Mla Proseminar: Memory of Slavery
ENGL 586.940
T 6-9:10

In a country built on slavery, knowledge of the past is both a special kind of blessing and an inescapable curse. For along with a precious legacy of hard-won freedoms and heroically preserved traditions there comes a terrible burden. Every story of liberation and atonement has as its counterpart a story of degradation and hopelessness. And these stories are not only of the deep past but also of the recent past-- not just of auction blocks and plantations, but also of lasting prejudice, enmity, and guilt. The memory of slavery is something with which all Americans still must contend. In this course, we will study the cultural forms in which black and non-black Americans have remembered --and forgotten-- slavery from the late 18th century to the present. Our focus will be on major literary forms, including historical fiction, commemorative poetry, and autobiography. We will also explore some institutional forms, like museums and libraries, as well as some other media, such as photography and cinema. Likely authors include Thomas Jefferson, Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Charles Chesnutt, Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois, William Faulkner, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, John Edgar Wideman, and Toni Morrison. Assignment for the first class meeting: Please read Octavia Butler’s novel, Kindred, and bring your copy of the book with you to class.

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