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Spring 2018 Undergraduate English Courses: African-American, Ethnic American or Global Anglophone

358:374 Black Autobiography: From Maya Angelou to Barack Obama

01  MW8  LIV  18545  IBIRONKE  TIL 103B

Black Autobiography: From Maya Angelou to Barack Obama

We begin with Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as an illustration of what it means for a black writer to give an account of herself, and also as the basis for thinking about black authors’ inspiring self-narration and redefinition, and self-possession and repossession. Whether in politics, as exemplified by Obama, or in literature, by the likes of Maya Angelou, Black speech is characterized by rhyme, rhythm and an inspirational message that centers on black self-concept and uplift. Though not in a chronological order, students will read exemplary texts from the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement. The autobiographies of black comic icons such as Baratunde Thurston’s How to Be Black, and Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime will serve as frame for engaging contemporary black youth’s perspectives on the notion of black self-concept. All of this is aimed toward the development of critical skills to enable us engage autobiographies as opposed to how we engage works of fiction.

Four films that have recently attempted to recast both the ordinary and remarkable lives of black authors and subjects will be used to illuminate and illustrate themes and concepts from the texts. In addition to 12 Years a Slave and Sugarcane Alley, two films based on the life and work of Nelson Mandela will also serve to illustrate the epic dimension of the trajectory of the story of blackness that we are mapping in this course. 

This course is thus an exploration of the Life writings of selected authors of Black African descent as an allegory of the broad spectrum of Black historical experiences. In other words, the autobiographies of black authors become prisms through which an overview of black experience since the beginning of the twentieth century is accessed, contemplated, and analyzed.

Required texts:

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Langston Hughes, The Big Sea: An Autobiography

Robert F. Williams, Negroes with Guns

Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying

Baratunde Thurston How to Be Black

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime

Chapter from Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

Possible Films:

  • Sugarcane Alley
  • 12 Years a Slave
  • Mandela
  • Something the Lord Made