English 133A

Upper Division Coursework: African American Literature and Culture Before 1917

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2005 Best, Stephen M.
Best, Stephen
TTh 2-3:30 106 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Equiano, O.: The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano; Douglass, F.: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; Brent, L.: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Wilson, H.: Our Nig; Prince. M.: The History of Mary Prince, A West Indian Slave; DuBois, W. E. B.: The Souls of Black Folk; Chesnutt, C.: The Conjure Woman; Washington, B. T.: Up from Slavery; Johnson, J.W.: The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man


"African American expressive culture has been driven by an affinity for the oral in the form of sermons, speeches, work songs, slave songs, spirituals, and the blues. At the same time, African American literary culture has displayed a manifest propensity toward autobiographical acts which augur a putatively authentic African American ""self."" In this survey we will attempt to bridge these oral and literary impulses in an exploration of selected works from the canon of African American literature. Running through this survey will be not only the concerns linking orality and literacy, but also debates over the power of language in politics and history: Why, instead of a teleological progression from orality to literacy, does one find in much African American literature a promiscuous coupling of the two? What is the relation of this literature's recurrent, slippery orality to a codified, authenticating literary apparatus? How does speaking relate to subjectivity? What is the significance of various scenes of speaking, reading, and writing in the slave narrative tradition? What light does the study of African American literature shed upon categories such as ""author,"" ""literature,"" and ""canon?"" We will pursue our more discrete literary interests against the backdrop of American revolutionary debate, the abolitionist crusade, Reconstruction, and ""Jim Crow"" segregation. "

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