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Constituting Blackness: The Making of a Canon of 20th Century Afro-American Literature

ENGL 281.401
instructor(s):
TR 10:30-12

We will explore the aesthetic, social, and political formulations that helped to shape what is widely acknowledged as the canon of 20th century Black American literature. By examining a sampling of both this canon's core texts and the critical formulations that seek to identify the constitutive dimensions of black literary representation, we will investigate shared assumptions and moments of contestation about, among other things, the meanings and practice of modern Black American existence. We will seek to understand such similarities and differences by looking self-consciously at a series of pairs of texts from roughly the same period or with similar thematic concerns, but whose apparent perspectives on Black life and/or Black American expressivity seem to be in conflict. Ultimately, we will try to assess not only the contours of the canon of 20th century Afro-American literature, but why it has taken the shape or shapes it has at the beginning of the 21st century. Primary texts may include: the novels Their Eyes Were Watching God, Song of Solomon, Go Tell It On The Mountain, Quicksand, and A Visitation of Spirits; the plays A Raisin in the Sun, Dutchman, and For Colored Girls, and Fences; and selected poetry by Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Sherley Anne Williams, Amiri Baraka, and Rita Dove. Course requirements: one brief paper (5-7 pages); one longer research paper (10 pages); frequent brief writing assignments; and active class participation.