CC 300 DX - African American Literature

3 Credits
MWF 10:10-11:00 am - Professor Graber
Cross-listed with ENGL 365AX and ENGL 565AX

In the many thousands of pages of Thomas Jefferson’s writings, no sentence appears more glaringly absurd (or as contradictory to the spirit behind the Declaration of Independence) than this declaration of 1781: “Never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration.” Repudiating the implicit racism of Jefferson’s claim, this course will explore how African Americans have been transcending “the level of plain narration” for as long as there have been Americans. We will examine a body of literature remarkable for its ingenuity, emotional depth, and multi-layered complexity, crafted in spite of monstrous impediments—mandatory illiteracy, terrorist violence, slavery, and bigotry. In the face of the outrageously racist ideology that Jefferson’s judgment expressed in its mildest form, African American writing has developed through complicated negotiations and radical self-inventions to carve out a space for liberty with the tools of literature.

This course will increase students’ understanding of African American writing and the historical and cultural contexts that have surrounded the issue of black expression in the U.S. In order to deal with such a rich body of material, the syllabus has been designed thematically around five constellations of ideas that have informed African American literature since it came to greater prominence in the early nineteenth century: “Slave Narrative,” “Protest,” “Uplift,” “Recovery,” and “Alienation.” This is not to suggest that these themes have remained stable. Rather we will discover African American writers talking back to each other across generations, appropriating and reshaping the tradition even as they implicitly and explicitly argue against the common enemy of American racism. In exploring this writing, students will have the chance to improve their communication and analytical skills through class discussion and writing assignments. Each student will write a short paper for four of the five units, a midterm exam, and a final paper that expands on earlier work in the course. Attendance as well as full preparation for and participation in class discussions is mandatory.

Bookstore Texts:

Classic Slave Narratives, H. L. Gates, ed. (Signet Classics, 2002) ISBN-13: 978-0451528247
To Be a Slave, Julius Lester (Puffin Modern Classics, 2005) ISBN-13: 978-0142403860
A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest J. Gaines (Vintage, 1997) ISBN-13: 978-0375702709
The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois (W.W. Norton, 1999) ISBN-13: 978-0393973938
Beloved, Toni Morrison (Vintage, 2004) ISBN-13: 978-1400033416

Required texts will also include texts on Blackboard as well as several films.