Description of Course Goals and CurriculumStudents in this class will read various literature from African American writers like Olaudah Equiano (Interesting Narrative) to Richard Wright (Native Son) and even non-African American writers like Mark Twain and Herman Melville and relate it to laws passed during those times of publication and events in the African American community and the United States as a society. The first half of the course is focused on legal works from the 18th Century and the second half moves to more contemporary works from various writers on with themes like “passing as white,” “racial identity,” ect… Since my class size was so small, Professor Brown encouraged us to recommend literature to discuss in class and because of that we didn’t cover as much legal texts but we did discuss legal events. Extensive knowledge of African American history isn’t required, but does help as students will discuss events pertaining to African Americans. The most challenging aspect to this class will be to balance the longer works of literature (Pudd’n’head Wilson, Benito Cerino) along with other classes.
Learning From Classroom InstructionBeing a seminar, participation from the students is required. It is best to be able to remember what you read and be able to comment on the works. Annotating the literature will help both remembering what you read and being able to talk about it in class, whether it is a question or something that adds to the discussion. Taking notes during the seminar will help as Professor Brown will go through the theme of how the literature interacts with the law. In my class there were only a total of four students so class participation became very important.
Learning For and From AssignmentsAssigned readings vary in length from poems to extended essays and short stories. I found it helpful to audiobook the longer stories like Bonito Cerino and Pudd’n’head Wilson from YouTube while annotating the text in a Word document so I could easily navigate the story while also commenting on it so I wouldn’t forget what I heard. Assignments are in the form of short response papers (1-2 pages) and one final Dean’s Date assignment (10-12 pages). The response papers consist of selecting a quote from a reading discussed in class and forming an argument on what it says about the text as a whole. What helped me write the response papers was selecting a phrase or sentence from a reading that struck me as interesting or profound and explaining why it interested while also relating it to the rest of the reading. The Dean’s Date assignment is a research paper that examines a reading presented in class (or outside of the class) or multiple readings and forming an argument about what the text says about the time it was published in.
External ResourcesMultiple readings will be available from Labyrinth Books as well as poems online directed from Blackboard and a couple audiobooks from YouTube. Professor Brown is also available for office hours to discuss readings presented in the class or not and help with the assignments.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionStudents will learn how influential American law was to African American literature. Many African American literature discussed in one way or another the social implications or after effects of those laws or events. If a student is considering pursuing a concentration in African American Studies, I recommend this class as it goes in depth into the laws and events that convinced many well-known authors to write many famous works of literature. If you want to know what circumstances provoked your favorite African American writers to produce the major works of literature you know or haven’t seen yet, this is the class to take.
Topics in African American Literature: Fictions of Black Urban Life