Black Literatures

April 28, 2010

Course Description

This course explores literature from the African diaspora – particularly West Africa, the U.S., and the Caribbean. A range of questions will guide our discussion including: What constitutes the African diaspora? What is the relationship between diaspora and nation? What are the connections between the African diasporas in the construction of a black identity? We will read fiction and drama from Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Jamaica, Haiti, England, and the U.S. (among other countries) with protagonists who often look to Africa and/or the ancestors for renewal and empowerment. Among the themes we will explore are oral tradition, folklore, reinvention, and cultural discovery. One of our goals is to make connections among diasporic works that seek to use the past as a means to overcome personal and communal dilemmas, to reconcile family disruptions, and to mend broken relationships.


Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
Ama Ata Aidoo, The Dilemma of a Ghost and Anowa
Michelle Cliff, Abeng
Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Paule Marshall, Praisesong for the Widow
Sembene Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood
Helen Oyeyemi, The Icarus Girl

Course materials marked with an asterisk (*) in the syllabus are also required. These include short stories, poetry, and essays and are available via My FAU (go to “My Courses,” click on “Black Literatures” and then click “Files” under “Course Tools”). You must print out a hard copy of each text and bring it with you to class.

Academic Service-Learning: This course is a service learning class which means that students who opt to participate in the class project will have service learning designated on their official transcript. For our project, we will partner with the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach. Those who choose not to participate can instead write a final 8-10 page research paper. For more info about service learning at FAU go to:

  • Class participation 10%
  • Quizzes 10%
  • Short Analysis Paper 15%
  • Exam 20%
  • Paper 25%
  • A S-L Project or Research Paper 20%


To encourage careful and close reading, there will be unannounced quizzes. Quizzes will test both literal comprehension and interpretation. They cannot be made up.

Class Participation: Your participation and contribution to classroom discussion are crucial. In general, I expect you to be present and prepared. Class participation includes actively and thoughtfully taking part in classroom discussion. Keep in mind that attendance will be taken (and tardiness will be noted). Missing more than five classes (excused or unexcused) will result in a 1/3 reduction of your letter grade (e.g., B to B-). If you know now that you will exceed this number because of personal and/or employment obligations, I advise you withdraw from this class before the end of the drop/add period. If regular tardiness is not commented upon, that does not mean it is acceptable. Three tardy days will equal one absence.

Short Analysis Paper: You will be asked to do a close reading of a passage (that I will assign) in one of the novels or short stories. A close reading means that you will analyze the passage and discuss its significance in terms of the larger issues, concern, themes, etc. of the text. You will be expected to comment on your paper in class the day it is due. Analysis papers should be between 1 ½ -3 typed pages.

Exam: Your two-part exam will consist primarily of identifications, short answer questions, and essays. The second half of the exam will be a take-home essay. Later in the semester I will talk more specifically about the format of this exam.

Paper: I will provide general paper topics however students must develop theses/arguments from those topics. All papers must be double-spaced, written in 12 point font (one in margins on all sides), between 7-9 pages. All assignments (including papers) are due at the beginning of class on the day specified. Papers turned in after that point will be considered late. Each day a paper is late, a student’s grade on that paper will be reduced by 1/3%. Please note I have a 24 hour policy when I return papers meaning I will not discuss paper comments or grades until you have had at least 24 hours to read and think about my comments.

Academic Service-Learning

Due to the nature of the course content, this course is designated as an “academic service-learning” course. The assistance you provide to the agency/organization during your service-learning experience is a service to the community. Throughout this course you will be reflecting on your service-learning experience and the impact on the community as well as your professional development. At the end of the semester, please complete the academic service-learning survey and submit the survey along with your signed Volunteer and Academic Service-Learning Log to the Weppner Center for Civic Engagement & Service (visit for your primary campus location). Once submitted and reviewed, you will receive an academic service-learning notation on your transcript.

Academic Service- Learning Project or Research Paper: The goal of the service learning component of this class is to further our examination of the importance of oral tradition in African Diasporic communities. There are three main criteria for academic service learning: relevant and meaningful service with the community, enhanced academic learning, and purposeful civic learning. For this class, each participating student will partner with an elder from a historically black area of Delray Beach who is affiliated with the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum ( Students (in pairs) will act as interviewers, asking one of the elders a series of thoughtful questions related to the role of oral tradition in their lives (proverbs, sayings, stories, childhood chants, songs, etc.). Students will transcribe interviewee responses and write a final reflection paper. At the end of the semester, the class will put all of the interviews together and present this to the museum so that they can have it as part of the history of their community members. Students who choose to write a research paper in place of the service learning project will turn in a 8-10 page research paper after turning in a 1 page paper proposal.

What is the African Diaspora?

8/24 Introduction
8/26 Gwendolyn Brooks, “To the Diaspora”*
Countee Cullen, “Heritage”*
Toi Derricotte, “An African/American in Paris: Variations on a Theme on the publication of the French translation of The Black Notebooks”*
Orlando Ricardo Menes, “Afrocuba”*
Colin Palmer, “The African Diaspora”* (56-59)
Tina Campt, “The Crowded Space of Diaspora: Intercultural Address and the Tensions of Diasporic Relation”* (first 4 pages 94-97)

Colonialism and Postcolonialism

8/28 Jomo Kenyatta, “The Gentlemen of the Jungle”* (36-39)
Bessie Head, “The Wind and a Boy”* (69-75)
Michelle Cliff, “Columba”* (2508-2514)
Nurudddin Farah, “My Father, The Englishman, and I”* (290-292)
Ania Loomba, “Situating Colonial and Postcolonial Studies”* (1-9)
Franz Fanon, “On National Culture” from The Wretched of the Earth* (415-421)

8/31 Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart 3-109
finish Loomba essay (10-19)
9/2 Things Fall Apart 110-153
9/4 Things Fall Apart 154-209

9/9 Sembene Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood 1-108
9/11 God’s Bits of Wood 109-154

9/14 God’s Bits of Wood 155-248
9/16 Leila Aboulela, “The Museum”* (243-258)
Austin C. Clarke, “Griff”* (95-109)
Lois Tyson, “Using Concepts from Postcolonial Theory to Understand
Literature” from Learning for a Diverse World* (189-196)
9/18 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Cell One”* (61-73)
Walter Mosley, “Equal Opportunity”* (2625-2635)

Ancestors and Memory

9/21 Paule Marshall, Praisesong for the Widow 9-102
9/23 Praisesong for the Widow 103-157
9/25 Praisesong for the Widow 158-184
Henry Louis Gates, “A Myth of Origins: Esu-Elegbara and the Signifying Monkey”* (3-22)
9/28 Praisesong for the Widow 185-256
9/30 Birago Diop, “Sarzan”* (27-39)
Chinua Achebe, “Dead Man’s Path”* (305-308)
10/2 EXAM

10/5 Edwidge Danticat, Breath, Eyes, Memory 3-61
10/7 Breath, Eyes, Memory 65-119
10/9 Breath, Eyes, Memory 120-171

10/12 Breath, Eyes, Memory 172-236
10/14 Ama Ata Aidoo, The Dilemma of a Ghost 3-53
Wole Soyinka, “Theatre in African Traditional Cultures: Survival Patterns”* (421-433)
10/16 Ama Ata Aidoo, Anowa 61-124

10/19 Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon 4-112
10/21 Song of Solomon 113-172
10/23 Song of Solomon 173-216

10/26 Song of Solomon 219-337

When Identities Collide

10/28 Michelle Cliff, Abeng 3-45
Mark Christian, “Jamaica in Context”*(93-98) from Multiracial Identity: An International Perspective
10/30 Abeng 48-142

11/2 Abeng 142-167
11/4 Helen Oyeyemi, The Icarus Girl 1-55
11/6 The Icarus Girl 56-166

11/9 The Icarus Girl 167- 272
11/13 The Icarus Girl 273-335

11/16 Farida Karodia, “The Woman in Green”* (284-302)
Danzy Senna, “The Land of Beulah”* (194-214)
Mark Christian, “South African and Jamaica: ‘Other’ Multiracial Case
Studies”* (87-93) from Multiracial Identity: An International Perspective
Werner Sollors, “Passing; or, Sacrificing a Parvenu”* (246-251) from Neither Black nor White yet Both: Thematic Explorations of Interracial Literature

11/18 FILM VIEWING: Illuisons (1983)

11/20 Carolyn Farrell, “Inside, A Fountain”* (144-163)
Mamle Kabu, “Human Mathematics”* (271-286)
Philippe Wamba, “A Middle Passage”* (150-169)
Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe, “Returning(s): Relocating the Critical Feminist Auto- Ethnographer”* (29-49)

11/23 TBA
11/25 TBA

11/30 Reginald McKnight, “Mali Is Very Dangerous”* (498-507); Alice Walker, “Everyday Use”* (274-281)
12/2 Class Wrap-Up & Evaluations

School: Florida Atlantic University
Professor: Dr. Sika Dagbovie
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