This semester (Spring 2012) I will be attempting to carry the class conversation beyond the parameters of the school and into cyberspace to allow any person interested in commenting and reading to discuss potential topics with the students who have decided to take this course. The book we are using is the 2nd Edition of The Norton Anthology of African American Literature edited by Henry Louis Gates and Nellie Y. McKay. Of course you do not have to have this book to follow along since I will be posting the name of many of the works, however some of these conversations will not make any sense at all to those dropping in. The intent here is not to show my intelligence in analyzing African-American Literature, or to prove that one person has more information than another. The goal is to open the discussion in an attempt to better analyze and understand why certain works are considered important enough to be placed in an anthology and why the relevance of these works of art-literature- remain needed and more relevant than other in Post Civil Rights America.
The first assignment in the course was an assessment. I asked the students, “Why is it necessary to isolate African American Literature into its own class?”
This is obviously a question that is leading, but I recall often when I was in college, speaking with peers (this was in grad school as well) that most of my White, Asian and Latino counterparts generally thought that there wasn’t enough African American Literature to occupy a larger section in American Literature courses.
My students, like my college peers, all wrote responses to the question assigned that stated that they had not really been introduced to any Black writers outside of Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou. Maybe one or two mentioned Frederick Douglas and Zora Neale Hurston. These are not students who are in Community College because they are not 4 year college material. These are students who are taking a more cost effective route to their education. Many of them went to top tier Memphis/Shelby County High Schools, yet they all admitted not being introduced to many African American Writers.
With that said, my first discussion question for both my students and anyone interested in signing up for the board is, “Is African-American Literature’s absence in high school one of the primary reasons race relations are still complex?” As I stated in class, this is not an ad hominem discussion. We are not looking to attack the person. We are looking to consider the literature and the societal influences that created the literature.
Prof. C.D. Burns, MFA