BA, Tufts University. MA, PhD, University of Virginia. Special interests include African American literature and studies, 18th century to the present; Caribbean literature and studies, literatures in English and/or translations; early American/transatlantic literatures; postcolonial literatures in English, particularly of the African diaspora; race, cultural, and postcolonial theory; black popular culture; performance poetry; and the intersection of black music and resistance internationally. SLC, 2008–
This yearlong lecture will examine pivotal moments and texts in the history of African American letters, ranging from Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative (1789) to Saul Williams’s The Dead Emcee Scrolls (2006). Working our way through a variety of genres (elegy, drama, the captivity narrative, the slave narrative, the essay, public oratory, speeches, fiction, poetry, drama, polemical prose, autobiography, music, and film), we will explore a number of matters pertinent to literary studies in general, as well as those with specific implications for African American writing and writers. We will consider the circumstances of textual production and reception, ideas and ideologies of literary history and culture, aesthetics, authorship, and audience. We will focus our attention immediately on the emergence of African American writing under the regime of chattel slavery and the questions it poses about “race,” “authorship,” “subjectivity,” “self-mastery,” and “freedom.” We will consider the material and social conditions under which our selected texts were edited, published, marketed, and “authenticated.” Our ultimate aim is to situate our selections within the broadest possible contexts of their time and ours. We will also focus on the changing notions of racial identification in the 20th and 21st centuries, addressing how the wide array of genres shape and are shaped by pivotal cultural and political movements such as the “New Negro,” the Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights, Black Arts/Black Power, and Womanism, as well as current debates over matters such as hip hop, same-sexuality, incarceration, and “premature death.” Also, we will examine how the texts deal with recent questions about black identities and subjectivities that get funneled through notions of a postrace and/or postethnic (international) society. Some authors whom we might study include, but are not limited to, Thomas Jefferson, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Wilson, Anna Julia Cooper, Charles Chesnutt, Booker T. Washington, Jean Toomer, W. E. B. Du Bois, Nella Larsen, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Margaret Walker, Amiri Baraka, Huey Newton, Sonya Sanchez, Carolyn Rodgers, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Audre Lorde.
This course will introduce students to the rich literary traditions that are grouped under “African Literature,” focusing particularly on the aesthetic, political, thematic, and cultural representations in several genres, including: drama, fiction, film, music, nonfiction, and poetry. We will examine the rich contexts of African literary production and their diversity in terms of language, thematic, and formal preoccupations. Engaging the works of writers such as Ngugi wa Thiongo, Bessie Head, Nadine Gordimer, Yvonne Vera, Sembene Ousman, Chimamanda Adiche, Wole Soyinka, Ama Ata Aidoo, Okot p’Bitek, Alex La Guma, and others, we will explore questions such as: How is it that most of what is known as “African Literature,” both within Africa itself and outside, is originally written in European languages? That is one of many important critical questions posed by the recent collection edited by scholar Teju Olaniyan and Ato Quayson, African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory, which forms our critical/theoretical base during our course of study. Therefore, we will explore themes of orality and literacy, national liberation and nation (re)building, gender, race and sexuality, migration, globalization, queer identity, and postcoloniality, alongside questions regarding the function of the writer and writing in the various spaces. What does it mean to be an African woman writer? What thematic and formal shifts occur within the works of writers such as Ngugi, who engage the colonial, postcolonial, and post-independence moments? What shifts occur in works of more contemporary writers such as Adiche, who offers that she works against contemporary engagements of the “single story” that still stereotypically casts Africa as a “dark continent”? We will also explore the implications of the international exchange of “Nollywood,” which is consumed by Nigerians and Africans living on the continent, as well as by those in diaspora, and which have become a popular part of programming in nations in the Caribbean. Lastly, we may explore the impact that the work of Fela Kuti and other musicians have had on national and international politics and on the cultural expressions of contemporary artists more familiarly aligned with hip hop and reggae.
The interests of this yearlong seminar build on the productivity and excitement of recent scholarship in African American, African, and Caribbean diasporic studies regarding the role of the “mother figure” in Black diasporic literature, culture, and “thought.” The following central question will guide our study: How does each writer engage the maternal within his or her given historical contexts? We will begin our study with writings from the 18th century and work our way up to discussions of Black maternity in the contemporary imaginary. Therefore, we will explore (among other issues) what role “African” and/or Black maternity plays within these literary reproductions, given its (Black motherhood) contested space within (and beyond) the cultural, political, and legal history of slavery as philosophy and practice. We will examine the discourse surrounding formations such as the “slave mother,” “mother of a/the race” or “race mother,” “mammy” and “Black nanny,” “welfare queen,” “single mother,” “Black matriarch,” “Black queen/goddess,” etc. We will study the material using an interdisciplinary approach, which has been and remains central to African American and Caribbean studies, while examining these material tropes in fiction, nonfiction, “life writing,” poetry, music, performance art, popular culture, cultural studies and race theory, etc. Authors whose work we might investigate include, but are not limited to: Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince, Martin Delaney, Claude McKay, Louise Bennett, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, Saul Williams, Kamau Brathwaite, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, Michelle Cliff, Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, Nella Larsen, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Octavia Butler, Aime Cesaire, Patricia Hill Collins, Hortense Spillers, and Deborah McDowell.
This course will introduce students to the various permutations of the genre called “Yard Fiction,” generally associated with the writings of Caribbean nationals and expatriates of color. We will examine mostly novels and novellas, ranging from C.L.R. James’s Minty Alley (1939) to Juno Diaz’s Drown (1996). Ideally, we will explore the intersections of race, space, and culture in these texts and the contexts that they address. For our purposes, “the yard” can be defined as a space that is home to mostly people of color who are predominantly working-class people, employed and unemployed. The yard is usually a building, basically a “tenement,” or group of buildings on the same street. Subsequently, everything in the selected texts generally occurs in each of the different characters’ “own back yard.” The yard, as a physical space, generally binds the characters/people intimately, so they become each other’s keepers and peepers. We will examine how these different authors image and utilize the space of yard and different forms of writing, such as the vignette style, in order to effect a unique mode of storytelling, poetics, and politics. Given that yard fiction is associated with “urban or urban-like” settings/dwellings, and the course aims to give a world view of this genre, many of the texts include writings that are set in cities and villages on continental Africa, in London, in the United States, and in the Caribbean. Some general themes that are consistent with the genre and which students will be able to examine are gender, race, ethnicity, class, urban space, imperialism, globalization, coloniality (post- and neo-), independence, and culture, along with music/calypso and gossip as primary carriers of news and information, the role of the voyeur, and placing and marking territory via insider/outsider. Students are highly encouraged to enroll in the fall course, “New” World Studies: Maroons, Rebels, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
This course will introduce students to a vast body of diverse literature—life writings, autobiographies, novels, film, poetry, and plays—that focus on an “interstitial” Caribbean, with “interstitial” referring to works that are not only from the Caribbean but also are about the Caribbean as image and imaginary. Engaging classics such as Aphra Behns Oroonoko, Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and Bronte’s Jane Eyre, alongside more contemporary titles such as Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, Aime Cesaire’s A Tempest, and Marlon James’ Book of Night Women, this seminar will primarily explore how literature worked culturally to construct (and deconstruct) the New World. In particular, the Caribbean is often imagined as an “other” space identifiable with maroonage, rebellion, and piracy. Other themes, topics, and concepts that we might broach in our text-driven conversations include madness, (im)morality, migration (voluntary and involuntary), gender, race, citizenship, sexuality, old world and new world, voodoo and magic, revolution and rebellion, religion, coloniality, independence, and postcoloniality. We will also explore literature, film, and music that engage nonspecific archetypes such as the tragic mulatto, icons/historical figures such as Nanny of the Maroons and Toussaint L’Overture, the ever-elusive trickster Anansi, and mythic explorations such as the “El Dorado” (the Golden City). TOur inquiry, therefore, will remain an interdisciplinary one in which writers such as Daniel Defoe, Bronte, and Shakespeare can be placed directly in conversation with Jamaica Kincaid, Kamau Brathwaite, and Wilson Harris. A portion of our inquiry might be dedicated to films such as El Dorado and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which contribute to ongoing contemporary representations of Caribbean identity. Students taking this course are highly encouraged to enroll in the Spring 2014 intermediate seminar titled, “New” World Literatures: Fictions of the Yard.