (Mary Graydon Center 243). As accommodations are not retroactive, timely notification at the beginning of the semester, if possible, is requested.


Please note that students with formal athletic obligations are considered students with special needs and should be in contact with all of their professors at the start of every term to discuss scheduling and related matters.


Course Policies and Student Responsibilities


The College Writing Program has a policy by which more than three unexcused absences may lead to failure of this course. Excused absences include but are not limited to major religious holidays, illness or medical reason, athletic participation on an AU team, off-campus activities that are required and related to another class, or a family emergency. I may ask you to provide documentation of your absence. 

If an absence doesn’t fall into one of the above categories, it will be considered an unexcused absence. I urge you to save these personal absences for unforeseen circumstances (flight cancellations, computer problems, etc.) Six absences, excused and unexcused, may still be grounds for failure of the course. If you have missed a class, it is your responsibility to get noes from a classmate, check Blackboard, and turn in any assignments due.

Late students are distracting and disruptive. Consistent tardiness will affect your citizenship grade.


I post all course documents, due dates, handouts, assignments, and other important information on Blackboard. Make sure that your main email address is on your Blackboard profile, whether it is you account or another. I often contact students via Blackboard, and it is important that you check email (and Blackboard) regularly. Please note that while I will post grades on Blackboard, I do not use it to calculate grades. See the Evaluation section above for more details.


Conferences and Office Hours

There will be two mandatory conferences during the semester, scheduled in advance. Also, I encourage you to meet with me during office hours to discuss coursework, your progress, drafts, etc. Working one-on-one with students is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. Not only can individual assistance help strengthen your writing skills, it is good practice. Self-advocating (aka “asking for help”) is a skill one can hone and put to use throughout your academic career. If you feel like you are having trouble, please let me know as soon as possible.

Prof. Kidder’s Email Policy: I will attempt to respond within 48 hours and am usually responsive from 9:00am-6pm.


AU Literature Department Facebook page

At this link, AU Literature Facebook, you’ll find relevant article, blogs, and faculty publications. By liking this page, students will be notified about events and readings that might be relevant to our class.  


Format your papers according to MLA style, as explained in Easy Writer, including header, pagination, and font. Do not use a title page or a coversheet. Staple or paperclip pages in the upper left corner. Clearly print your work on a printer with black ink. I prefer work turned in on paper, but will accept an emailed assignment if it is sent prior to the class due date.

Computer Crashes, Printer Problems, and Other Catastrophes

Save early and save often. Back up your hard drives. Leave time to print your assignments and make sure you have a good ink supply. I suggest using Google Docs, Dropbox, and/or email copies of drafts to yourself. In general, computer problems become disasters when work and printing are left to the last minute; avoid procrastination and avoid disasters.

Social Networking Policy

I will not friend, follow, accept, or respond to any requests from current students on any social networking site.

Campus Resources

 If you experience any difficulties in this course, please consult your professor. Information about additional resources that you can take advantage of is provided below.


·      The Counseling Center is located in Mary Graydon Center 214 and offers confidential assistance and referrals with regard to personal matters ranging from suicidal thoughts to roommate troubles. For more information, call 202-885-3500.


·      All students may take advantage of the Academic Support and Access Center (Mary Graydon Center 243) for individual academic counseling, skills workshops, tutor referrals, supplemental instruction, and writing appointments. For more information, call 202-885-3360.


·      The Writing Center is located on the first floor of the library and offers free, confidential consultations to assist you at any stage of the writing process. Call for an appointment: 202-885-2991.


·      Research librarians can help you to find, evaluate, and cite research materials of all shapes and sizes. During one class this semester we will visit the library and establish contact with a librarian.


·      The College Writing Program's International Student Coordinator, Angela Dadak, works one-on-one with non-native speakers of English. Whether you are an international student or not, you can meet with Professor Dadak in her office (Battelle 255) about many things related to our class, from writing papers to participating in class discussions. You can contact Professor Dadak as follows: or 202-885-2915.


Emergency Preparedness

 In the event of a declared emergency or pandemic, American University will implement a plan for meeting the needs of all members of the university community. Should the university be required to close for a period of time, we are committed to ensuring that all aspects of our educational programs will be delivered to our students. These may include altering and extending the duration of the traditional term schedule to complete essential instruction in the traditional format and/or use of distance instructional methods. Specific strategies will vary from class to class, depending on the format of the course and the timing of the emergency. Faculty will communicate class-specific information to students via AU e-mail and Blackboard, while students must inform their faculty immediately of any absence due to illness. Students are responsible for checking their AU e-mail regularly and keeping themselves informed of emergencies. In the event of a declared pandemic or other emergency, students should refer to the AU Web site ( and the AU information line at (202) 885-1100 for general university-wide information, as well as contact their faculty and/or respective dean's office for course and school-/college-specific information.