Assistant Professor of African American Literature and Culture
She teaches African American literature courses that seek after the many ways that people experience blackness as a racial identity, as a cultural category, or as a mark upon the skin. At a time when social media responds to the deaths of unnamed black men and women with #blacklivesmatter, her courses question: what makes life matter, what literature is and what race or culture means, historically and at present. These questions find their way into her book project, Reading Pleasures (University of Illinois' New Black Studies series, under contract), which examines the ways in which eighteenth-century enslaved and/or free men and women feel good or experience pleasure in spite of the privations of slavery, “unfreedom,” or white supremacy. Her research and writing have received generous financial support from the Digital THINC Lab and the University of Guelph, the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Antiquarian Society, Library Company of Philadelphia and the Program in African American History, Rutgers University, University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and College of Charleston. Her essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Common-Place, Early American Literature, Legacy, J19, Criticism, and American Periodicals.
We will examine the very meaning of African-American literature by reading a variety of major (and not so major) writers from the revolutionary era to the present. We will explore the idea of the African-American experience(s) of citizenship, race, sexuality, gender, class, and privilege. Instead of focusing upon the ways in which this literature emerges within history, we will address (across time) the various ways in which writers, orators, poets, rappers, and authors tackle these themes within literary forms: fiction, creative non-fiction, autobiography, poems, songs, etc. We will examine the following questions: What is citizenship? What does it mean to belong to a country? How do we (as individuals and members of diverse communities) experience race? Who/what determines the meaning of race? How do we (as individuals and members of diverse communities) shape our relationship to race (our race and those of others)? How does race shape our individual and communal relationship to place, gender, and ideas of sexuality? Readings and texts (printed and visual) may include works by: Phillis Wheatley, Douglass, Marrant, Hurston, Cooper, Walker.
What makes literature literary and hip hop music? What do these two have in common? We will examine the very meaning of African-American literature by reading and listening to contemporary writers. We will explore national experiences of race and African-American experience(s) of race, sexuality, gender, class, and privilege right now. Instead of focusing solely upon the ways in which this literature emerges within a book-based history, we will address (across time) the various ways in which poets, rappers, authors tackle these themes within literary forms: fiction, creative non-fiction, autobiography, poems, songs, etc. Writers, musicians, and rappers may include: Jesmyn Ward, Jay-Z, Migos, Kiese Laymon, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Chimamanda Adichie.
Before James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, or Beyonce even, there was Phillis Wheatley, Lucy Terry, John Marrant, etc. There were 18th century black writers telling stories. We will read a variety of writing-such as poems, sermons, narratives, letters-and examine closely how these early writers use and manipulate language, tell stories and rethink what we mean by reading in order to make better sense of their experiences in the world because of or in spite of enslavement (or freedom). Together, we will examine the following questions: How did these writers tackle themes and questions of identity, selfhood, community, and affect within their chosen literary forms: poems, sermons, letters, or narratives. How do black lives matter when enslaved or when legally denied their humanity? What kinds of agency emerge when the matters of one's life are self-determined?
Jordan Peele's famed movie, "Get Out," introduced the "sunken place" as a new way to name the angst of racism. But he's not the first to try to confront this nether region or the horror of its intellectual burdens. This course examines the "sunken place" and its stories over time. The sunken place suggests emplacement, geography and materiality and quite a bit of horror. We'll seek to understand where it is, when it is, or how it is and most importantly, how to get out. We'll also seek to understand what about it matters and is matter; what are its dimensions? What opposes the sunken place? Readings may include: Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison or Harriet Beecher Stowe, Percival Everett, Phillis Wheatley.
What is #blackjoy? This course assumes that it's more than a hashtag. It examines the varied meaning of joy (and also the absence of joy) in contemporary African American literature. We will engage in a discussion about joy and pleasure by way of literature-as it is broadly defined-that will press against our understandings of race, blackness, affect, and selfhood while also asking questions about how these understandings impact communities. This course aims to address the multi-varied experiences that we bring to the table while at the same time, attending to the ongoing and ever present societal structures of power. Readings and texts (printed and visual) may include works by: Jesmyn Ward, Toni Morrison, Kiese Laymon, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Brittney Cooper.