English 211: Black Literature and Culture (cross-listed)
The Women of the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance has been a much-studied era of Black US culture, but significantly less attention has been paid to Black women’s vital contributions to this artistic and intellectual movement. Across the 1920s and 1930s, as the New Negro Movement rejecting Jim Crow anti-Blackness picked up steam and the New Woman’s Movement promoting women’s autonomy and sexual freedom gained traction, Black women grappled with their place at these movements’ intersection in their artworks. In inventing new forms of Black artistic expression that blended pan-African elements, high and low cultures, and experimental modernist forms, Black women artists both explored the past experience of and imagined a future for Black women in the United States. Examining Black women artists’ contributions in conversation, we’ll consider, for example, the literature of Marita Bonner, Jessie Fauset, Angelina Weld Grimké, Zora Neale Hurston, Georgia Douglas Johnson, and Nella Larsen; the visual art of Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller and Augusta Savage; and the musical stylings of Gladys Bentley, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. In doing so, we’ll discuss the literary trope of the tragic mulatta, histories of racial passing, the rhetoric of Black uplift and respectability, and the trauma of Black motherhood. In this moment of immense potential for cultural change, we’ll consider how and why Black women artists often understood race, gender, and sexuality as ambiguous, unfixed, and, at times, incomprehensible.
English 371: Introduction to Ethnic Literatures (cross-listed)
Nineteenth-Century Black Radical Thought
This course traces nineteenth-century Black radical thought in the United States through an examination of a wide range of literary genres including political pamphlets and speeches, manifestos, and speculative and utopian fiction. In doing so, it considers how and why Black radical thinkers responded to the oppressions of their historical moment by imagining an entirely different world and persuading others to help them build it. Investigating notions of Black freedom—as opposed to liberal freedom—from chattel slavery through Jim Crow, this course asks students to reflect on the legacies and lessons of nineteenth-century Black radicalism for today’s social justice movements. How did Black radicalism develop across the course of the nineteenth century in response to and anticipating legal and extralegal subjection in the United States? What kinds of Black freedom and Black worlds did it imagine? And how and why do Black radical strategies and appeals resonate in the current moment? These are just some of the questions we’ll explore in this class as we develop skills of literary and cultural analysis and read primary texts with a variety of methodological lenses.
English 435G: American Literature, 1865 to 1914 (cross-listed)
“Call me Ishmael,” Moby-Dick (1851) famously begins, and from there, it takes readers on a fascinating journey pursuing the notorious titular white whale. While it’s often been understood as a novel about Captain Ahab’s revenge or madness, on this journey, readers also grapple with some of life’s most complex historical and philosophical questions: questions of knowledge, truth, and perception; of race and sexuality; of the potentials and limits of human agency; of slavery and colonialism; and of humans’ relationship to the natural world. In this course, we’ll examine Herman Melville’s magnum opus through a variety of methodological lenses to glean the work of literary and cultural studies criticism in the twenty-first century.