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 English 253
Course Notes

Course Notes
Literature of the Slavery and Freedom: 1746--1865
Literature of the Reconstruction to the New Negro Renaissance: 1865--1919
Literature of the Harlem Renaissance:  1919--1940

The editors of The Norton Anthology of African American Literature state that the literature illustrates four themes: 
  1. Bondage and freedom - Early African American writers have demonstrated the quest for liberty beginning with the slave narrative. In the twentieth century, writers continue to illustrate through fiction, poetry, and drama how places, situations, and concepts can enslave people. Many women writers demonstrate how gender bias thwarts the freedom of women and denies them equal participation in American society. 
  2. City - Migration from the rural South to the urban North has been a subject of African American literature. Early slave narratives depict the slave's flight to freedom to a city. Nineteenth and twentieth writers often demonstrate that life in the urban North is as harsh as life in the South. 
  3. Family - African American literature has traditionally portrayed family relationships. It has shown the importance of extended families as well as the complicated relationships among family members, including mother and children, father and children, and husband and wife. 
  4. Identity - Historically, African American literature, beginning with slave narratives, has demonstrated African Americans' search to define who they are and what their relation to the world is. In slave narratives, slaves begin to assume a sense of self by achieving freedom. Some characters in the literature cannot accept who they are because society does not accept them, and they exist in confusion while trying to determine who they are. They often discover their identities by relating to their African heritage and individuals or parts of their communities who have established strong images. 
As you read the literature this semester, look for these themes and others, such as alienation and isolation, love, equal rights, conformity, and generational conflicts. 

Literature of the Slavery and Freedom: 1746--1865
The course will begin with readings from The Literature of Slavery and Freedom: 1746-1865. The editors of the textbook write that "this literature is concerned with the freedom, both literal and spiritual, of African Americans as well as other Americans and with the disparity between what America says and does." One of the dominant genres produced during this period was the slave narrative. The antebellum slave narrative presents the slave's struggle over great odds to escape from slavery and to achieve freedom. 

Major authors in this period are: Olaudah Equiano, Phyllis Wheatley, David Walker, Sojourner Truth, Maria Stewart, Harriet Jacobs, William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass, and Frances E.W. Harper

Please click on the names of authors to see details.

Literature of the Reconstruction to the New Negro Renaissance: 1865--1919
Writers in this period presented the issues of slavery and freedom, color and racial discrimination. The postbellum slave narratives illustrates the ex-slave's attempt to create a meaningful life and full citizenship in the United States after the abolition of slavery. 

The major authors in this period are: Booker T. Washington, Charles Chesnutt, W.E.B. Du Bois, and James Weldon Johnson

Please click on the names of authors to see details.

Literature of the Harlem Renaissance:  1919--1940
The final historical period for study is the Harlem Renaissance: 1919-1940. The Harlem Renaissance was a period of artistic creation by African Americans which occurred primarily in Harlem, New York. During this time, African American writers published more fiction and poetry than in previous periods, black literary journals were created, and authors and artists received critical acclaim. Writers had freedom to express diverse themes through the use of various forms and literary techniques. Literature of this period illustrated the African American's reevaluation of his African heritage and pride in his racial heritage. 

The major authors in this period are: Claude McKay, Zora Neal Hurston, Jean Toomer, Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes

Please click on the names of authors to see details.