American Mosaic

Spring 2001

Professor Seldon


“Literary Landmarks: the Creation of Real and Imagined Communities”


Our classroom readings will introduce you to the imaginative writings of African Americans.  We will explore the repetitions, tropes, and intertextuality that help to define the African-American literary tradition. As literary scholar Melvin Dixon argues “ what was important yesterday becomes a landmark today. Invoking memory of that time or that person is the only way to orient oneself today” (20). On issues ranging from family, work, education, to  migration and religion, we will examine how literary texts function as historical landmarks.

Additionally, we will explore how literary texts are meaningful in the construction of interpretative communities. That is, this course presupposes that the reader and the reading process are integral to creating meaning. As such, we will view literary meaning and value as dialogic. 

 Using this reader-response method of investigation, we will explore the following: to what extent is reading governed by the cultural circumstances of the reader?  How do responses of the general public change over time?  And can texts bridge the historical and cultural gaps between reader and writer?

Although written texts will be our primary emphasis, we will also examine the significance of oral traditions. The study of oral traditions will provide us with “an alternative record of critical discussion” (20). Ultimately, the study of both the African-American oral and literary traditions will enable us to have a better understanding of the roles that literacy and orality play in the construction of a particular community’s worldviews and experiences.


Primary Texts:

Conjure Tales and Stories of the Colorline by Charles Chestnutt

The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar

The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells edited by

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Go Tell It On the Mountain  and/or

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Native Son by Richard Wright

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The Autobiography of Malcolm X edited by Alex Haley

Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall

Of Mules and Men by Zora Neale Hurston

Black Ice by Lorene Carey

Selected readings from Growing Up Ethnic in America edited by Maria and Jennifer Gillan

“Notes of a Native Son” by James Baldwin

“The Death of Rhythm and Blues” by Nelson George

“Music is my Mistress” by Duke Ellington


Secondary Sources:

The Signifyn’ Monkey by Henry Louis Gates

“The Black Writer’s Use of Memory” by Melvin Dixon

“My Statue, My Self: Autobiographical Writings of Afro-American Women by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Selected readings from The Content of Form by Hayden White

Selected readings from Reader Response Criticism edited by Jane Tompkins

Selected readings from Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson

Selected readings from Is There a Text in This Class? by Stanley Fish


Course Schedule:


Methodology and Overview


Week 1            intro to course, reader response exercise, read/discuss Tompkins

Week 2            read/discuss White, Anderson, and Dixon


Putting It all into (Con)text: Turn of the Century Black Voices


Week 3            read/discuss selections from Conjure Tales and The Sport of the Gods

Week 4            read/discuss Ida B. Wells and Fox-Genovese essay

Week 5            read Hurston, Ellington, selected Chapters from the Signifying Monkey and the George Essay           


Constructing Communities From the Depression Era to the Civil Rights Movement: Growing Up Black In America


Week 6            read/discuss Go Tell It On the Mountain or the Fire Next Time (?)

Week 7            read/discuss Invisible Man

Week 8            read/discuss Native Son and Notes of a Native Son

Week 9            read/discuss the Bluest Eye

Week 10          read/discuss I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings                       


Post Civil Rights Babies: Redefining the Black Community


Week 11          read/discuss Makes Me Wanna Holler

Week 12          read/discuss Black Ice

Week 13          read/discuss selections from Growing Up Ethnic In America