Monday, January 14, 2019
January 14, 2019: Spring Previews: 20th Century African American Literature
[A new semester is upon us, and with it comes a new Spring Preview series. Leading up to a special weekend post on book updates, plans, and hopes!]
On three books I’m excited to teach for the first time as part of this new (to me) course.
1) Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937): I may have taught Zora Neale Hurston’s magisterial novel as part of one of my first lit classes as a grad student at Temple University (nearly 20 years ago now), but who can remember back that far with any certainty? Not this AmericanStudier, and so this semester feels in any case like the first time teaching this great book. Interestingly, I’ve talked about Hurston’s book a good bit in recent years, as I use Richard Wright’s review of it to help frame our reading of his novel Native Son (1945) when we work with that book in my Major American Authors course. But that’s all the more reason to return to the source and teach Hurston’s book as well, on which I entirely disagree with Wright (while thinking Wright’s novel is well worth our time as well). Can’t wait to share Janie’s story with this class!
2) Invisible Man (1952): I know for a fact that I’ve never taught Ralph Ellison’s towering book, although I do use its stunning Prologue as a short reading at the end of my American Novel to 1950 class. I think that Prologue is a particularly unique and powerful section, but the novel that follows has plenty of amazing such individual moments and sections, as well as a cumulative representation of African American and American communities and cultures (past and present) that combines realism and symbolism, history and metaphor, in subtle and sweeping ways that demand close reading and conversation. It’ll be a challenge, but one I look forward to the class rising to meet!
3) The Underground Railroad (2017): Colson Whitehead’s acclaimed and amazing speculative historical novel is a book I’ve wanted to teach since I first read it, and I’m beyond excited to be ending the course with it. As I wrote in that last hyperlinked post, Whitehead’s book weds anachronistic and science fiction elements to realistic historical details and identities, producing a work that is at once unique and profoundly representative of African American literature and art, history and culture, tradition and change. I think it’s a perfect endpoint for a class like this (and the two-part 19th and 20th Century class sequence), and I can’t wait to hear the students’ thoughts on it, like all these books!
Next preview tomorrow,
PS. Spring previews of your own to share? I’d love to hear them!