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.
To view the syllabus for this course, click here.
English 496G: Major Literary Figures (partial graduate)
This seminar will survey the body of work of the prolific African American author Toni Morrison, heralded upon her passing in August 2019 as the “last great American author.” From the 1970s through the 2010s, her oeuvre centered the many facets of the black experience across US history—from enslavement to the Civil Rights Movement and beyond—with “visionary force” and “poetic import,” in the words of her Nobel Prize announcement. As a scholar, Morrison indelibly changed the course of American literary studies in insisting that blackness was not marginal but rather fundamental to understanding the American cultural imaginary. In this seminar, we’ll read a selection of her novels, short stories, and critical works, perhaps including such texts as Sula (1973), “Recitatif” (1983), Beloved (1987), Playing in the Dark (1992), and A Mercy (2008). To facilitate critical reading of and writing about these works, this seminar will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to the field of African American literary studies, including methods from Afro-pessimism, critical race studies, black feminism, black Marxism, and queer of color critique.
To view the undergraduate syllabus for this course, click here.
English 550: Studies in Nineteenth-Century American Literature (graduate)
Racial Capitalism and Democracy from Reconstruction to the Second World War
This seminar will survey how racial capitalism—the notion that “racism enshrines the inequalities that capitalism requires,” in the words of Jodi Melamed—animates the American literary and cultural imaginary from Reconstruction (1863–77) to the Second World War (1939–45). In doing so, we’ll necessarily examine how the development of racial capitalism impacted the conception and execution of democracy in the United States, especially during westward imperialism, Jim Crow, the Gilded Age, and the Progressive Era. If democracy is, as Fred Moten has described it, “government in which the common people hold sway,” how has racial capitalism impacted the practice of democracy? What does democracy look like in a racial capitalist nation? Attending to the work of authors such as Charles Chesnutt, Stephen Crane, W. E. B. Du Bois, William Dean Howells, María Ruiz de Burton, Sui Sin Far, Mark Twain, Ida B. Wells, and Zitkála-Šá, we’ll investigate how literary and cultural texts understood and responded to the structural inequities and liberatory potentials of one of the most tumultuous periods of US history. Thus, this seminar will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to the field of American literary and cultural studies, including methods from critical and comparative race and ethnic studies, gender studies, and class and labor studies.
English 433G: Approaches to African American Literature (partial 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, 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. To facilitate critical reading of and writing about these works, this seminar will introduce a variety of methodological approaches to the field of African American literary studies, including methods from Afro-pessimism, critical race studies, black feminism, black Marxism, and queer of color critique.