Fall 2020 Undergraduate English Courses

358:374 Black Autobiography

01   TTH4   CAC    05678  WALLACE   SC-106

This course has the double aim of both introducing students to a few of the canonical autobiographical writings in the African American literary tradition and parsing the various forms of autobiographical expression (i.e., formal autobiography, semi-autobiography, as-told-to narratives, false autobiography, memoirs). In doing so, we will aim to cover a broad spectrum of Black historical experiences, from historical slavery to slavery’s afterlife in the contemporary period. Conceptually and thematically, we will interrogate the relationship of autobiography to categories of black life and experience like memory, privacy, publicity, freedom, and the precarities of family. In not a few cases, we will take up these questions as they emerge at the intersections of gender, sexuality and class as well. Moving in a somewhat different direction, we shall ask, too: In what ways do African American autobiographical writings nod to, and thus also offer critique of, canonical white American life stories? What does it mean for a black writer to give an account of herself as the basis for thinking about black self-narration self-fashioning and the possibilities of redefinition and (not unproblematically) self-possession? Finally, the autobiographies considered in this course, taken together, offer an incomplete overview of not only the black experience in the US and nearby geographies, but of the history of racial tyranny in America, intimately experienced. Authors to include Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Angela Davis, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Barak Obama, and Jay-Z.