English R1B

Reading and Composition: Black Radical Thought, From David Walker to Kendrick Lamar

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Spring 2016 Muhammad, Ismail
MWF 12-1 222 Wheeler

Book List

Douglass, Frederick: My Bondage and My Freedom (1855); Du Bois, W.E.B.: The Souls of Black Folk (1903); Jacobs, Harriet : Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861); Larsen, Nella: Passing (1929); Morrison, Toni: Beloved (1987); Rankine, Claudia: Citizen (2014)

Other Readings and Media

Film:  Melvin Van Peebles, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971); Charles Burnett, Killer of Sheep (1974)

Music:  Nina Simone, Nina Simone in Concert (1964); Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) (2008); Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

A course reader, including short texts by Phyllis Wheatly, David Walker, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Toni Morrison, Nathaniel Mackey, Cornell West, Michelle Alexander, Fred Moten, Hilton Als, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, will be provided. 


In this course, we’ll consider the origins and concerns of a radical African American intellectual tradition. Working with a variety of texts, including slave narratives, poetry, music, and film, we’ll trace the debates that structure black radical thought, with special attention to the socio-political concerns that occasion such thought. What constitutes a distinctly African American tradition of socio-political discourse? What does it mean for this tradition to be "radical"? How is this tradition central to the history of American democratic politics? How does it diverge from such politics in search of more utopian possibilities? What is this tradition’s relationship to American capitalism? How do these texts articulate “blackness” while shying away from essentialist identity politics? How and why does race/racism intersect with gender/sexuality? What is the connection between blackness and queer or otherwise non-normative gender/sexual identities? What has changed in American life as a result of black radical thought? What issues persist despite it?

Throughout the semester, you will be working to improve your skills as both a critical writer and researcher. You will write two short essays to sharpen your close reading and writing skills. In addition, you will conduct short biweekly research assignments into topics that you find particularly interesting. These assignments will form the basis of a research paper on how a literary, cinematic, or musical text investigates an historical problem of your choosing. Ideally, these papers will meditate on an of aspect race, class, and/or gender. We will hone skills like sentence craft, effective argumentation, critical thinking, source gathering, and proper use of secondary materials. 

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