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Black to the Future: Race as Science Fiction

ENGL 200.306
instructor(s):
MW 3:30-5
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

The scholar Isaiah Lavender argues that "the African American historical condition is inherently the stuff of science fiction. That is to say that nearly all black writing is sf because of black people’s perceived and experienced dislocation in the Western world dating back to the transatlantic slave trade.” Bold as this argument is, Lavender accurately points to some of the key questions of this class: What is the relationship between the history of African Americans and the speculative genre? What tools does science fiction afford African American writers and artists that other genres do not? How do Black science fiction and speculative fiction, in both literary and visual form, teach us how to see and read blackness otherwise?

Charting an interdisciplinary path, this course will teach students literary and visual analysis through mediums such as fiction, film, comics, and graphic novels to explore more broadly the debates in the 20th and 21st century around how to read blackness. Possible texts include the early science fiction work of W.E.B. Du Bois and George Schuyler alongside later works by Colson Whitehead and Octavia Butler; comics such as the Martha Washington series and Black Panther; and film and TV series such as Brother from Another Planet and Black Mirror.

As a Junior Research Seminar, this course aims to teach students to become careful, ethical readers of literary and popular culture by learning a range of research methods, completing close reading/looking exercises, engaging with archival materials, and producing a critical, creative final project.