Undergraduate English Courses

358:218 Black Literature 1930 to Present

01  MW4  CAC  10584  KERNAN   MU-204

This course will offer a rigorous exploration of the works of five seminal African American novelist, playwrights, poets and essayists: Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Alice Walker. As such, the course does not purport to offer a general survey of the African American literary canon from 1930 to the present. Although the works on our syllabus differ in how they deploy form, content, and form as content, they all share a commitment to social justice that gives voice to a heterogeneous discourse about the relationships between subaltern sexualities and identities, on the one hand, and discourses of patriarchy, state domination and white supremacy on the other.

We will begin the course paying special attention to short theoretical works written by Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Michel Foucault in order to develop a theoretical lens through which to explore five major works by the seminal authors listed above. Our lectures and supplementary readings will prompt us to pay special attention to how national and imperial power structures (as well as black counter-cultures) articulate themselves through discourses about white and black sexuality, as well as through discourses about interracial sex and gender relations more generally. Our job will thus be to engage the texts on our syllabus with questions like these in mind:

How might “primitivist” portrayals of black sexuality work as counter-discourses to global race capitalism?
How have have black authors used the idea of homosexuality as a counter-discourse to white hegemony?
How does the spectre of black male rape, for instance, legitimate certain discourses of white “womanhood” and “manhood”?
How have black authors in the 20th century invoked, manipulated, and reshaped discourses about black women’s sexuality and matriarchy (and politics) to offer pointed commentary on the working of white power, the nation state, Empire, and the formation of black subjectivities?

In addition to regular attendance, in-class participation, and weekly reading quizzes, students will be expected to complete two short writing exercises to help them prepare to write one short midterm paper, and one longer final paper.