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Unit information: African American Literature in 2020/21

Unit name African American Literature
Unit code ENGL20111
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Forbes
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit surveys African American literature from the eighteenth century to the present day. We will explore questions like: Who “counts” as an African American writer? What are the intersections of gender, class and race in African American Literature? When did the African American literary tradition begin, and where is it today? How has the African American literature helped shape core American ideals such as freedom, equality, and citizenship?

African American literature encompasses all genres and modes, and reaches out to history, music, visual art, law and many other areas. Therefore students will learn how to: read, understand, discuss and write about African American poems, songs, personal narratives, essays, short stories, speeches, journalism and novels in relation to their political, social and economic contexts. Class time will combine lecture and discussion with frequent partner and small group assignments. In-class writing will help students sharpen and develop tools for literary and critical analysis.

Students will be given the opportunity to submit a draft or outline of their final essay of up to 1,500 words and to receive feedback on this.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate a good knowledge of the set texts, and be able to situate them within the African American literary tradition.

2. Demonstrate a good understanding of the relationship between Af Am literature and US literature, as well as key historical contexts.

3. Demonstrate an ability to compare and relate features of the set texts.

4. Construct a detailed argument in the appropriate register of English, which balances academic and professional evidence in support, and which is presented it in an appropriate academic form.

5. Adopt a critical approach in order to produce, to a deadline, a written/oral argument.

Teaching details

Teaching will involve asynchronous and synchronous elements, including group discussion, research and writing activities, and peer dialogue. Students are expected to engage with the reading and participate fully with the weekly tasks and topics. Learning will be further supported through the opportunity for individual consultation.

Assessment Details

  • 1 x 3000 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Norton Anthology Of African American Literature, eds. Gates and McKay

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Nella Larsen, Passing

Toni Morrison, Beloved