2019 - 2020

  James Baldwin and His Legacies  
Spencer MorrisonWebb - School of Languages501 Sun1600-1800 Sem  1
Webb - School of Languages501 Wed1600-1800 Sem  1
University credit hours:  4.0

Course description

James Baldwin and His Legacies – BA Seminar

James Baldwin was one of the most influential African American and queer writers of the twentieth century, not to mention one of its supreme literary stylists. Not only his writing but his biography—characterized by celebrity and nomadism—is remarkable. This seminar explores Baldwin’s career from the 1940s to the 1980s, exploring the major preoccupations, literary forms, stylistic maneuvers, and identity positions adopted in his works. We will read from his body of fiction (Go Tell It on the Mountain; Giovanni’s Room; Another Country), non-fiction (The Fire Next Time; assorted shorter essays), and drama (Blues for Mister Charlie). How does Baldwin as essayist, novelist, or dramatist configure identities of nation, gender, race, and sexuality? How do his works respond to cultural pressures of the Cold War? In what ways do his works inaugurate or anticipate concepts now foundational in queer theory and critical race theory? Although our focus will remain squarely on Baldwin’s works themselves, we will track the travels and dislocations within Baldwin’s own life that invigorated the reflections on selfhood that pervade his writing.

After surveying Baldwin’s major works, we will search out his literary legacies in the works of major contemporary authors such as Ta-Nehisi Coates, Hilton Als, Maggie Nelson, and Toni Morrison. Through their works, we will ask what Baldwin has bequeathed to contemporary American culture, as well as what forces have mediated that bequest.

Evaluation Method: Term Paper (75%); Seminar Participation (15%); Term Paper Abstract (10%)

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