Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

African-American Literature

ENGL 570.401

African American literary criticism begins as a vindicationalist project that seeks to mediate expressive culture’s role in the verification of African Americans’ place in the human family and demonstrate racialized being as a product of rationality.  In the latter stages of the century we see a move toward a more vexed notion of culture whose central nodes are performativity and improvisation. This course will move across a broad set of concerns: intellectual history, hermeneutical practice, canon formation, periodization (e.g. modernism and postmodernism), and theorizing the African American subject. In studying the development of African American critical practice in the 20th Century, we will examine the distinction between “secondary” and “primary” sources in order to consider the ways expressive cultural forms like the sermon and the folktale (and the subsequent literary forms to follow) blur such distinctions by being both critical and performative.  Obviously, the discursive properties of race, class, gender, and sexual preference will be central to our effort to historicize interpretive practices.  However, it will be equally important to see the critical project in relation to the efforts to achieve social equality and political agency. Authors in the course may include Sterling A. Brown, William Braithwaite, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, J. Saunders Redding, Toni Morrison, Hortense Spillers, Barbara Christian, Houston Baker, Henry Louis Gates, and Paul Gilroy. We will be joined by guest lecturers who will offer additional perspectives at various points in the term.   Coursework will consist of a formal presentation and a critical paper due at the end of the term.

fulfills requirements