English 100

The Seminar on Criticism: The African-American Essay

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2022 Best, Stephen M.
TuTh 3:30-5 Wheeler 305

Book List

Als, Hilton: The Women; Baldwin, James: Collected Essays; Rankine, Claudia: Citizen: An American Lyric


Readers of James Baldwin, W. E. B. DuBois, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, and other black writers have often turned to their essays with a goal of better understanding their literary work.  In this course we will consider the African-American essay as a literary 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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