Fall 2020 Undergraduate English Courses

358:378 Black Music and Literature

01   MTH2   CAC   05680   MATHES   FH-B2

This course examines the interwoven nature of black musical and literary production from the 19th through the early 21st century. In our readings and musical selections, we will analyze musical influences on the thematic and formal elements of literature; at the same time, we will examine the use of literary ideas and points of reference as they are incorporated within different black musical forms. As we consider literary works within the context of black musical history--from its West African foundations to the slave spirituals and work songs, from blues, jazz and classical, to R&B, funk, reggae, rock, Afro-beat, and the past five decades of hip-hop—our study will be informed by questions such as: What specific qualities allow us to identify music as black? How is the idea of narrative/narration used similarly and differently between song and text? How do writers capture the sounds and feelings of different musical forms within fictional and non-fictional prose? In what ways might both music and literature (and/or their points of intersection) represent and interrogate ideas of black identity and consciousness?

Readings may include: Blues People (LeRoi Jones), Moment’s Notice: Jazz in Poetry & Prose (Edited by Art Lange and Nathaniel Mackey), Coming Through Slaughter (Michael Ondaatje), The Harder They Come (Michael Thelwell, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (August Wilson), Jazz (Toni Morrison). We will also spend a good deal of time listening to musical selections in and outside of class.

Tentative requirements: 2 papers (5-7 pages), midterm exam, take-home final exam