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Topics in Afro American Literature

ENGL 570.401
instructor(s):
M 9-12:00

Ever since Phillis Wheatley first took up her pen, black writers have assumed the responsibility of correcting unrealistic representations of Africa-origin peoples in literature; but only since the Harlem Renaissance era and its "new negro" art movement has realistic representation been equated with representation of the lives of "the folk" (urban or rural), who are themselves understood to be the repository and source of a black authenticity. And only since Harlem has there been an ongoing debate over an equation between "black art" and "vernacular form(s)" (or between a so-called "high [read "white"] art" and "imitation"): to make the artist "black" was to force an equation between artist and subject. If we fast-forward to the late 1980s, however, we find a great deal of certainty about what constitutes black authenticity (it is the vernacular) and, driven by a canon-formation project, ongoing debates primarily about which literary works exemplify it. The counterpart to a disclaimer of a determinative relationship between black text and black body, we find, is linked to a variation on the critique of imitation: popular culture expropriation of black vernacular forms.

Without taking a positivist approach to this literary history, in this course we will examine the path charted from the "new negro" art movement to today's institutionalized black canon. We will begin with the debates over definitions (new negro art; new negro) -- debates which are frequently inter-generational and which are clearly inflected by both gender and class - and with texts which help dramatize these debate issues. Thereafter we will track this debate via the juxtaposition of texts and competing representations in fiction, poetry, film and the criticism. In addition to selections from The New Negro, primary texts and/or authors will likely include Toomer's Cane, Larsen's Passing, selected poems by Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes; Oscar Micheaux's Body and Soul (film); Hurston's Their Eyes; Ann Petry's The Street; Richard Wright; James Baldwin; Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (film); Alice Walker; Charles Johnson; Toni Morrison; Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust (film).

Fulfills X & X requirements.