Race and Identity in American Literature

In this course, we will not only consider how writers portray and try to understand what it means to be distinctly human, but also explore what it means and entails to become a better human being, especially as we enter what many are calling a “second machine age” in which machines will take over jobs formerly occupied by human beings. What does it mean to be humane and to evolve into your own distinct humanity while pursuing your various definitions of success? What aspects of our identity get sacrificed in this pursuit of success, particularly in the context of what standards of success tend to look like in American culture? How is the label “human” wielded to exclude certain groups of people from that category? We’ll read essays by Sylvia Wynter and Lorraine Hansberry and fictional texts by Toni Morrison, Octavia Butler, Suzan Lori Parks, Claudia Rankine, and others:

Beloved, Toni Morrison
Lilith’s Brood Trilogy, Octavia Butler
Venus, Suzan Lori Parks
Essays, Lorraine Hansberry
I, Robot, both Isaac Asimov’s collection & Alex Proyas’s film
Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot