ENGL234 - Introduction to African-American Literature

African American identity and culture begin with migration, with the enforced travel of the first 20 Africans who stepped ashore at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619—“before the Mayflower”—and, later in the same century, with the Africans of the Middle Passage, a migration that Lerone Bennett calls “the greatest migration in recorded history.” But early black mobility also includes the travels of black seafarers whose universe included the entire North Atlantic and was not limited to southern plantations. The earliest texts in the African American literary traditions reflect the will to move or travel—both in this country and beyond its borders. This course will, therefore, focus on African American mobility. We will look at both the familiar spaces of African American travel (the rural South, the urban North, Harlem) and the less well known locations such as the Caribbean, London, and Paris. We will constantly ask questions about the relationship between literature and mobility, including travel and migration: How is mobility represented in these literary texts? Which literary figures get to travel? What enables travel, mobility, and migration, and how are these terms different? How does mobility as represented in these texts redefine identity and freedom? How does a consumer culture stimulate and further the process of migration? How do migrations and travel affect families, gender, and sexuality? How does mobility shape writing itself? How are African American literary forms and conventions altered by travel and migration? We also hope this course will make you think about your own travels (and those of your family) and how they have helped to define and redefine you, your families, and your communities.