African American Lit: Southwest TN – Literature of the Reconstruction – The New Negro Renaissance

Whew, that is one long title. We are switching gears and moving from the Literature of Slavery. Once again there is not enough time in one semester to take on the authors that you have heard of, let alone the authors you haven’t been introduced to. One of the primary elements of studying African American literature is that unlike reading literature by other cultures, Black Lit is directly influenced by the social situations of the time. Now of course Dickens and Amy Tan are writing from two distinct cultures and there is an influence from society, but I think what I am saying here is that those works have autonomy and can be read independently of the culture and as “fiction”. While writing from both the Slavery era and during the Reconstruction are so firmly rooted in the progression, or lack of progression, of Blacks in society that if the writing does not reflect the people it literally does a disservice to the advancement of the people. This creates a question that is still discussed today:

Does the literature have to maintain a certain amount of dignity and responsibility to be accepted as vital and important? Where does the importance derive? Who creates the importance and does a work that fails to develop a discussion of and about Blacks in a positive manner fail?

So we are in the post civil war era and I have another question: *How do you think the post Civil War era shaped the Literature?

Consider the fact that we are now moving from abolitionists and slave narratives to writing that professes equality. Consider Francis Harper’s speech about equality and its continued refrain of America “cursing its own soul” be trampling on the weakest and feeblest of its members. What does this mean?

More importantly the advent of the KKK in 1866 and the removal of laws from the Reconstruction literally wiped out any progress and this was further exacerbated by White Women deciding that they could not find themselves as second class citizens to Black men who had been granted certain opportunities during the Reconstruction and you find the Black American in another compromising position after the end of slavery. Sharecropping is another story that also effects the culture and art.

Here is where I test to see who is reading. You are excused from the test if you submit a paper in two parts: Literary critique (5 paragraphs) and an analysis of W.E.B. Du Bois’ Criteria of Negro Art and Two Novels (2-3 Pages MLA format with a minimum of 5 quotes, with a works cited entry of course. Your paper should analyze this topic: Did and Does art have the ability to change the perception of Blacks in society? Is thisspeech still relevant and how?

That is all for right now.

Prof. B.

P.S. Those of you following along, I would be interested in hearing your response to this question: W.E.B. poses and interesting question in Two Novels. He makes a statement about “catering to that prurient demand… for the portrayal in Negroes of that utter licentiousness.” Are the current trend of novels that cater to the “utter absence of restraint” a problem in today’s literature?