Spring 2021 Undergraduate English Courses

358:445 Seminar: City Narratives

02  09295  OWENS  MW 1:10-2:30

Through a combination of zoom discussions and asynchronous work, this course considers depictions of urban life in contemporary African American literature.  Reading novels, poems, and critical essays, we will explore shifting ideas about identity, community, and culture. Depictions of urban space in black literature have ranged from the jubilant to the near-apocalyptic, from vibrant cultural exchange to conflict across race, gender and class. Forming a vital backdrop for our discussion are major historical changes that transformed black communities near the turn of the 21st century: The migration of the majority of black Americans to urban areas, technological advances that simultaneously promote togetherness and distance, and the increased commodification of cultural forms such as jazz and hip hop. What do these increasingly postmodern conditions signal for black writers? Is the city a beacon of hope or a site of urban decay? What tools does one need to navigate it? Finally, if the term “black community” as we’ve traditionally understood it has now been called into question, what new models of collectivity does this literature imagine?

We will address these questions through a variety or narrative modes, paying specific attention to literary style, form and experimentation.