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Topics in Literature and Society

ENGL 293.301
instructor(s):
TR 12-1:30

In this course, we will investigate both the explicit and the implied assumptions that encourage the canonization of some contemporary narratives by Caribbean and Black American writers, and the marginalization or rejection of others. What makes some books by black writers popular, while others go out of print? What kinds of representations are allowed and privileged? What do white critics want from black American and Caribbean texts? What do black critics and readers want? Given stereotypic notions that circulate within American culture(s) concerning black America as "criminal" and "oversexed," and the Caribbean, as "primitive," and "promiscuous," how, precisely, do these presuppositions figure into the production, marketing, evaluation, and reception of twentieth century black literary representation?

Ultimately, we hope to demonstrate the usefulness of modes of reading that situate "literary" texts -- and literary production -- in their contingent (historical and social) contexts. Is there a politics to the underread? By examining a wide range of materials -- critical reviews, scholarly essays, bookstore and dot-com marketing strategies, evaluations, and, of course, readings of the texts themselves, we will determine what enables the canonization and/or marginalization of selected African-American and Caribbean texts. The texts may include: Erna Brodber, Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, Alice Walker, The Color Purple, Ishmael Reed, Platitudes, Shirley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose, V.S. Naipaul, Guerillas, Maryse Conde, I Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, James Baldwin, Go Tell it On the Mountain, Sarah Phillips, Andrea Lee, Orlando Patterson, The Children of Sisyphus.