English 167 - Winter, 2022

20th C. African American Poetry

Class Information

Instructor: Gray, Erin
CRN: 44413
Time: MWF 12:10-1:00
Location: 1150 Hart
GE Areas: American Cultures, Governance, and History Writing Experience


This course serves as an introduction to poetry by Black writers living and working in the United States in the twentieth century. Beginning with the musical forms that have influenced Black poetry and poetics, we will explore the complex relationship between oral folk traditions and modernist aesthetics from the New Negro movement of the early twentieth century up to present-day experiments in hip hop and visual poetry. Along the way, we will cover freedom songs, the blues, lyric verse, the Black Arts Movement, and Black innovations in New American Poetry, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, and experimental music. Throughout the course, we will read works by contemporary poets alongside their poetic ancestors, focusing on the intergenerational exchange of form, memory, sound, and vision. Central to our study will be the social and political conditions of African American poetic invention. We will also concentrate on the connection of poetry to other aesthetic modalities and forms of life, such as visual culture, performance practices, and underground publishing communities.

Authors include: Tracy K. Smith, Terrence Hayes, Marilyn Nelson, Nathaniel Mackey, June Jordan, Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Claude McKay, Angelina Weld Grimke, Helene Johnson, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Fenton Johnson, Melvin Tolson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Robert Hayden, Bob Kaufman, Russell Atkins, Norman Pritchard, Etheridge Knight, Haki R. Madhubuti, David Henderson, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Sekou Sundiata, Erica Hunt, Melvin Dixon, Harryette Mullen.


Reading & Lecture Responses: 20%
Small Group Poetry Annotations: 20%
Small Group Discussion Questions: 20%
Poetry Recitations/Translations/Adaptations: 10%
Essay 1: 10%
Essay 2: 20%