ENGL317 - African American Literature
Syllabus:
Section(s):

Consideration of key texts in African American literature that explore the experiences of people of African descent in America from the mid-nineteenth century to the contemporary moment. Relationship between literary texts, historical events and cultural formations. Examines a range of texts and genres (autobiography, slave narrative, travel narrative, poetry, essays, fiction), and their contribution to national literary tradition.

In the 1850s, the U.S. Congress and Supreme Court came to a curious consensus: some blacks were objects, things, property, but certainly not persons or humans. Even with the eventual abolition of slavery, these logics continued to inform which bodies and which lives were accorded value—or not—and who had access to the very category of the “human,” and upon what terms. From the mid-nineteenth century to the present, black writers have consistently turned their attention to practices that compromise the rights of black people to be human. In this course, we will be concerned with the relationship between blackness and “the human” and the racial politics of life and death—whether considering sexual violence or lynching, scientific experimentation or Hurricane Katrina. Examining a range of texts and genres (e.g., slave narratives, poetry, essays, fiction, drama, and photography), we will consider how black artists, from Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, and W.E.B. Du Bois to Toni Morrison, Samuel Delany, and Natasha Trethewey, have imagined and grappled with ideas of black humanity and the precarity of black life itself.