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African American Literature, from Phyllis Wheatley to Toni Morrison

Class at Faculty of Arts |


1) Olaudah Equiano (1745?-97), Phillis Wheatley (c.1753-84), Sojourner Truth (c. 1797-1883), Harriet Jacobs (c.1813-97), and Frederick Douglass (1818-95) 2) Booker T. Washington (1856?-1915), W.E.B.

DuBois (1868-1963), and Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) 3) Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), Charles W. Chesnutt (1858-1932), Carter G.

Woodson (1875-1950), and James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) 4) Alain Locke (1885-1954), Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882?-1961), Angela Weld Grimké (1880-1958), Arna Bontemps (1902-72), Jean Toomer (1894-1967), and Charles S. Johnson (1893-1956) 5) Langston Hughes (1902-67), Claude McKay (1889-1948), and Countee Cullen (1903-46) 6) Nella Larsen (1891-1963) and Zora Neale Hurston (1891[1901?]-1960) 7) Richard Wright (1908-60) and James Baldwin (1924-87) 8) Ralph Ellison (1914-94) 9) Toni Morrison (b. 1931) and Alice Walker (b. 1944) 10) Martin Luther King (1929-68), Malcolm X (1925-65), and Stokely Carmichael (1941-98) 11) Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (b. 1950) and Cornel West (b. 1953) 12) Paule Marshall (b. 1929), Toni Cade Bambara (1939-95), Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), Audre Lorde (1934-92), Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones, b. 1934), Michael S.

Harper (b. 1938), and Rita Dove (b. 1952)



In this seminar, we will undertake a study of African American writing in the United States, with attention to style, to content, and to historical, socio-economic, and cultural context. Beginning with the foundational works of Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. DuBois, we will proceed to examine other principal African American writers, including Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Martin Luther King, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison. It is James Baldwin’s contention that "No one in the world--in the entire world...knows Americans better or, odd as this may sound, loves them more than the American Negro. This is because he has had to watch you, outwit you, deal with you, and bear you, and sometimes even bleed and die with you, ever since we got here, that is, since both of us, black and white, got here." Richard Wright adds that "If the nation ever finds itself examining its real relation to the Negro, it will find itself doing infinitely more than that; for the anti-Negro attitude of whites represents but a tiny part--though a symbolically significant one--of the moral attitude of the nation. Our too-young and too-new America, lusty because it is lonely, aggressive because it is afraid, insists upon seeing the world in terms of good and bad, the holy and the evil, the high and the low, the white and the black; our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity. It hugs the easy way of damning those whom it cannot understand, of excluding those who look different, and it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness. Am I damning my native land? No; for I, too, share these faults of character! And I really do not think that America, adolescent and cocksure, a stranger to suffering and travail, an enemy of passion and sacrifice, is ready to probe into its most fundamental beliefs." This seminar will examine and unfold these and similar insights.