Reading in Genre: Conjure in African American Lit
Known variously as conjure and hoodoo in the United States, vodou in Haiti, obeah in Jamaica, and Santería in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, African-derived spiritual, healing, and magic practices survived in the Americas despite slavery’s inordinate brutalities and consistent efforts to eradicate them. Bringing together writers from the United States and the Caribbean, this course will explore how enslaved Africans and their descendants retained and remade their knowledge of the supernatural world as strategies of resistance and agency, healing and survival.
Reading across a range of literary genres—including the southern gothic, magical realism, and historical fiction—as well as anthropology, we will mobilize conjure (and its Caribbean variants) to chart a hemispheric conception of African Diaspora literature. Readings include works by Charles Chesnutt, Zora Neale Hurston, Alejo Carpentier, Gloria Naylor, Maryse Condé, and Erna Brodber, among others. It may also include representations of conjure in film and television.
Some questions we may take up include: What is the sociopolitical function of conjure in African Diaspora literature and culture? How are these practices gendered in the tradition? How does conjure converge with and/or depart from Judeo-Christian religious practices and notions of Western rationality? What alternative epistemologies and ontologies emerge from the space and practice of conjure?