What is the course about?
Early 20th century Black American writers drew upon a tumultuous history that resulted in an explosion of music, art and writing as exemplified in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s.
Discussions will include reflections on racism as a historic and contemporary factor, as well as addressing the chaos and pain that racism causes in human experience.
Many writers resist the categories of race, gender or nationality that would attempt to constrain their art into a particular niche. We will use the history and social context that background these works as just that: background. The writing of each of these works transcends categorization but connects all readers with recognizable emotions and themes.
As Ralph Ellison writes: “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”.
We start our exploration with selections from Jean Toomer’s experimental poetic novel (1923) exploring how narrative art may give voice to people constricted by personal and social repression.
From Toomer’s vignettes identifying themes and historical landmarks in black American experience, we are ready for Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: (1947) the breakthrough novel infusing history and jazz, creating a tragi-comic hero that has become an iconic character in 20th century literature.
What will we cover?
We will use the following topics as starting points as they are fundamental to the readings:
• Claiming a black voice in art and literature in the early 20th century.
• The use of figurative writing to access complex human experience: metaphor, symbol, imagery, narrative perspective, voice, tone, structure, humour, irony
• The theme of the Individual vs. society and how this shapes identity
• The history of black people in the United States post-slavery; how history is woven into story.
What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...
• Discuss the key themes in 20th century Black writing
-Understand how narrative perspective, tone, irony and ‘voice’ contribute to the literature.
- Understand the psychology of slavery and self-ownership through literary study.
-Consider the anxiety and possibility on portrayals of Black life in early 20th century literature.
What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?
The course is an introduction to significant literature; participants should be able to read and identify areas that challenge them and share questions and insights, listening in an open and supportive way to the response of others. These abilities will be continually developed over the course of the study.
How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?
The course is run primarily in a seminar and group discussion format. Lessons will include tutor presentation, art and music offerings to reflect the times and themes of the literature, dramatic readings and close analysis; facilitated and inclusive discussion is the core of our work. There will be opportunities for written reflections as well as many opportunities to offer your ideas in class.
Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?
Please purchase these two books:
Cane by Jean Toomer ISBN-10: 0871401517 (Norton & Co.)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison ISBN-10: 0141184426 (Penguin Classics 2001).
When I've finished, what course can I do next?
Please look for literature courses under Humanities in the prospectus and under History, Culture and Writing on the web at www.citylit.ac.uk.