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Black Women in Literature

ENGL 090.401
TR 10:30-12

Although the slave narrative originates the literary representation of blacks in slavery, black intellectuals of the post-emancipation era were quick to appreciate that literature might be used to write a "true" history of blacks in slavery that would not only explain the race-condition of a "present" but that would also rationalize a narrative of racial progress. Building from this early movement toward claiming southern slave history as a common racial history, African American writers since then have both directly and indirectly taken up this slavery-narrating project, in the process rewriting the history of gender and sexuality, of black family-formation; of black mothers and mothering. In this course we will be concerned to evaluate not only how slavery and slave women are represented, however, but with the basis(es) of evaluation: with the then/now of historical difference; with historical fictions vs. fictional histories; with the uses of history (in these texts; in the African American literary tradition). In addition to Harriet Jacobs, we will read (among others) Pauline Hopkins, Margaret Walker, and Toni Morrison, alongside Mary Chesnut, Lydia Maria Child and Willa Cather. There will be a midterm exam and a final exam. Students will write at least two short papers and a longer paper which will count as part of the final exam. Maintaining a readings journal is strongly recommended.