English 210: Literary Genres
Black Poetry Now!
Poetry has always been important to the African American literary and cultural imaginary. According to Alice Walker, “poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness.” However, the rapidly changing racial climate nationwide has generated an unexpected explosion of interest in contemporary black poetry. In this course, we’ll examine the triumphant resurgence of this body of work by such authors as Eve L. Ewing, Nate Marshall, Aja Monet, Clint Smith, Danez Smith, and Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, considering how it represents race, resistance, and radicalism in the United States as well as the political and historical implications at the intersection of race and poetry as genre. In doing so, we’ll engage the critical keywords of poetics and discuss a variety of theoretical approaches to African American literary studies, including methods from American cultural studies, gender studies, queer studies, critical race and ethnic studies, and performance studies.
To view the syllabus for this course, click here.
English 433G: Approaches to African American Literature (partial graduate)
African American Novels of the “Nadir”
This seminar will survey African American novels of the period that scholars have often called the “nadir” of African American history, including novels by such authors as Frances E. W. Harper, Charles W. Chesnutt, David Bryant Fulton, Pauline E. Hopkins, Sutton E. Griggs, James Weldon Johnson, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. This period following the failure of Reconstruction—from roughly 1890 through 1920—witnessed the rise of Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan, minstrelsy, scientific racism, the Great Migration, and spectacle lynching. But African American novels responded in kind, expressing resistance to structural and individual forms of oppression through genres such as sentimentalism, realism, romance, utopianism, historical fiction, and speculative and science fiction. Through an exploration of the ways in which African American novels represent the past, present, and future of black experience at the nadir, this seminar will introduce a variety of theoretical approaches to the field of African American literary studies, including methods from American cultural studies, gender studies, and critical race and ethnic studies.
To view the undergraduate syllabus for this course, click here.
English 211: Thematic Approaches to Literature (cross-listed)
The Women of the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance has been a much-studied era of African American culture, but significantly less attention has been paid to black women’s vital contribution to this movement. Across the 1920s and 1930s, black women in literature, art, music, and dance furthered the development of this African American cultural tradition in the midst of the Great Migration and Jim Crow. Such women invented new forms of black artistic expression, blending pan-African elements, high and low cultures, and experimental modernist forms in order to explore the experience of and to imagine a future for black women in the United States in particular. In this course, we’ll study these women’s works in conversation, including the work of novelists, playwrights, and poets such as Jessie Redmon Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké, Zora Neale Hurston, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Nella Larsen; sculptors and painters such as Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Lois Mailou Jones, and Augusta Savage; and jazz and blues vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith.
English 433G: Approaches to African American Literature (partial graduate; cross-listed)
The Theories and Poetics of Black Studies
This seminar will serve as a site for sustained engagement with the theories and poetics of black studies, a discipline invested in tracing blackness and anti-blackness across the African diaspora in order to imagine a means of radical abolition and black liberation. In this course, we’ll investigate the politics and aesthetics of some of the major theoretical texts in black studies published across the last decade, sketching the evolution of key questions, the formation of new archives, and the invention of fresh methods and styles for scholarly work in the field. Through discussion of such texts as Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (2019), Fred Moten’s consent not to be a single being trilogy (2017–18), Christina Sharpe’s In the Wake (2016), and Alex Weheliye’s Habeas Viscus (2014), we’ll consider the past, present, and future of black studies as a discipline and an artform. As a result, this seminar will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to the field of black studies, including those from Afro-pessimism, assemblage theory, biopolitical theory, black feminism, black Marxism, critical race theory, and queer of color critique.
English 435G: American Realism and Naturalism (partial graduate)
Justice and Violence in the Gilded Age
This seminar will survey realist and naturalist American fiction of the Gilded Age (late 1800s), a period termed as such to capture how rapid economic expansion in the United States masked increasing inequality. As industrialization, westward imperialism, Jim Crow, and immigration intensified as the nineteenth century drew to a close, concentrations of economic, social, and political power necessitated new genres of literary fiction. Realists and naturalists such as Charles Chesnutt, Kate Chopin, Theodore Dreiser, William Dean Howells, Frank Norris, Sui Sin Far, and Mark Twain attempted to unmask this increasing inequality by attending to the ordinary, highlighting the tragic injustices and violences of everyday life. This seminar will introduce a variety of theoretical approaches to the field of American literary and cultural studies, including methods from critical race and ethnic studies, gender studies, genre studies, and class and labor studies.
English 371: Introduction to Ethnic Literatures
Policing Blackness on Film
In a moment in which the visibility of police brutality, excessive force, and state murder of people of color has dramatically increased, contemporary filmmakers have responded by dramatizing the police state on the silver screen. In this course, we’ll explore not only how films represent blackness and police violence but also the political and historical insights and implications at the intersection of race and film. We’ll engage critical terms from film studies related to image and sound, and we’ll discuss a variety of theoretical approaches to race and cinema from biopolitical theory, critical race theory, black Marxism, prison studies, and trauma studies. While examining the cultural work of policing blackness on screen, we’ll also focus on the historical impact of the police state on people of color from the antebellum era through the contemporary rise of the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration, as well as sustained black resistance in the form of such movements as the contemporary movement for black lives.
English 533: Studies in Ethnic Literature (graduate)
The Present Past: History in Contemporary African American Fiction
This seminar will survey contemporary African American fiction of the last decade with a particular emphasis on representations of and engagements with black history, including works by such authors as Paul Beatty, Percival Everett, Yaa Gyasi, James McBride, Jesmyn Ward, and Colson Whitehead, among others. The seminar will consider how, why, and to what end African American fiction grapples with histories of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration in the current moment, examining how texts problematize or deauthorize so-called official histories by recovering, rewriting, or reimagining alternate histories. Employing as a lens Toni Morrison’s chant from the close of Beloved (1987), “This is not a story to pass on,” we might consider the nuances of narrative passing on with regard to heredity and lineage, racial performance, received histories, and even death. This seminar will introduce a variety of theoretical approaches to the field of African American literary and cultural studies, including methods from critical race and ethnic studies, gender studies, and class and labor studies.