ENGL234 - Introduction to African-American Literature

Short stories by African American writers often go untaught in survey courses on African American literature. This course will introduce the themes, histories, and rhetorics of African American literature solely through the short story, or more accurately, through collections of short stories. Reading the collected short stories of six major African American writers from the end of the nineteenth century through the beginning of the twenty-first century, we will explore how the stories black authors tell about themselves and their communities are informed by time and place, gender, and class. We will look at how stories by the same writer—sometimes complementary, sometimes competing—offer to the reader many different characters, perspectives, impressions, and narrations of important cultural and historical moments in African American history, and therefore the history of the nation. We will ask how the authors intend for us to understand each story, and what our obligation is as readers to understand how the stories talk to each other. How do they fit together as a collection? Examining texts from both the pre- and post-Brown v. the Board of Education eras, this course introduces African American perspectives on universal literary themes such as art, childhood, sexuality, marriage, alienation and mortality, as well as representations of slavery, Reconstruction, racial violence and the Nadir, legalized racism and segregation, black patriotism and black ex-patriots, the optimism of integration, and the prospects of a post-racial America. Finally, alongside each collection of short stories, we will read one poem by a contemporaneous African American poet.