African Diaspora Literature: Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Black Writers


Black Lives Matter
Tsitsi Jaji
12:00-1:15 p.m.
Allen 326

(CCI) (EI) (W) (ALP) (CZ)

Black lives have always mattered to Black people, and literature has been a crucial way to articulate the beauty and power of Black culture within and beyond its bounds. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 crisis police violence, and incarceration call for the study of Blackness from a cultural, historical perspective. The term “Black” has been used in multiple ways since the 15th century, influenced by race-thinking, colonization, and slavery. This course will focus on how diverse Black cultures think with and about each other. Beginning with the 17th century biography of an Ethiopian nun who resisted colonization, we will turn to writers like Phillis Wheatley, Mary Prince and Maria Stewart who used their words to call for Black freedom in the 18th and 19th centuries. How did African, Caribbean, and U.S. Black women envision freedom. What are the connections between their work and black women’s leadership in today’s Black Lives Matter movement?

In the wake of emancipation and the struggle for full civil, and human rights involved thinking Blackness in an international framework of solidarity. This was never easy. We will turn to a question first formulated by Countee Cullen, a leading poet of the Harlem Renaissance: “What is Africa to me?” For African Americans, the continent beckoned as a site of origin, as we will see in Maya Angelou’s memoir of her years in Ghana, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, and Saidya Hartmann’s moving account of her study trip there, Lose Your Mother. African writers also reflected on what pan-African, nationalist, and later, Afropolitan ideas meant for what “Africa” meant. We will welcome author Novuyo Tshuma as we read her multi-generational political novel, House of Stone. In closing we will return to the immediate prompts for this topic: anti-black violence and COVID’s disproportionate impact on black and brown communities.

This class focuses on literature but also includes film, non-fiction, and scholarly articles. No experience in literary study is expected, and grades are based on class discussion, short reflection papers, and an extended essay or creative project. There are no exams in this class.


Late-nineteenth-century to contemporary writers, including African American, Caribbean, and African authors. Satisfies the Area III requirement for English majors.
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Curriculum Codes
  • CCI
  • EI
  • W
  • ALP
  • CZ
Cross-Listed As
  • AAAS 224
Typically Offered
Fall and/or Spring