African American Lit&Theory (African American Literature)

Jack Taylor ENG 735F-001: African American Literature and Theory Thursday: 6:00-8:30 [synchronously on Zoom]


This seminar examines African American literature from the vantage point of contemporary theories of power and subjectivity, and literary theory. As such, we will ask ourselves the following questions throughout this semester: How can we utilize contemporary literary theory to critically engage African American literature? How do African American writers address the history of oppression and liberation in their narratives? A primary goal of this seminar is to provide a sweeping historical overview of African American literature from slave narratives to the present. Throughout the course of the semester, we will historicize African American literature by placing the texts in the specific historical context. We will also analyze how African American literature does the work of theory, and engage contemporary literary theory with the goal of applying it to the text we have under investigation. In this way, we will engage canonical African American literature through a distinct methodology that highlights how theory can be mobilized to approach African American literature. The course includes readings by prominent African American authors such as Harriet Jacobs, Nella Larsen, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Gayle Jones, Ernest Gaines, William Attaway, Ann Petry, and Toni Morrison. Secondary readings include theorists such as Stephen Best, Alexander Weheliye, Saidiya Hartman, Hortense Spillers, Achille Mbembe, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Fred Moten, Giorgio Agamben, and Orlando Patterson. 



-1 conference paper

-1 seminar paper (15 – 20 pgs.)

-Protocol Assignment 


Required Texts

Morrison, Toni. A Mercy

Best, Stephen. None Like Us: Blackness, Belonging, Aesthetic Life.

Weheliye, Alexander. Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human 

Jones, Gayle. Corregidora

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Baldwin, James. No Name in the Street

Larsen, Nella. Passing 

King, Tiffany. The Black Shoals: Off Shore Formations of Black and Native Studies 

Gaines, Ernest. A Lesson Before Dying

Whitehead, Colson. The Underground Railroad: A Novel 

Attaway, William. Blood on the Forge 

Hartman, Saidya. Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route

Petry, Ann. The Street 

Wright, Richard. The Long Dream


Provide an understanding of the discipline of English today and its relationship to other disciplines

Ability to demonstrate advanced critical analysis in both written and oral formats

Provide a historical overview of African American literature