Salvage Literature

Dr. Andrew Strombeck

4:40 pm – 6:00 pm MW

Medical Sciences 145

Office hours MW 1:30-2:30 and by appointment 24 hours in advance.

To salvage means to save something from loss. This course will explore salvage as a metaphor for the present, asking: How does literature represent acts of salvage? How does crisis—economic, climate-driven, or otherwise—highlight salvage as a practice? What can salvage tell us about the future  or the past? What does salvage tell us about poverty, the state, race, ability, or gender? How does the novel salvage other genres?  In what ways does literature itself need salvaging?

Salvage Literature will take up these questions and more, reading books by Ling Ma, Colson Whitehead, Octavia Butler, Jeff VanderMeer, and Jesmyn Ward.

After completing this course, students will

  • Acquire some sense of salvage as a mode of living that fits current conditions of austerity, climate change, and over-piling waste.
  • Acquire some sense of salvage as a critical term, as describing a tension between the present and past, value reclaimed from amidst refuse, and so on.
  • Acquire some sense of how literature itself is often in the business of reuse—reusing other discourses (Bakhtin), appropriating other texts, finding value in untold stories.

Informal goals for course:

  • Work on your writing.
  • Do some critical thinking.
  • Make something useful.
  • Read some literature and criticism.

Schedule of Work

Required Texts

Available at bookstore:

  • Colson Whitehead, Zone One
  • Jeff Vandermeer, Borne
  • Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower
  • Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
  • Ling Ma, Severance

Links to full versions of material discussed in class:

Note on texts and discussion: some of the texts under study contain racist and misogynist tropes, violence, sexual material, including, though limited, sexually violence. This course will also involve open discussions of homosexuality, ecology, racism, and other politically vibrant topics.

Note on Class Participation and Texts:

On the day material is assigned, you are responsible for bringing material to class in a usable form. Print is ideal, because you can write on the material, flip through it, point out passages to other students, and otherwise refer to it. It’s also acceptable to have material available on tablet or laptop. But please don’t rely on a smartphone to read this material. As an instructor, I find it distracting when students are looking at their phones, and I can’t tell if you’re looking at the material, texting, or looking at social media.


  • Salvagebook: 20%
  • Short paper: Defining Salvage 15%
  • Group Project 15%
  • Class participation 10%
  • Reading Assessments 20%
  • Final Paper 20%

Class participation

I expect you to read and think about the material before you come to class. In addition to attendance, your class participation grade measures both quantity and quality of contributions. You’ll get the most credit for class participation if you point out passages or draw connections between one work we’ve studied and another.

Also: I call on students during class, but only after I’ve given you a chance to write down your thoughts. Usually this works out fine—I’m calling on you because you have something smart to say, but you might not say it if I don’t ask you directly. If, for whatever reason, you are uncomfortable talking in class, please let me know, and we can work out another arrangement for your participation.

Office Hours

I hold office hours on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM. If neither of these times work for you, just let me know, and we can figure something else out.


Throughout this course, we will be interested in how acts of salvage–making a shopping mall into living space, reusing appliances as places to find chicken eggs, putting futuristic “biotech” to other ends–entwine with writing.

Throughout the semester, in response to your reading, I will ask you to keep a “salvagebook.” A salvagebook is a variation on a commonplace book. Commonplace books are a collection of quotations, images, observations, and other information on a common theme. See for more about commonplace books and  for examples of commonplace books old and new.

You can use any medium that supports text and images for your salvagebook.

Examples might include:

A notebook.

A web site (your own, created through WordPress, whatever works for you).

A Word document, PDF, a Google doc, or other desktop medium.

Each week, you will fill pages with the following:

  • One substantial quotation copied from the week’s reading.
  • One substantial paragraph of writing in response to the week’s reading.
  • An example of salvage found “in the wild”–a tire repurposed as a planter, a big box store made into a school, an old crate made into a garden, and so on. These should be “real”–there are plenty of restaurants, consumer products, and so on that seek to imitate the “look” of salvage.
  • Images, charts, other thoughts, other quotations–the rest is up to you.

You should date and title your entries. I will check your salvagebooks 1) scheduled intervals throughout the semester 2) at the end of the semester.

In order to receive a C, you’ll need to ensure that there is one substantial entry (as defined above) for every week of the semester, beginning with week 4 and ending with week 14. You need to have a total of 11 substantial entries. From there, your grade can only go up; salvagebooks that receive a grade of A are creative works of art and thinking that show concerted and consistent ongoing effort.

Salvage Survival Manual

In groups, you will complete a project that provides viewers with a “salvage survival manual,” drawing on course material as a whole. This should give readers hints as to how salvage functions as a survival strategy, whether for people, books themselves (Salvage the Bone “salvaging” Greek mythology; Zone One “salvaging” the zombie film/novel), animals, or whatever you can think of.

This is an open project, designed to get you thinking creatively about the material we’re reading. Projects will be evaluated on their depth of engagement with the literature, polish, ability to connect different texts, creativity, and insight. But basically: I want you to make something wonderful, based on the literature we’re reading.

A manual might function literally, as with the Zombie Survival manual:

Or it might include a map, as with the Map of Metal:

Or you might set the manual up as a flowchart, as with the Gothic and Horror flowchart:

Or it might combine graphic elements, as with Ten Signs You’re in a Gothic Novel:

Throughout the course, we will continue to develop questions and ideas related to salvage, as with those we developed the first week: “salvage is improvisatory” and “can animals salvage?” As the semester proceeds, these will emerge with more clarity, and you can use these to shape your project.

These are due on the last two days of class.

I will assign you to groups during the third week of class. Once groups are formed, I will ask for regular updates on the project throughout the semester.

I’m aware that group work poses challenges. But the truth is, much workplace deliverables are produced collaboratively, and I think it’s good to get you used to producing collaborative work. You need to figure out how to contribute, communicate, and otherwise work as a group. Part of your grade will come from your group members.

Reading Assessment

Five times throughout the semester, you will complete a reading assessment consisting of the following:

  1. 4-5 informational questions (designed to demonstrate that you have completed the day’s reading)
  2. A short response to a passage from the day’s reading (designed to demonstrate that you are engaged with the course and work themes).

These will be completed online (change from previous version of syllabus).

Schedule of Work

Monday, January 14, 2019

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Salvage the Bones 1-57

Monday, January 21, 2019

Martin Luther King Day

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Replacement instructor–Parable of the Sower

Monday, January 28, 2019

Replacement instructor–Parable of the Sower

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Wright State closed re: inclement weather

Monday, February 4, 2019

Class canceled by replacement instructor

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Class canceled by replacement instructor

Monday, February 11, 2019

Class canceled by replacement instructor

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Salvage the Bones 58-108

Monday, February 18, 2019

Salvage the Bones 109-193 (The Sixth Day > The Eighth Day)

Reading assessment Salvage the Bones

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Salvage the Bones 194-end (The Ninth Day > end)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Parable of the Sower 1-85 (Chapters 1 > 7)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Parable of the Sower 85-149 (Chapters 8 > 16)

Monday, March 4, 2019

Spring Break

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Spring Break

Monday, March 11, 2019

Parable of the Sower 153-end (Chapters 14 > end)

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Zone One 1-break on 81 (next section begins “On Last Night, the sprinkler”)

Monday, March 18, 2019

Zone One 81-break on 160 (next section begins “Mark Spitz thought of Mim”)

Conceptualizing Salvage paper due, printed copy, beginning of class. Link to prompt here.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Zone One 160-break on 209 (next section begins “His final night in the wastes”)

Salvagebooks checked today; if you are using an electronic format, please make this available to me over email.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Zone One 209-end (end of section “Saturday” + section “Sunday”)

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Borne 1-75

Monday, April 1, 2019

Borne 76-150

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Borne 151-225

Salvagebooks checked today; if you are using an electronic format, please make this available to me over email.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Borne 225-end

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Severance 1-75

Monday, April 15, 2019

Severance 1-150

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Severance 150-225

Monday, April 22, 2019

Severance 225-end

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Informal project presentations (these will need to be no more than 15 minutes each)