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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL2206 African American Narrative: Eight Major Works

20 creditsClass Size: 18

School of English

Module manager: Dr Andrew Warnes

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

The rise of official racism in the United States has thrown the future study of African American literature into crisis. Budget cuts have left many Africana and Black Studies departments at risk of closure, and the President himself has condoned the violence directed at Black Lives Matter and other forms of antiracist activism. Yet this recent deterioration can also be thought of as marking a return to a more historically familiar mode of American existence in which political racism has operated in the open and African American literature and culture has persisted in the absence of institutional support. On this module, we place recent escalations, and the trenchant response they have elicited from Paul Beatty’s The Sellout (2015), for example, into a longer history in which African American writers have worked outside the academy and created a canonical tradition through their own autonomous means. Focusing on eight classic works from this autonomous tradition, we consider each both as an artwork in its own right and as a contribution in active dialogue with an emergent tradition of black letters. We consider the common store of historical traumas, cultural resources, and rhetorical figurations by which these texts have generated an alternative tradition to the Eurocentric lineages of the white American canon. Now known as African American literature, the modern development of this tradition—not just its periodic controversies and failures but its survival against the odds—thus provides us with our object of study, and anyone on this module will finish it knowing a huge amount more about African American cultural experience and its relationship to US power since 1900.


• To learn about the origins as well as the modern formation of the African American literary tradition.
• To grasp an understanding of the distinctive nature of this tradition—not just of the distinctive and traumatic history but also of the distinctive terms of reference, rhetorical practices, and chains of influence which set black US writing apart both from other literatures of the African Diaspora and from other traditions with the United States,
• To do this while also developing an understanding of the complexity and hybridity of the tradition: its openness both to those other literary traditions and to the non-literary traditions (field hollers, the Blues, folktales) that flourished from the slavery period onwards.

Learning outcomes
• Knowledge of several of the most important works within the modern African American literary tradition.
• Knowledge, as a result of this reading, of the most important literary phases and movements within this modern tradition.
• Understanding of new and leading humanities theories of race, power and identity
• Understanding of new and leading literary theories of the modern novel: modernism, narrative perspective or point of view, the oral tradition.


While over different sessions the module may include special presentations, fieldwork opportunities, and poster sessions, it will always follow a clear weekly structure composed of lecture, seminar, and peer group sessions. Within this continuing structure, students on the module will engage with eight of the most important works from the African American literature tradition since 1900. Topics will include the Harlem Renaissance; black nationalism; the Great Migration; signifying and the vernacular tradition; questions of gender and sexuality; the process of ghettoization; and historic and new forms of antiracist resistance. Students will develop, shape and complete their own essay assignments in response to this material; both these will contribute 50% towards the final grade of the 20 credit module.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Group learning101.0010.00
Independent online learning hours30.00
Private study hours145.00
Total Contact hours25.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

A clear and comprehensive reading list will be supplied well in advance of the first week of the seminar, and it will offer enrolees a vital guide as they begin, develop and deepen their independent study. A significant portion of this independent study will take the form of online materials which I will make available through links in Minerva. Other private study will focus on the primary texts of the module. Discussions of this primary reading will occur both in seminar class under my direction and in regular peer group meetings. During the phases between the setting and submission of each essay assignment, independent study time will also be used both to direct reading toward supporting the completion of this activity and to conceptualise, write and refine the essay itself.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Both essays on the module will be introduced and developed in dialogue with students during class time. Weekly seminars together with the opportunity for informal meetings via the consultation hour will support students as they identify areas of interest and topics to help explore them. Presentation in class will give students a further opportunity to share their ideas and receive responses to them from me. The feedback for essay one will be explicitly formative and its advice will look forward to the second essay project.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay2250 Word Essay50.00
Essay2250 Word Essay50.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:24:12


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