n this course, we will examine the significance of the African American literary tradition in shaping the history of the United States and its literary landscape. Taking on a diachronic perspective, we will discuss a variety of primary texts from different literary genres and historical periods to highlight aeshetic, generic and contentual continuites and differences between them. We will not only locate the individual texts in their socio-political and historical context but also examine how African American literature was influenced by discourses of race, gender, sexuality, and class. In order to do so, we will draw on different theoretical frameworks such as Black feminist criticism, New Historicism, Queer Theory, Critical Race Theory, and Life Writing research.
Particular emphasis will be put on the ways in which African American literature has continuously functioned as a counter-narrative to perpetual racism in the United States.

  • How, we may ask, is the emergence of African American literature linked to the period of slavery in the U.S.?
  • How come that similiar modes of storytelling are employed to express social concerns more than a hundred years after slavery has officially ended?
  • How do contemporary African American authors negotiate the challenges that mass incarceration and police brutality impose on Black communities in the United States?
  • And how do Black female and queer writers raise pressing questions on gender equality and sexual freedom in their literary works?