Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

02    TTH7   CAC  17392  BYNUM  SC-216

This course can fulfill any two of the following three requirements: 18th Century, 19th Century, or African American Literature

#blacklivesmatter: Early African American Literature

Baltimore. Staten Island. Charleston. Cleveland…

Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. Tamir Rice…


We’ve seen the names before. And, the list is much, much longer. The hashtag collects the names and the sites, and the stories too to remind us of its obvious fact—black lives do matter. It locates us in time. Present day. Right now. But it also invites us to wonder what would happened if we shift its language or focus to what’s passed. Take for examples, black lives have mattered or black lives always mattered. What happens asks us to locate our collective past and ourselves in varied American histories and it teaches us a bit more about what we mean when we say, #blacklivesmatter.

#blacklivesmatter: Early African American Literature takes this hashtag and goes back in time to uncover how early African American writers and speakers document what matters to them. Think Lucy Terry, Venture Smith, Phillis Wheatley, Prince Hall, among others. We will read a variety of writing—such as poems, sermons, narratives, letters—and examine closely how these early writers use and manipulate language to make better sense of their experiences in the world because of or in spite of enslavement (or freedom). Together, we will examine the following questions: How did these writers tackle themes and questions of identity, selfhood, community, and affect within their chosen literary forms: poems, sermons, letters, or narratives. How do black lives matter when enslaved or when legally denied their humanity? What kinds of agency emerge when the matters of one’s life are self-determined? What happens when we elide race and affect in a critical discussion of early African-American literature?

why english wide


 Undergraduate Students


Graduate Program in English


Statue of "Willie the Silent"