A readings course for writers, this course will focus on the black radical poetic tradition from Modernism to the contemporary, with a particular emphasis on United States writers (although others might creep in). Modernism, like its successor, Postmodernism, is neither easily demarcated in terms of actual dates, nor is it easily defined. Much of what describes Modernism also describes Postmodernism. So, what use do we find in the terminology that supposes a distinction? We know, despite this slippage in terminology, however, that Modernism as an artistic movement—embraced by a range of practitioners in literature, music, and the visual arts—is often described as a "break" from, and a revolt against, Realism. We know also that Modernism is not only perceived as inherently Western, but also a movement whose archetypal figures are, for the most part, white and male (exceptions are H.D., Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Nella Larsen). When I was in graduate school, for example, not so long ago, H.D. was the only woman on the Modern Poetry syllabus; all others were white men, although Langston Hughes was sometimes alluded to.

In this course, we will examine both traditional/acknowledged black Modernists and those who are often omitted from the discourse of Modernism. At the same time, and perhaps, impossibly, we will attempt to consider black Modernism on its own terms. We will chart a trajectory from this historical and cultural movement to other, more contemporary radical poetries, and contextualize these poetries within their particular cultural, political, and technological milieus. To think critically about black Modernism means that we engage in a discussion not only about race and gender, but about societal attitudes about race and gender, and the relationship between a Modernism that cannot be extracted from these attitudes and a black Modernism that emerged alongside and against them.

Further, you will become familiar with a lineage of African American writers while considering questions of canonization. We begin with a brief introduction to Modernism, while thinking about the interpretive act of grouping and naming artistic movements. How do we understand texts in relationship to each other? How do we understand innovation in relationship to tradition? What and who are left out of the act of canonization (and why?), and how do we make sense of the work of "marginal" writers in relation to the canon?

Course requirements:

  1. Regular attendance.
  2. Three meditations to be exchanged with partner.
  3. Three partner responses to bi-weekly meditations.
  4. Two mini-essays inspired by the class discussion, in-class writing, wiki entries, and readings. These will be handed in to me on the due date.
  5. Weekly entries in the wiki. These don't have to be lengthy and can just be first thoughts about the reading, but will be essential to starting our in-class discussion.
  6. You are also required, of course, to read all the assigned material and be prepared for class discussion.
  7. A final longer essay that aspires toward publishable quality. This final essay will not only be handed in to me, but will, as well, be submitted to an appropriate literary journal, popular scholarly magazine (The New York Review of Books, Harpers, The Atlantic, Poets & Writers, The Writer's Chronicle, etc.), a literary anthology, or another appropriate venue. The research regarding where you will submit must be done by you, but you may consult me for guidance in this area.

Required texts:

Black Chant, Aldon Lynn Nielsen (excerpts)
Selected Poems, Langston Hughes
Cane, Jean Toomer
Harlem Gallery & Other Poems (1944-1965), Melvin B. Tolson
Blacks, Gwendolyn Brooks (1945-1967)
Local History, Erica Hunt (1993)
Narrative in the Life of the Brown Boy and the White Man, Ronaldo Wilson (2008)
Zong!, M. NourbeSe Phillip (2008)

The following texts can be downloaded from the web:

A Podium Presentation, Russell Atkins (1960)
The Matrix, (1970) N.H. Pritchard

Digital art:
Mendi+ Keith Obadike

Handouts include but are not limited to:

Jumbish (1962), Elouise Loftin
Poems (1968), Julia Fields
Poetry by Robert Hayden
Poetry by Bob Kaufman
Poetry by Amiri Baraka
Poetry by Jayne Cortez

Adrienne Kennedy, 1960s & 70s

Recommended Reading:
In the Break, Fred Moten

Assignment & Reading Schedule

Week one January 8
Introduction & Who Are the Modernists? What/Who Made
   them Modern?

Excerpt from Houston A. Baker's Modernism and the Harlem
(Preface and pages 1-24)
Excerpt from Paul Gilroy's "The Black Atlantic as a Counterculture to Modernity"

Week two January 15
Finish Houston & Gilroy
Read Tolson's Harlem Gallery

Exchange: Meditation #1

Week three January 22
"Introduction," Black Chant, Nielsen
A Street in Bronzeville & Annie Allen, Gwendolyn Brooks

Week four January 29
Maud Martha, Gwendolyn Brooks

Response: Meditation #1

Week five February 5
Excerpts from Selected Poems,
   Langston Hughes

DUE: Essay in miniature # 1

RECOMMENDED ATTENDANCE to some portion of the Micro-Conference on African American poetry featuring Carl Phillips, Arnold Rampersad, Mendi Lewis Obadike, and GE Patterson on Friday, FEBRUARY 6th.

Week six February 12
Cane, Jean Toomer Exchange: Meditation #2

Week seven February 19
A Podium Presentation, Russell Atkins

Response: Meditation #2

Week eight February 26
Zong!, M. NourbeSe Phillip

Exchange: Meditation #3

Week nine March 5
Local History, Erica Hunt

Response: Meditation #3

Week ten March 12

Week eleven March 19
The Matrix, N.H. Prichard

Due: Essay in miniature #2

Week twelve March 26
Jumbish, Elouise Loftin (excerpt)
Poems, Julia Fields (excerpt)

Week thirteen April 2
"A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White" and other one-act plays, Adrienne Kennedy

Week fourteen April 9
Narrative, Ronaldo Wilson

Week fifteen April 16
Excerpts from Bob Kaufman, Jayne Cortez, Amiri Baraka

Week sixteen April 23
Digital art by Keith+Mendi Obadike and others

Due: All final work including final essay & portfolios of meditation exchanges

Copyright © 2013 by Dawn Lundy Martin.