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Big Books of American Literature: Revising Racial Fictions (Fall 2016)

Anne Dalke's picture

Anne Dalke, English 208, TTh 2:25-3:45, Taylor C,  Bryn Mawr College

"You can't write an honest novel about race in this country....if you're going to write about race, you have to make sure it's so lyrical and subtle that the reader who doesn't read between the lines won't even know it's about race." --Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah: A Novel (2013)

"None of us is naïve enough to believe that the 'canonical' is self-evident, absolute, or neutral." --Henry Louis Gates, Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars (1992)

"letters and words became my materials...the association of the letters like body cells can create words in more complex organisms; and the words between them can form a text that, gathered with others, can write a culture.” --
Jaume Plensa, "Overflow" (2005), Besthoff Sculpture Garden, New Orleans City Park



This class is part of a cluster of three courses in a 360° on The Poetics and Politics of Race: Querying Black & White, which aims to unpack how meaning is made from representations of race—from artifacts in an anthropological context, to representations in literature, to how people teach and learn.

In this course, we will re-view the canon of American literature through the lenses of contemporary theory and culture, considering American literature as an institutional apparatus, under debate and by no means settled. This will involve a certain amount of anti-disciplinary work: interrogating books as naturalized objects, asking how they reproduce conventional categories, and how we might re-imagine the cultural work they perform. We will look at the problems of exceptionalism as we examine traditional texts relationally, comparatively, and interactively.

Accommodations (expanded version of the syllabus statement from Access Services): it is likely that each of us will need some space--extra time and/or extra attention--@ some point during the course of the semester.  To accommodate this, our shared responsibility involves both letting others know if we can't meet an obligation, and making alternative arrangements.  For example, if you need to miss a posting, let me know ahead of time. If you need to miss class, also let me know; then read my course notes and do an extra posting reflecting on "what you might have said," had you been here.

* attend and participate in class;
* do the reading (many of our texts are available on line, some in our protected reading file;
you should also buy or borrow copies of 6 books: Beloved,The Truth About Stories, Getting Mother's Body, The Book of Salt, Between the World and Me, and Americanah);
* meet twice with Anne to discuss your writing;
* post nine on-line reflections (first Wednesday of classes; then each Tuesday by midnight, during the second 1/2 of the semester);
* submit three 1500-word papers, approx. 6 pp, due by 5 p.m. on Mondays: Oct. 3, Nov. 7, Dec. 5.

Sylla-ship ("because a bus isn't big enough")

Day 1, Tues, Aug. 30: Beyoncé, Lemonade: The Visual Album (2016):

By 5 p.m. on Wed, Aug. 31: short posting #1, a description of your favorite drink, speculating a bit about what it “represents” about yourself (nothing heavy here-- just a paragraph to practice getting on Serendip, finding your way around the website…) Alternatively, if you're "over" the favorite drink theme, post your initial reactions to one or more of the essays by hooks, Monk, Kornhaber and crawley.

Day 2, Thurs, Sept. 1:
bell hooks, "Moving Beyond Pain," May 9, 2016:
"Janet Monk's Facebook Page," May 9, 2016 (10:13 a.m.):
Spencer Kornhaber, "Beyoncé's Lemonade and the Sacredness of Sex," The Atlantic, April 26, 2016:
ashon crawley, "pleasure (but not) politics: on beyoncé,” December 20, 2013:
"calamitys child" just added Mbiyimoh Ghogomu, "Dear Black America, Please Stop Giving Beyonce A Pass On 'Formation,'” The Higher Learning, February 19, 2016:

1-4 p.m. Fri, Sept. 2: Bryn Mawr Special Collections, Canaday 205

Day 3, Tues, Sept. 6
#Lemonade Syllabus, compiled by Candice Benbow:
[one in a sequence of contributions to a new genre; for example:
#charleston syllabus:
curriculum for White Americans: ]

Rebecca Solnit, “80 Books No Woman Should Read: RS Tries to Kill a Zombie,” Literary Hub (November 18, 2015):
jschlosser, "Who Gives a Fuck About Tocqueville?" October 27, 2015 (1:34 p.m.): /oneworld/arts-resistance/who-gives-fuck-about-tocqueville
Anne Dalke, "WTF; or, a legacy of failure," November 16, 2015 ( 10:07 a.m.): /oneworld/comment/26631#comment-26631

Day 4, Thurs., Sept. 8: Toni Morrison, "One," Beloved (1987; rpt. New York: Vintage, 2004), pp. 3-165.

12-4 p.m. Fri, Sept. 9: "Creative Africa," Philadelphia Museum of Art

Day 5, Tues, Sept. 13:
Morrison, "Two," Beloved, pp. 169-235.

Day 6: Thurs, Sept. 15:
Morrison, "Three," Beloved, pp. 239-275.

12-4 p.m. Fri, Sept. 16: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Day 7, Tues, Sept. 20: 
Avery Gordon, Chapter 4: "not only the footprints but the water too and what is down there," Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008), 137-190, accessed April 15, 2016,

Grace Pusey, “’Unghosting’ African American Women’s Labor History at Bryn Mawr College, 1880-1940.” Unpublished manuscript, 2016, in our protected reading file.

Take the "Black at Bryn Mawr" Digital Tour.

12:30 p.m., Wed, Sept. 21, Kris Graves speaking in the Visual Culture Series, Thomas 224 

4:30 p.m. Wed, Sept. 21: opening reception for Kris Graves' exhibit, The Testament Project, in Canaday Rare Book Room

Day 8, Thurs, Sept. 22: Thomas King, Sections I-III. The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2008), pp. 1-90.

12-4 p.m. Fri, Sept. 23:  "Creative Africa," redux

If you are interested in a writing conference with Anne, to discuss paper #1,
please schedule it this week, after you've begun to think about some possibilities....

Day 9, Tues, Sept. 27:  
King, Section IV-Afterward. The Truth about Stories, pp. 91-168.

Day 10, Thurs, Sept. 29:
Diane Glancy, "The First Indian Pilot” and "Jack Wilson or Wovoka and Christ My Lord," in Firesticks: A Collection of Stories (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 3-18 (in our protected reading file).

Eve Tuck and C Ree,  "A Glossary of Haunting" in Handbook of Autoethnography, ed. Stacey Holman Jones, Tony E. Adams, and Carolyn Ellis (Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press Inc., 2013): 639-65 (in our protected reading file).

We will spend some of Thursday's class in small group writing workshops, to jump start the upcoming paper
Bring with you to Thursday’s class a hard copy of A PARAGRAPH OR A SERIES OF NOTES/BULLET POINTS
about what you might do.  What text will you read, and what text will you read it with-and-through?

ALL DAY Fri, Sept. 30: 
Museum of African American History and Culture
(in Washington, D.C.)!!!!

5 p.m. Mon, Oct. 3: Paper #1 (1500 words = 6 pp.): An analysis of how
Lemonade, Beloved, or The Truth About Stories "works,"
using as a critical lens a single text from a discipline that you have felt helpful in guiding your own thinking (this could be something you read for Jody or Monique; could be a text from a class you took/are taking in comparative literature, philosophy, psychology, sociology....could be Avery Gordon, or Tuck and Ree, from this class).Tell us what using this particular critical lens offers you/us; and then tell us specifically what it illuminates about one particular literary text (Lemonade, Beloved, or The Truth About Stories), in a way that you find helpful, problematic, or....?

Day 11, Tues, Oct. 4: James Baldwin, "Everybody's Protest Novel," 1949; rpt. Notes of a Native Son, 1955:

-----, “A Letter to My Nephew,” The Progressive, December 1962, posted on-line December 4, 2014,

Suzan-Lori Parks, "Possession," from "Elements of Style," and "An Equation for Black People on Stage," in The America Play and Other Works (New York: Theatre Commnications Group, 1995), 3-22; "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1999), all in our protected reading file.

Day 12, Thurs, Oct. 6: Suzan-Lori Parks, Getting Mother's Body (New York: Random House, 2004), pp. 1-90.

12-4 p.m. Fri, Oct. 7: Barnes Foundation

FALL BREAK Oct. 7-16

Day 13, Tues, Oct. 18:  Getting Mother's Body, pp. 91-181.

By midnight Tues, Oct. 18: short posting #2, reflecting on this week's reading or discussing or...

Day 14, Thurs, Oct 20: Getting Mother's Body, pp. 182-263.

4 p.m. Thurs, Oct. 20: conversation with Suzan-Lori Parks, English House Lecture Hall

Day 15, Tues, Oct. 25: Monique T.D. Truong, The Book of Salt (New York: Mariner, 2003): through Chapter 8, p. 84.

By midnight Tues, Oct. 25: short posting #3, reflecting on this week's reading or discussing,
or on last week's conversation with Suzan-Lori Parks

Day 16, Thurs, Oct. 27: class cancelled
3-7 p.m. field trip to Norris Square Neighborhood Project: Latino Culture, Youth and Gardening, 2141 N. Howard Street, Philadelphia PA 19122:

Day 17, Tues, Nov. 1: The Book of Salt: through Chapter 16, p. 175.

Anne's available for writing conferences this week.

By midnight Tues, Nov. 1: short posting #4, reflecting either on last week's visit to Norris Square, or this week's reading or discussing

Day 18, Thurs, Nov. 3: 
The Book of Salt, to end.
In-class writing workshop?
By midnight Mon, Nov. 7, Paper #2 (1500 words): A close reading of some portion of either Getting Mother's Body or The Book of Salt (or an alternative project that you review with me before you start writing it....:)

Day 19, Tues, Nov. 8: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Part I, Between the World and Me (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015), pp. 3-71.
Please also re-read James Baldwin, “A Letter to My Nephew,” The Progressive, December 1962, posted on-line December 4, 2014,

[Additional suggested reading: 3 essays reflecting on the relationship between the work of Baldwin and Coates:
Michael Eric Dyson, “Between the World and Me: Baldwin's Heir?” The Atlantic, July 23, 2015,

Melvin L. Rogers, "Between Pain and Despair: What Ta-Nehisi Coates is Missing," Dissent Magazine, July 31, 2015,

Vinson Cunningham, "Why Ta-Nehisi Coates Isn’t Our James Baldwin,” New York News and Politics, August 5, 2015 (4:39 p.m.), ]

 By midnight Tues, Nov. 8: short posting #5, reflecting on this week's reading or discussing.

Day 20, Thurs, Nov. 10: 
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Parts II-III, Between the World and Me, pp. 73-152.

[Additional suggested reading: 2 essays reflecting on Coates' recent work on the Marvel comic series, Black Panther:
Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Conceptualizing the Black Panther." The Atlantic Notes, December 2, 2015-April 5, 2016:

Jonathan W. Gray, "A Conflicted Man: An Interview With Ta-Nehisi Coates About Black Panther," New Republic, April 4, 2016: ]

Day 21, Tues, Nov. 15:  spend classtime reading Adichie's novel.

By midnight Tues, Nov. 15: short posting #6, sharing your initial reactions to Americanah: What interests (grabs/puzzles/troubles) you?
What would you like us to talk about on Thursday?

Day 22, Thurs, Nov. 17: 
shifting into independent studies

Day 23, Tues, Nov. 22: individual meetings

Before you leave campus Tues, Nov. 22: short posting #7, laying out next steps toward your independent study

Thurs, Nov. 24: Thanksgiving

Day 24, Tues, Nov. 29: 
individual meetings

By midnight Tues, Nov. 29: short posting #8, describing the progress you are making on your independent study: what texts you’ve settled on, what questions you’re asking of them, how you might go about exploring them, what deadlines you’re setting yourself for reading-and-writing. If you haven't already met with me once to set up such guidelines, please make an appointment to do so within the week. If you'd like to make a second appointment to explore some of these things further, please also be in touch.

Day 25, Thurs, Dec. 1: 
individual meetings

Day 26, Tues, Dec. 6: individual meetings

By midnight Tues, Dec. 6: short posting #9, outlining the paper you will write about your independent study

Day 27, Thurs. Dec. 8:
individual meetings

12:30 p.m., Fri, Dec. 16: Paper #3 (1500 words):  reporting on the outcomes of your independent study--
along with all other final work; see
Portfolio Instructions and Checklist

Anne's Reading Notes...