HUMS 640
Contemporary African American Narratives of Slavery

Ashraf Rushdy

Course Description

This course will primarily be concerned with examining in some detail the recent proliferation of African American fiction about slavery.  After a preliminary discussion of some notable antebellum slave narratives, we will study eight contemporary “narratives of slavery” and define the three most notable forms of representing slavery in contemporary fiction: 1) “Neo-Slave narratives” -- that is, novels that are contemporary rewritings of antebellum slave narrative forms and conventions; 2) “Palimpsest narratives,” which are novels set in late twentieth-century America but tracing modern social relations within an explicit representation of the slave experience; and 3) historical novels set in the antebellum South.

Required Texts

Bradley, David.  The Chaneysville Incident.  Harper & Row, 1990.
Butler, Octavia.  Kindred.  Beacon, 1988.
Douglass, Frederick.  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, ed. Houston A. Baker.  Penguin, 1986.
Johnson, Charles.  Middle Passage.  NAL, 1991.
-----------------.  Oxherding Tale.  NAL, 1991.
Jones, Gayl.  Corregidora.  Beacon, 1986.
Morrison, Toni.  Beloved.  New American Library, 1989.
Reed, Ishmael.  Flight to Canada.  Atheneum, 1989.
Williams, Sherley Anne.  Dessa Rose.  Berkley, 1987. 

** N.B. There will also be a packet of xeroxed material at PIP Printing, 179 Main St. (344-9001)

Grade Distribution

Your final grade will be based on several factors: a consideration of the overall achievement and degree of improvement over the course of the marked essays, attendance, and participation. 

I will mark and grade your papers, using the standard A-F grading mode

Written Assignments

You will be required to write three papers for this course: two short essays; and one long essay. 

Paper # 1 - 4 typed, double-spaced pages (max. 1000 words)
                        -due March 5 @ 6:00 p.m. in class

Paper # 2 - 4 typed, double-spaced pages (max. 1000 words)
                        -due April 9 @ 6:00 p.m. in class

Paper # 3 - 8 typed, double-spaced pages (max. 2000 words)
                        -due April 30@ 6:00 p.m. in class

Course Schedule
Part I: Antebellum Slave Narratives and Context
January 30

Frederick Douglass, Narrative
* James Olney, "‘I Was Born’: Slave Narratives, Their
Status as Autobiography and as Literature"
* Arna Bontemps, "The Slave Narrative: An American Genre"
* Charles T. Davis, "The Slave Narrative: First Major Art
Form in an Emerging Black Tradition"

February 6

* Handout on the Sociopolitical Contexts of Contemporary Narratives of Slavery
* "Neo-Slave Narratives"
* Rushdy, "Reading Black, White, and Gray in 1968: The Origins of the Contemporary Narrativity of Slavery"

Part II: Neo-Slave Narratives
February 13

Ishmael Reed, Flight to Canada
* Robin Winks, "The Making of a Fugitive Slave
Narrative: Josiah Henson and Uncle Tom -- A Case Study"

February 20 Charles Johnson, Oxherding Tale
February 27 Charles Johnson, Middle Passage
March 5

Shirley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose
* Hazel Carby, "Ideologies of Black Folk"

March 12-26 - Spring Break
Part III: Historical Fiction about Slavery
April 2 Toni Morrison, Beloved
April 9 Toni Morrison, Beloved
Part IV: Palimpsest Narratives
April 16

Gayl Jones, Corregidora
* Handout on the “Blues”

April 23 Octavia Butler, Kindred
April 30 David Bradley, The Chaneysville Incident