Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Course No:  350:653
Index # - 12547
Distribution Requirement:  A5, B, C
Wednesday - 4:30 p.m.   
MU 207

Race, Writing, Sound:  Black Music and Literary Culture

Imani Owens

This course draws upon a wide variety of literary and sonic sources to ask questions about race and the politics of listening in the 20th century. We will explore various modes of engagement with music as we read recent works in critical sound studies alongside poetry, fiction, liner notes and sonic texts. We will consider writing, sound, and performance as interfacing mediums, not merely defined by influence but by mutual aesthetic and conceptual transformation. Our lens is decidedly transnational: we chart the ways that music travels, buoyed by historical events, social movements, and developments in sound technology.  We will consider literary engagement with genres such as blues, jazz, spirituals, soul, hip hop, reggae, dub, afro-Cuban, and West African music. Theories of translation, improvisation, and black Atlantic exchange will inform our analysis of race, writing, and sound.

This course is appropriate for students with broad interests in interdisciplinary work, transnationalism, and black aesthetics. Students are encouraged develop projects informed by their own areas of specialization.  Musical knowledge is welcome, but not required.

Provisional Reading List

Julian Henriques, Sonic Bodies: Reggae Sound Systems, Performance Techniques, and Ways of Knowing
Tsitsi Jaji, Africa In Stereo: Modernism, Music, and Pan-African Solidarity
Meta DuEwa Jones, The Muse is Music: Jazz Poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to Spoken Word
Emily Lordi, Black Resonance: Iconic Women Singers and African American Literature
Shana Redmond, Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson
Carter Mathes, Imagine the Sound: Experimental African American Literature After Civil Rights
Francesca T. Royster, Sounding Like a No-No: Queer Sounds and Eccentric Acts in the Post-Soul Era
Alexandra T. Vazquez, Listening In Detail: Performances of Cuban Music
Alex Weheliye, Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity
Kevin Young, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness

Requirements: Presentation, conference-length midterm paper, and a final project with the option of a creative or performative element.

why english wide


 Undergraduate Students


Graduate Program in English


Statue of "Willie the Silent"