ENGL479A - Selected Topics in English and American Literature after 1800: African American Traditions: Poetry as History
The course focuses on modern and contemporary African American poets re-reading historical texts, re-imagining the historical experience of black people in the Americas, and writing in the blanks and silences of official histories and biographies. Whether a poet documents historical persons and events, or invents fictional characters and situations based on individual and collective experience of people of African descent, a reader understands the poem not only in relation to history but also in relation to recent and current events that may inspire the poet to find comparisons and contrasts in the past and present. We will consider how history provides inspiration for poets to explore their own personal concerns along with contemporary attitudes and situations. We will read about ten poets, including Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Natasha Trethewey, Rita Dove, A. Van Jordan, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Nelson, Kevin Young., Elizabeth Alexander, and Wade Compton. Students will read, discuss, and write about poetry texts that recall, dramatize, and critically examine historical experience, events, and persons such as the legacy of black explorers and migrants in Canada, the revolt of captive Africans aboard the ship La Amistad, the role of African Americans in the Civil War, the experience of black and mixed race women as slaves in the antebellum period and as sex workers in early 20th century New Orleans, the lives of botanist George Washington Carver, the 1936 Spelling Bee finalist MacNolia Cox, and the murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955.
Two English courses in literature or permission of the department.