English 2180-01: Studies in African American Literature
Spring 2013 Monday and Wednesday 2:00—3:30


Instructor: D. McMahand

Office: TLC 1113G                                                                

Office Phone:  678-839-4867 (only available during office hours)               

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday: 11am-12pm; Tuesday: 2-7

E-mail: dmcmahan@westga.edu

URL: http://www.westga.edu/~dmcmahan


COURSE DESCRIPTION:  This course surveys black literature dating from America’s colonial period up to the present day.  Examining a number of genres such as poetry, essay, prose, film adaptation, and spoken word, this course will analyze the historic, political, and cultural forces that have helped to shape the African American experience.  Finally, this course provides a platform for literary analysis that invites braided inquiries in race, class, gender, and sexuality.


Prerequisites: ENGL 1101 and ENGL 1102.



1)      To examine African American literature in the context of American culture and


2)   To read critically primary texts central to the development of the field

3)   To address issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, and region in the construction of the field and in the larger processes of canon formation

4)   To review and critique competing definitions of African American literature and culture, particularly as they inform the creation of the field

5)   To develop the habits of reading a variety of literary forms with concentration and interest

6)   To sharpen and strengthen skills in critical thinking, writing, and speaking through class discussion, presentations, and writing assignments in various modes

7)   To develop and encourage independent thinking

8)   To experience pleasure in the act of examining texts and exchanging ideas and information with other members of a literary community


Gates, Henry Louis and McKay, Nellie Y., The Norton Anthology of African American Literature, 2nd Edition (with accompanying CDs)


Larsen, Nella.  Passing.  Dover ed. 2004.


EXPECTATIONS:  For this course, I expect you to understand the historical context of the readings and to think for yourself.  Participation is a VITAL part of this class.  Each one of you is personally responsible for the quality of the time we spend together. You must come to class ON TIME, be attentive, complete all readings BEFORE class, and take the necessary time to think critically about each one.  I require you to bring your textbook to every class—what does it mean that I even have to write this expectation?  Bring to every class a few interesting issues or questions to discuss.  The first and most fundamental principle for participating in this class is RESPECT.  I promise to do my best to treat everyone in the class with respect, and I require everyone else in the class to do the same.  That said, you must understand that not every reading you offer can be wholly acceptable: not every interpretation is created equal.

ATTENDANCE POLICY: I make no distinction between excused and unexcused absences—no documentation or excuse is required for an absence.  The only allowable exception is school-related, such as band, sports, academic tournaments, etc.  In these cases, have your coach or academic director contact me or give me an official note explaining your absence.  If some sort of dire circumstance—serious injury or illness, death in the family, jury duty, etc—should arise please notify me as soon as possible so we can try to make arrangements.  Note that malfunctioning alarms or automobiles, extended vacations, poor time management skills, and an overactive social life do not qualify as dire circumstances. Also, any absence as a result of your having to go on a job interview will count as one of your three absences.  You may miss three days of class without penaltyNo make up work is given, so choose your absences carefully.  Each additional day missed after 3 may lower your final grade by five points for each day you miss.  March 4 is the last day to withdraw from class with a W and without incurring a WF.  

LATE ADD, LATE DROP, AND REINSTATEMENT: Late Add, Late Drop, and Reinstatement periods are no longer available. Students who wish to add or drop courses must do so during the scheduled Add and Drop periods. There is no Reinstatement period for students whose schedules are dropped.  On Friday, 1/18 at 12:00 Noon, the Drop period (with refund) ENDS. After that date, there is NO adding or reinstatement of classes and NO dropping classes with a refund.  Again, students may withdraw from classes up until Monday, March 4.

CLASSROOM DECORUM: Turn off all electronic communication devices—cell phones, beepers, etc.—before entering the classroom. These devices are inappropriate in the classroom setting. Do not talk or otherwise engage your peers during class except as part of the overall class discussion. All students should focus their attention on the class activity throughout the scheduled meeting time.

PLAGIARISM STATEMENT: The Department of English defines plagiarism as taking personal credit for the words and ideas of others as they are presented in electronic, print and verbal sources. The Department expects that students will accurately credit sources in all assignments. Plagiarism is grounds for failing this course. The Code of Student Conduct is in effect and will be enforced in this class. 


EXAMS and QUIZZES:  I will give daily quizzes to test your knowledge of the readings.  The questions will be very general in nature and require a minimal response.  Quizzes will be administered within the first 5 minutes of class.  Students are strongly encouraged to be prompt because you will not be given an opportunity to make-up missed quizzes. The midterm and final exam will include short answer (usually quote identifications), multiple choice questions, and essay questions.  Exams will cover material from the reading and from class discussion. 

PRESENTATION:  You will give a six to eight minute presentation relating to one of the texts slated for discussion.  In your presentation, you must provide historical, biographical, and publication contexts. Give relevant information, sometimes an author’s place of birth and schooling are not as interesting as the philosophies she endorses or the movement he clings to or the specific circumstances that provided the impetus for the literary composition.  You must also explain the relevance of the work to the author’s context and to the canon of African American literature.  In other words, how is the work influential to other writings in the black canon, and how does the work embody the principles, controversies, and aesthetics of an era?  For the presentation, provide a one page handout for the class and a Works Cited page.  In the handout include general points of interest, etc. 


A power-point can take the place of a handout, but you still must include a Works Cited panel.   Research your presentation—that means looking beyond the headnote in your anthology, Google, or Wikipedia.  You should give a professional, clear, coherent, well organized, and informative discussion.  Do not analyze the text—the class will take up that work.  Remember, you are providing context.   


PAPER:  You will write an essay—at least eight pages in length.  In the first part of the essay (the first page or so), you should summarize the main ideas from your presentation.  This will set up a clear context and focus for your argument.  Include a thesis, quotations, and research from credible sources (not Wikipedia).  All papers should meet MLA format regulations: they must be word-processed, double-spaced with one inch margins, left-justified only, and stapled in the upper-left-hand corner.  You should use Times New Roman font size 12.  Please do not use cover pages or plastic folders; instead, use the standard MLA heading and page number notation.  All essays should front interesting, descriptive titles, and you must document any source in MLA fashion, with parenthetical citations and a Works Cited list at the end of your essay.  You are required to have backup copies of all outside papers, and be able to produce such copies if necessary.  That you are unable to turn in your work because of some kind of computer malfunction is a completely unacceptable excuse. 



Midterm Exam                        20%                

Final Exam                              20%

Presentation                            20%                

Critical Analysis                      20%

Daily Quiz Average                20%


I reserve the right to adjust for participation, attitude, and effort.  I do not offer extra credit.  Let me expand on this point…


Never but never tell me that you need my class or that you need a certain grade in my class in order to … a) graduate, b) keep scholarship funds, c) get into an academic program, internship, job, etc., or d) maintain your grade point average.  I DO NOT bargain with students about grades.  I will not give extra credit to one student unless I intend to give it to the class as a whole.  The grade you earn is the grade you earn.  If you need an A, B, or C, then your work must speak for itself, and it will speak for itself—period.


LATE WORK: I will not accept late essays.  Late work is any work given to me after the deadline unless prior arrangements have been made with me.


SPECIAL NEEDSIf you have a registered disability that I can help accommodate, please see me at the beginning of the semester.  If you have a disability that you have not yet registered with the Disabled Student Services Office, contact Dr. Ann Phillips in 137 Parker Hall, 836-6428.


Course Schedule

This tentative schedule may change with appropriate notice from the instructor.  Please note that for each author listed, you will be required to read the biographical sketch provided, even if such page numbers are not specifically listed on the schedule.  Material from these notes will appear on your daily quizzes.  Page numbers represent only the start of a text, so you should read all of the text/excerpt unless otherwise noted.





M 7      Introductions, Syllabus Review, Appraising Definitive Texts


The Narrative of Slavery and Freedom, 1746-1865


W 9     Phillis Wheatley

            “On Being Brought From Africa to America” 219

            “To His Excellency General Washington” 225

             Critical Reception

            Alice Walker

            “In Search of Our Mothers Gardens” 2430


M 14    Frederick Douglass

            Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by

            Himself 387


W 16   Narrative (continued)


Jan. 21 MLK Day.  No class.


W 23               Booker T. Washington from Up From Slavery

            Chapter III The Struggle for an Education 586

Chapter XIV The Atlanta Exposition Address 594


           The Formation of the New Negro, 1865-1919


M 28    W.E.B. Dubois from The Souls of Black Folk

            Of Our Spiritual Strivings 693
            Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others 699


W 30   Paul Laurence Dunbar

            “A Negro Love Song” 909

            “We Wear the Mask” 918

            “Sympathy” 922

            “The Poet” 927




M  4     Alain Locke                                                       

           “The New Negro” 984             ***Presentations Begin


The Harlem Renaissance, 1919-1940

            Aesthetical Divides: How to Represent African American Lives


W 6     Nella Larsen



M 11    Passing (concluded)


W 13   George Samuel Schulyer

“The Negro-Art Hokum” 1221

            Langston Hughes

           “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” 1311


M 18    Countee Cullen

            “Yet Do I Marvel” 1341

            “Incident” 1342

             Rudolf Fisher

            “The City of Refuge” 1224


W 20   Langston Hughes

            “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” 1291

            “The Weary Blues” 1294

            “I, Too” 1295

             “Theme For English B” 1309

Zora Neale Hurston

            “Sweat” 1022 

Midterm Review


M 25    Midterm Exam           

Realism, Naturalism, Modernism, 1940-1960


W 27   Richard Wright

            “Blueprint for Negro Writing” 1403

            “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow, an Autobiographical Sketch” 1411


Mar. 4 is the last day to withdraw without incurring a WF.


M 4      James Baldwin

            “Everybody’s Protest Novel” 1699


W 6     Gwendolyn Brooks

             “the mother” 1625

             “a song in the front yard” 1626

             “Sadie and Maud” 1627

             “The Lovers of the Poor” 1635

             “We Real Cool” 1638


M 11    Ralph Ellison

             Invisible Man, Prologue 1548

 Chapter 1 1555


W 13               James Baldwin

            “Sonny’s Blues” 1728


March 18-22 Spring Break.


The Black Arts Era, 1960-1975


M 25    Amiri Baraka

            “Black Art” 1943

            Audre Lorde

            “Coal” 1922

           “Now That I Am Forever with Child” 1922


W 27   Lucille Clifton

            “[later i’ll say]” 2032

            “homage to my hips” 2033

            Nikki Giovanni

            “Beautiful Black Men” 2097

            “Nikki-Rosa” 2098

            “Knoxville, Tennessee” 2099 ***Presentations end.




Literature Since 1975


M 1      Maya Angelou

           “Still I Rise” 2155

           “My Arkansas” 2157

Alice Walker

            “Everyday Use” 2437


W 3     Yusef Komunyakaa

            “February in Sydney” 2529

            “Facing It”  2530  

            Rita Dove

            “Thomas and Beulah” 2617-2619

            “Pastoral” 2620


M 8      Gloria Naylor

            “The Two” 2585


W 10   Reviewing Rules of Essay Composition/

Grammar, Mechanics, and Format Review

M 15    Catch up. Film viewing.


W 17   Viewing concluded.  Essay Due.  Exam Preview.


Exam Schedule for 2180-01


2:00-3:20 classes....................Monday, Apr 22, 2:00-4:30 pm