English 270a

C. Zwarg

T 7:30 -- 10 p.m.



Portraits in Black:

The Influence of an Emergent African-American Culture



This course will use the tools of literary history to examine the influence of an emergent African-American culture in the United States. Our focus will be on the literary events of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Works from a traditional literary history will be read in tandem with works from a recently canonized African-American tradition to consider how black and white authors borrowed from and influenced one another, sometimes improvising upon shifting perceptions of African-American culture in a changing “free” world. Throughout we will explore the forces, both subtle and crude, woven into the fictions of dominant culture. We will also be attentive to the counter force of narratives enlivening alternative visions of power and community. We will note in particular the growing authority of an emergent African-American culture for U.S. fictions of democracy.


Readings may be selected from works by the following authors: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Jacobs, Toni Morrison, Herman Melville, Joel Chandler Harris, Zora Neale Hurston, Mark Twain, Henry James, Ralph Ellison, and a film by Spike Lee.


Course Requirements:

There will be a series of short papers and assignments throughout the semester and a longer written (take-home) exam.



*This course fulfills the Social Justice requirement.