M A I N * N E W S * L I N K S * R E S E R V E S


Let's start off with what you're missing out on: we simply don't have space in the syllabus or time in the semester to read in their entirety all the classic literary responses to life in the rural United States by black Americans--most notably Charles Chesnutt's collection of short stories The Conjure Woman, James Weldon Johnson's book of poems God's Trombones, Zora Neale Hurston's novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple, and Toni Morrison's novel Beloved. Nor can we read all the classic works that bring together country and city, South and North (or Midwest, or West)--most notably Paul Laurence Dunbar's novel Sport of the Gods, Jean Toomer's experimental novel (?) Cane, Nella Larsen's novel Quicksand, Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man, Richard Wright's autobiography Black Boy or his study of the great migration Twelve Million Black Voices, Toni Morrison's novels Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Paradise, Rita Dove's book of poems Thomas and Beulah, and August Wilson's play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. But that's the problem with an introductory course, after all: we could spend an entire semester not just on the "country" section alone, but on any one of the units within it--on vernacular culture, slavery, and the great migration and their influence on African American literature--without reading more than a fraction of the major works that relate to these topics.

Unfortunately, we have only a few weeks to engage the central ambivalence toward the country in African American literature: on the one hand, it is often represented as the key repository of tradition, culture, and community, while on the other hand it is often represented as a site of intense violence, exploitation, and oppression (or as stagnant, primitive, and isolated). What are we to make of this ambivalence toward the country in African American literature? Of claims that it's the source and origin and most authentic site of African American cultural production and of claims that its significance has been overvalued in black studies? Over the course of the semester--and particularly during this unit--it's worth thinking about how a given writer represents country life and its challenges, or works with stereotypical images or narratives of country life, or reflects upon the relation of the country to the city, the nation, or the world.

At the heart of this unit is making comparisons and connections, while recognizing differences and tensions--both within each day's reading or each week's topic, but also across days and weeks within the unit, and toward readings from the Tradition, Culture, Race, Identity mini-unit.

Suggestions for further exploration:

Each of the three topics treated below can become the subject of a final research project. Many of the books I mention below are not on reserve this semester, because our library already owns them; conversely, many of the books on reserve may address those subjects, but because they are so new, I may not have mentioned below.

M A I N * N E W S * L I N K S * R E S E R V E S

ENGL/INDS 240: Introduction to African American Literature and Culture, Spring 2005
Created: 1/28/05 5:07 pm
Last modified: 1/28/05 5:07 pm