Alice L Pedersen
Advanced study in American literature concentrating on individual writers, literary movements, specific critical approaches to literature, or literary canons and their critics.
In this class, we'll examine the enduring legacy of the US slave narratives. A “slave narrative" is usually a first-person testimonial, written by a person who has experienced slavery and escaped to freedom. In most cases, these stories recount the personal journey from slavery to freedom; they begin with the words “I was born," and conclude with assimilation into dominant Euro-American culture.
Depending on who you ask, these narratives might be powerful personal testimonies, sentimental rubbish, a humanist claim for the public sphere, or the very basis of U.S. arts and literature. What is this body of work? What legacy has it left? And how do we read it, now?
In this class, we will trace several varying and competing legacies of the slave narratives. After examining a few narratives themselves, we’ll explore how the narratives have been taken up, put down, and reworked through the 20th and 21st centuries. This class relies quite heavily on critical race and gender theory, and indeed the very existence of that theory will become part of our inquiry as we explore how constructs of race, gender, class, and history itself refract the themes and questions of the slave narratives.
Students should be prepared to discuss race, gender, and violence in respectful and engaged dialogue. Opportunities to connect historical narratives with contemporary events will be plentiful. Classes will mainly be run as a “seminar," in which students actively lead discussion and contribute to one another’s thinking.
Grading will be based on active and collaborative participation; one longer analytic paper based on the texts; and one final project TBD.
Potential authors and texts include: Olaudah Equiano, Nat Turner, Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, the WPA Ex-Slave Narratives, William Styron, William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond, Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, Hortense Spillers, Saidiya Hartman, Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Harryette Mullen, Ashraf Rushdy, Avery Gordon, and Madhu Dubey.
Student learning goals
To explore the literary and cultural inheritance of the United State slave narratives.
To create a respectful and engaged classroom community through dialogue and collaboration.
To engage questions of race, gender, class, and the American narrative of history in order to better understand our present moment.
General method of instruction
This class will be reading heavy, with daily reflective writing assignments. Students are expected to arrive to class having not only done the reading, but thought about it, prepared questions, and be prepared to engage in discussion.
Class assignments and grading
Short daily writing assignments; one longer analytic paper; and a final project TBD.