LIT306 : African American Literature : 1940s to the Present

Convener(s): Dr Rachel van Duyvenbode


General Information

"But my world has become one of infinite possibilities" (from Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man) This course examines the "infinite possibilities" of African American Literature by attending to various forms and "worlds" of contemporary black literature. We will explore a wide range of voices and genres that comprise the field including some of the following: neo-slave narratives, detective fiction, lyric and performance poetry, short-stories, black theatre, political and prison writing (Martin Luther King, Assata Shakur, Malcolm X), speculative fiction and satirical and humorous writing. The reading for this module follows both a chronological and thematic structure so that you are encouraged to explore connections between social and political contexts and aesthetic forms of representation. We will address key questions such as: "What makes African American literature black?"; "What do we mean by racial aesthetics?"; "What is the relationship between multicultural writing and African American literature?" and "What is the role of art in social justice movements?" Additionally, mindful that this may be your first encounter with black literature, you will be encouraged to reflect on how the curriculum you have studied at University reproduces or challenges ideas about diversity and aesthetic values and to address questions of power and knowledge production. In keeping with the critical focus on ideas of blackness and artistic expression, we will explore how gender, sexuality and social class impact on the vision of African American artists as well as acknowledge the significance of space (particularly urban environments) and region on the depiction of African American subjectivity. Each week's reading is framed by cultural and historical events defining the period including some of the following: the Civil Rights Struggle, Liberation Movements (Gender & Sexuality), Black Power, Black Arts Movement, 'the War on Drugs', Reparations for Slavery, Commodity Capitalism, Hurricane Katrina, President Obama and "Postracial" America. Finally, this module gives an opportunity for you to develop interests in literary theory as together we will explore how theoretical models advanced by poststructuralism, narrative and vernacular theory, trauma studies and critical whiteness studies can enhance our understanding of the forms and politics of representation visible in this dynamic field of study.


Teaching will be organised around a weekly workshop which will provide context for the reading in a lecture format or via the stimulus of video or group work and a weekly small-group seminar discussion where the focus will be on an exploration of some of the emerging ideas in your MOLE posts and discussion of key critical issues. There may be opportunity for us to organise a film club to support the syllabus (subject to student interest). A MOLE site will support the teaching and learning for this module.


The assessments are your opportunity to demonstrate initiative in your learning and to build critical thinking skills and engage opportunities for reflective learning. In Summary: Weekly MOLE posts and one collaborative group research assignment (15% of overall module grade) Mid-term assignment (35%, 1,500 words) Research Essay (50%, 2,500 words)

Contact Details

0114 222 8482

Information last changed: Thursday 17th of March 2016 :: 09:47:09 AM (GMT)

Please note: This module may or may not run in any individual session. Please check with the course convener.


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK