English R1B

Reading and Composition: On the Run: Slaves and Prisoners

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
12 Fall 2017 Johnson, Sarah Jessica
TTh 12:30-2 50 Barrows Reading and Composition

Book List

Condé, Maryse: I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem; Davis, Angela: An Autobiography; Northup, Solomon: Twelve Years a Slave

Other Readings and Media

Jim Jarmusch: Down By Law (film); Steve McQueen: 12 Years a Slave (film); Stuart Baird: U.S. Marshalls (film)

A course reader


Run. Now. Don’t look back. (Wait, come back.) This class will consider the American fugitive. What does it mean for someone to escape some form of imprisonment without being able to lawfully reenter society? Does it mean they sneak in? Take on another identity? Or remain “off the grid”—outside society looking in?  We will read depictions of the fugitive through three narrative lenses: recounting, reporting, and recording.

Over the course of the semester, we will read of the escape of an enslaved house servant in Maryse Condé’s voicing of one of America’s first and most interesting recorded prisoners, Tituba, an early scapegoat in the Salem witch trials. We will investigate narratives of flight taken by African-American slaves escaping bondage after the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. We will examine journalistic prose about modern-day fugitives of the law, including Angela Davis, “El Chapo,” and prisoners at Alcatraz. Finally, through film we will analyze fictional narratives of fugitives that imagine the everyday emotional and practical concerns of someone fleeing law enforcement.

In thinking about your own position as a student and budding writer, we will confront a couple of unanswerable questions: Does the fugitive speak? Can he write? Does she write? Can writing play a role in a fugitive’s reentry into or rejection of society? In addition to these questions concerning the elusiveness of the fugitive and fugitive writing, we will discuss examples of fugitive meaning. This course will culminate in a final written research project investigating the broad idea of a “fugitive” as it most interests you. Your writing for this class can pursue historical or contemporary concerns around the topic. Through drafts, peer-review and feedback you will begin to hone your own critical voice. Through longer writing assignments with revisions you will work to complete a 15-20-page research essay.

Back to Semester List