The Black Writer in America
  [an online course*]

ENGL A373:W51  Fall 2015
Dr. Barbara C. Ewell

   Black Writers of America

  Revised June 29, 2015*. 
All information here remains subject to change; check for updates.
This course will survey the many contributions of African-American writers to the literary traditions of the United States. Those contributions are virtually contemporary with the colonization of North America--represented in the poetry of African-born Phyllis Wheatley--and shaped the themes and genres of American literature for the next three hundred years. The wealth of available material will force us to be selective, but we will try to construct a coherent overview of the major writers and significant periods: from the slave narrative to local color fiction, from the Harlem Renaissance to the Civil Rights movement. Writers will include familiar figures like Frederick Douglass, Richard Wright and Toni Morrison as well as lesser-known authors such as Charles Chesnutt, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and Lorraine Hansberry. And to help us better appreciate the contexts of these works, we may also read a selection of non-fiction, by influential thinkers like W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Toni Morrison and James Baldwin.

Requirements will include reading and reflection on the texts, participation in weekly discussion forums on Blackboard, and the completion of a multi-part writing project on a Black writer in America.

An online course is conducted through the internet (Blackboard), though there will be an organizational on-campus meeting on *Thursday evening, August 27 (5:30 p.m.--7:30 p.m.) in BOBET 100 (The WAC Lab) and a final class meeting on Friday evening, December 11. Please contact me after August 15, if serious hardship or unavoidable conflict will keep you from attending the required organizational meeting. Students within driving distance should plan to attend--and attendees will find that the course goes much more smoothly. To be successful, online courses require that students have some degree of self-discipline.


Required Texts:
[Note: This list is still tentative and there may be changes or substitutions; some of these texts may also be available as e-texts.]

A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. New York: Bedford Books, 1993. ISBN 031207531-6
Harriet Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. New York: Dover Thrift Editions, 2001. ISBN 0486419312
Charles Chesnutt. Tales of Conjure and the Color Line: Ten Stories. New York: Dover Press, n.d. ISBN 0 486 40426 9
Hurston, Zora Neale.  Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Perennial, 1998  ISBN: 0060931418
Richard Wright. Native Son. New York: Harper, 2005. ISBN 006083756X
Lorraine Hansberry. Raisin in the Sun. New York: Vintage, 1994. ISBN: 0679755330
Toni Morrison. The Bluest Eye. New York: Penguin, 2000. ISBN: 0452282195
Z. Z. Packer. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere. New York: Riverhead Books, 2004 ISBN: 1573223786<
African-American Poetry: An Anthology. 1773-1930. New York: Dover, n.d. ISBN 0 486 29604-0


Instant Access: The Pocket Reference for Writers. Michael L. Keene and Katherine H. Adams. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003. ISBN: 0072819928

If you're trying to cut costs, many texts are also available secondhand through other commercial booksellers. But unless you just want to read these wonderful books anyway, please wait until this list is confirmed before you buy.

Course Pre-requisites

Course Requirements

Weekly Comments  (30-35%)
The heart of this course (apart from reading the texts themselves) will be our electronic "discussions": asking and answering each other's questions and sharing our responses. These discussions will be conducted on the "Discussion Board" of  Students will be expected to post a substantive comment  (150-300 words) in response to the text and my introductory remarks by Monday midnight. By the next Thursday, everyone in the class will have commented on or reacted to the responses of least two other people (100-150 words each).

Your participation in these weekly discussions, including the timely submission of comments and responses, will be graded contractually (all assignments = A; fewer = B, etc.) and will constitute your "class attendance."

You will be responsible for timely and regular contributions to the discussion group every week. If any lateness or irregularity persists in your submissions, you will be asked to drop the course or receive a failing grade.

Keeping up with these discussions is one of the most challenging parts of an online course, and falling behind is the chief reason for attrition--just remember that "online" isn't the same as "self-paced."

Black Writers Project (25-30%)

The formal writing in this course will be a series of assignments based on the contexts of and works by Black writers, both those covered in the course and from a supplementary list.  These assignments, due throughout the semester and involving various degrees of research, will provide some of the basic content for a final collaborative presentation.

Context Essays (15-20%)

Everyone will read and comment on at least three "Context Essays" during the course of the semester. Comments should be about 150-300 words, and at least two must be completed by midterm, and all three must be completed by the end of the semester.  These comments will be graded contractually: 3=A, 2=B, 1=C, 0=F.

Wiki Presentation of Research (15-20%)
A final collaborative electronic presentation (wiki or website) on one or more of the writers and regions covered in the class to be presented at the May on-campus meeting.

Final Examination (15-20%)
A comprehensive essay exam. Exemptions will be granted when all course work is submitted on time.