Monday, April 04, 2011

Afro-American, Afro-British Lit, 1900-1960

I’m teaching a new grad class in the fall, Afro-American, Afro-British Lit, 1900-1960. The prospect has me excited and scared. Here is the description:
Anglophone literature of the African diaspora including canonical and less-well known of the Harlem Renaissance, the pre-civil rights era, and Britain’s Windrush generation. Authors include: Toomer, Hurston, Ellison, Selvon, Marson, Baldwin.
A new federal law means we have to order our books early, so I made a too-long list and sent it in. Some of these books I’ve never read, others I have read and taught many times. Having the list made me want to share it. Maybe you can see what is missing or what can be cut. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

I can see that, in spite of the title, the years 1900-1920 are not represented! I certainly will want to do some DuBois, maybe some Washington, too, and maybe even some Marcus Garvey but, frankly, I’d prefer to include all of that within a lecture on the first night of class and get to the Harlem Renaissance quick: that’s what I love and what I am eager to share. But maybe you can persuade me of why I need a day or so on James Weldon Johnson or fellow Wellesley alumna, Angelina Grimk√©…

This list of 16 books includes Andrea Levy’s historical novel from 2004 as a kind of coda. I just found The Emigrants from George Lamming today and, though I’ve never read it, I’m hopeful: I wanted Lamming, but his In the Castle of My Skin has a Caribbean setting and I’m trying to focus on England for the Afro-British section.

Una Marson, a Jamaican poet and broadcaster, worked at the BBC in London throughout the 1930s, before the first big wave of Afro-Caribbean immigration to England, so she’s a great figure to have on the syllabus. I chose to stop at 1960 so that I could stay within my modernist ambit, include some writers from the Windrush Generation [1948 and after] and sneak Another Country onto the syllabus without covering the Civil Rights Movement proper, which is a whole other context. This choice, however, means that most of the African writers to write about London arrived in the 60s, so they’re outside my time frame.

Here they are, in chronological order, with my 3 poets stuck in more or less where they seem to fit. I am not sure if I’ll teach the class chronologically: I loved a recent class I took which paired texts and took a look at an issue in the field and I’d like to do a better job developing that approach. In any case, I think the balance is decent: 8 women, 8 men; 10 writing in America, 6 in Britain.

Have a look.
  • Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)
  • Claude McKay, Home to Harlem (1928)
  • Nella Larsen, Passing (1929)           
  • Langston Hughes, Collected Poems            
  • Jessie Redmon Fauset, Comedy: American Style (1933)
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)                       
  • Una Marson, Selected Poems
  • Richard Wright, Native Son (1941)
  • Ann Petry, The Street (1946)
  • Louise Bennett, Jamaica Labrish
  • George Lamming, The Emigrants (1954)
  • Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners (1956)
  • Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959)
  • E. R. Braithwaite, To Sir, With Love (1959)
  • James Baldwin, Another Country (1962)
  • Andrea Levy, Small Island (2004) 

1 comment:

Mary said...

I've had great classes with the Lonely Londoners. There's a neat critical text called dwelling places that might be of use.