English 181B - Spring, 2018

African American Literature 1900-present

Class Information

Instructor: Heard Mollel, Danielle
CRN: 61806
Time: TR 4:40-6:00
Location: 250 Olson


    This course thematically surveys the most significant black literary movements of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries while exploring the key concerns of black writers as they changed and shifted over time. In so doing, we will augment our understanding of these movements with landmark essays by black creative intellectuals that address the nature of racial identity, the political imperative of black art, and the worry over representations of black culture, essays which did much to shape the aesthetic and political direction of the African American literary tradition. We will pay close attention to the historical phenomena which impacted the lives, culture, and movement of African Americans from the Middle Passage through the twenty-first century. Topics like racial passing, lynching, Jim Crow, jazz and the blues, urban migration, the pressures of city life, black vernacular language, the ironies of American democracy, and the tragicomedy of the black experience are all common concerns for black writers, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. The second half of the century brought with it major cultural and political upheaval, both in mainstream American society as well as in the black community, as mainstream struggles for racial equality branched into Afrocentric and black feminist movements reflected in the literary explorations of black writers. The dramatic changes to the political and cultural landscape of black America paved the way for increasingly experimental writers—some following the avant-garde jazz movement, others experimenting with the “new” black identities that the later 20th century proliferated, others envisioning “Afro-futures” in sci-fi and speculative fiction, while others turned toward the past to re-imagine the stories of slavery and the Middle Passage told by their literary forebears. Playing in the background of this tour of the black literary 20th and 21st centuries will be our soundtrack: A sampling of the black music that shaped the literary tradition, from the classic blues to Motown to free jazz, hip-hop and beyond.


    Participation and In-class Responses 10%
    Short essay (3-5 pages) 15%
    Midterm exam 20%
    Longer essay (5-7 pages) 30%
    Final exam 25%


    Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
    Beloved, Toni Morrison
    Native Son, Richard Wright
    The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 2nd Edition, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nellie McKay, eds.
    Citizen, Claudia Rankine