English 133B

African American Literature and Culture Since 1917: The African American Essay

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2016 Best, Stephen M.
TTh 12:30-2 123 Wheeler

Book List

Als, Hilton: White Girls; Baldwin, James: Notes of a Native Son; Baldwin, James: The Fire Next Time; Coates, Ta-Nehisi: Between the World and Me; Ellison, Ralph: Shadow and Act; Jones, LeRoi: Blues People; Keene, John: Counternarratives; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen


Readers of James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, and Zora Neale Hurston have often turned to these authors' essays with a mind to better understanding their literary work.  In this course we will consider the African American essay as a form in its own right, one that rewards close formal analysis.  The essay (from Old French essai, “attempt”) is a sort of rhetorical trial balloon, implying firstness, a want of finish, and a rigorous nonsystematicity.  We will consider the matter of incompletion in two respects -- the essay as it engages the topic of the incomplete project of black freedom, and the essay as ongoing experiment in form—with a goal of puzzling out how the two are related.

Readings by the following authors: Hilton Als, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), John Keene, Nathaniel Mackey, and Claudia Rankine.

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