Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

20th Century Literature in Dialogue: The Literatures of Jewish- and African-America cancelled

ENGL 083.001
instructor(s):
MWF 1

Recently, the literary critic Walter Benn Michaels has criticized works by Jewish- and African-American writers such as Art Spiegelman and Toni Morrison for perpetuating the very racial thinking he claims is at the root of racism itself.  This course will examine the logic of race, ethnicity, and culture in Jewish and black American literature from the 1880s to the present.  What does it mean for a culture to be yours?  How do you know “who you really are” if you aren’t already who you are?  What history is “yours”?  By focusing on the issues of formal experimentation and “ethnic content,” this course will compare African- and Jewish-American responses to American modernity.  We will compare the migration narratives of post-Civil-War blacks with the narratives of Jewish immigrants; we will explore the ethnically inflected experiments of the Harlem Renaissance and Jewish-American modernists; we will examine the mid-century promotion of black writers by Jewish critics and the breakup of the black-Jewish coalition after the Civil Rights and Black Power movements; finally, we will study the postmodern fiction of black and Jewish writers, as writers retreat increasingly into tradition, myth, religion, and magic in the face of social crises.  Possible writers include: Horace Kallen and W. E. B. Du Bois; Yehoash and Sterling Brown; Mike Gold and Zora Neale Hurston; Charles Reznikoff and Anne Spencer; Denise Levertov and Gwendolyn Brooks; Ralph Ellison and Saul Bellow; Fran Ross and Cynthia Ozick; Harryette Mullen and Charles Bernstein; Toni Morrison and E. L. Doctorow.