The 1980s: African American Literature and Culture
The 1980s witnessed a dramatic shift in black life. In high and popular culture, African Americans achieved an unprecedented level of success and inclusion—from Toni Morrison to Michael Jackson, Spike Lee to Oprah, Rita Dove to Michael Jordan, and so many more who realized their talent, altering not only their respective medium, but also the very character of American life. A contradictory decade, the 1980s was also awash with black disenfranchisement and death, amid the rise of mass incarceration, entrenched racism, crack, and AIDS. This course offers an introduction to the key texts and themes that animated black life in the ’80s; it also offers an occasion to explore the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality; the blurring of “high” and “low” culture; the rise of hip hop, all of which phenomena of the 1980s that have reoriented how we think about identity and culture today. Texts for the course will include: Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved; Rita Dove’s book of poems, Thomas and Beulah; Spike Lee’s film Do the Right Thing; Bill T. Jones’ dance, Still/Here; and Nelson George’s chronicle of the decade, aptly titled, Post Soul Nation: The Explosive, Contradictory, Triumphant, and Tragic 1980s as Experienced by African Americans (Previously Known as Blacks Before That Negros).