ENGL628B - Readings in African American Literature: What Was African-American Literature

This graduate seminar takes as its starting point the provocation of Kenneth Warren’s recent volume, What Was African American Literature? to survey the formation of the field of African American literature and its purported dissolution in the wake of legal de-segregation and contemporary post-racial politics. “African-American literature was a Jim Crow phenomenon,” argues Warren, “which is to say, speaking from the standpoint of a post-Jim Crow world, African-American literature is history.” This seminar explores the development and circulation of black literary and cultural expression and critical thought over the longue durée to query Warren’s new periodization of African American literature. We will explore a wide range of texts penned by eighteenth-century to twenty-first-century black authors. Writers studied may include Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Jacobs, Charles Chesnutt, George Schuyler, Toni Morrison, Caryl Phillips, Mat Johnson, and others. Themes and topics will include: the slave narrative/neo-slave narrative, the black Atlantic/black diaspora, slavery studies and reparations discourse as well as the more recent turn towards comparative racialization on the one hand and post-racial politics on the other.