English 133T

Topics in African American Literature and Culture: The African American Essay

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2021 Best, Stephen M.
MWF 11-12

Book List

Als, Hilton: The Women; Baldwin, James: No Name in the Street; Baldwin, James: Notes of a Native Son; Baldwin, James: The Fire Next Time; Coates, Ta-Nehisi : Between the World and Me; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen; Wright, Richard: 12 Million Black Voices


Readers of James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, and other writers, often turn to their essays with a mind to better understanding their novels and other literary writing.  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.

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