Spring 2025

Foundations of African American Literature

Listed in: Black Studies, as BLST-213  |  English, as ENGL-213


Frank Leon Roberts (Section 01)


(Offered as ENGL 213, BLST 213 and SWAG 213) This course is an advanced survey of the African American literary tradition. Covering over 250 years of literary production, we will explore various trends in African American literature in the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries---as well as its attendant scholarly criticism. Moving across a wide variety of literary genres (including fiction, poetry, drama, science fiction, memoir, slave and neo-slave narratives) this course will introduce students to nearly a dozen foundational concerns, movements, authors, and concepts within the African American literary canon. In addition, we will also explore the attendant black cultural movements/formations (such as spirituals, jazz, the blues, hip hop, and liberation struggles) that have impacted the production of black literature in the United States. Some of the “foundational” concerns/issues we will take on will include “double consciousness,” slavery and freedom, black feminist thought, queer critique, black literature-as-protest, and the role and responsibility of the black artist/writer-as-community leader. Our focus will be on exploring these issues thematically rather than moving through the canon in a strict chronological trajectory. Among the foundational authors whose work we study this semester will include: Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, Zora Neale Hurston, Ntozake Shange, and Octavia Butler. Students should leave this course with a firm foundation in humanistic approaches to Black Studies as well as the conventions of African American literary and cultural criticism.

Spring semester. Professor Roberts.

How to handle overenrollment: null

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Active In-Class Participation; write an 8 to 10 page final paper; do comparative analysis of two literary texts covered in class; write weekly journal entries and discussion-board posts on Moodle (prompts will be provided in advance). Journal entries range from 500 words to, in one case, 5 to 7 pages. Students will make a 25-minute small group presentation/class facilitation (2 to 3 students per group) that brings in scholarly criticism/historical context/cultural context/political analysis of one of the literary texts/foundational concerns under consideration this semester.

Course Materials


Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2025