English N1B

Reading & Composition: Crossing the Color Line

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Session Course Areas
4 Summer 2012 Martinez, Rosa Angelica
TTh 6-8 222 Wheeler

Book List

Craft, William and Ellen: Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: or, the Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery; Griffin, John Howard: Black Like Me; Harris, Joseph: Rewriting: How to Do Things With Texts; Johnson, James Weldon: The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man; Larsen, Nella: Passing

Other Readings and Media

A course reader, containing short stories, poems, and critical essays. 


Color, for anyone who uses it, or is used by it, is a most complex, calculated and dangerous phenomenon.

–  James Baldwin

This course will explore the act of racial and gender passing in American literature and culture. Narratives of passing problematize notions of self and other, identity and performance, authenticity and deceit, and complicate and confound definitions of the “real” and the methods or system by which identity is invented. We will examine autobiographical and fictional accounts of crossing the color line that also include cross-dressing, class passing, sexual ambiguity, and the feigning of disability. Through a diverse sample of novels and short stories, including traditional narratives of black-to-white passing (historically prevalent in 19th and 20th century African-American literature) and contemporary works that utilize though transform the trope of passing, this course separates the historical experience from its literary representation on the page, but concentrates on the rhetorics and writerly ways of illustrating the masquerade of race, gender, class, and sexuality.

Along with concentrating on mechanics and style, we will also learn how to read closely and demonstrate exploratory thinking, formulate thoughtful questioning, gather evidence, and organize ideas and claims into well-crafted essays. Over the course of the semester and through a gradual process of outlining, drafting, and revising, you will produce two preliminary essays (4-5 pages), and a final research paper (8-9 pages). 

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