Course No: 350:589
Index #: 12041
Distribution Requirement: A5, B, C
Monday - 3:50 p.m.
MU 207

Theorizing Black Authorship
Olabode Ibironke / Maurice Wallace


This course approaches literature from the driving concern for black authorship as its own freedom struggle from the time and place of US slavery to modern twentieth-century African liproduction. We begin by reading Langston Hughes’ essay "When the Negro Was in Vogue" and "What White Publishers Won't Print" by Zora Neale Hurston in order to approach a discussion of the political and philosophical reasons which Derrida argues inform editorial judgment and the social life of texts—their emergence, their circulation, and their eclipse. We will study The Introduction by white patrons of early black writing, as a genre of its kind, including: JP Sartre's introduction to Leopold Senghor's Anthology of the New Negro and Malagasy Poetry titled "Black Orpheus" (which the African philosopher Valentine Mudimbe argues "transformed negritude into a major political event and a philosophical criticism of colonialism") and his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth; also, André Breton's introduction to the Notebook of a Return to My Native Land by Aimé Césaire; Ken Harrow's introduction to Mariama Ba's Une Si Longue Lettre/So Long a Letter; Dylan Thomas's review of The Palm-wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola, and others. We will consider the prevalence and prehistory of The Introductions in the US ex-slave narrative and in such important black monographs of the nineteenth century as Edward Blyden's Christianity, Islam, and the Negro Race. (We find a similar convention in the literary history of South African literature as well.) 

Further, and following Michel Foucault’s theorizing of the author-function in “What Is An Author,” we will explore the editorial demand for “authenticity” (and, thus, transparency), realism, and sociological modes of writing (as tenability) imposed by white reading publics on the black author in both US and African contexts. Camara Laye's The African Child, a foundational text of African literature, will be considered, for example, alongside the controversy around its authorship generated by Adele King's Rereading Camara Laye and ensuing debates. This is not to say that we should not or won’t pay attention to the black book editions you had in mind. I do think we have to describe our plans so granularly, however.

Concern for the web of race, language, speech, practice, property, and history will round out our theoretical musings on black authorship as a shadow project under the hegemony of European colonial power and tastes, a struggle to and for autonomous black self-expression and a world apart from black capture by the white word and its regimes of power, culture, and knowledge subtending literature’s conceits since the invention of race, nation, and Other in the modern period. Again, this is not to say that we will not or should not take up the archive, the pretext, or the supplement—we should as they are those features that help distinguish a work’s black condition, I’d argue—but that I’d just as soon not disclose the plan so detailed a level.