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 (as opposed to being an animal, a monster, or a robot, for example), 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, on the one hand, and to flatten or universalize our claims to belonging to other identities, on the other hand? Students will be able to ponder these questions through essays by Sylvia Wynter, Frantz Fanon, and Peter Cappelli and with assistance from some of the following texts:

1.   Title: Citizen: An American Lyric
Author: Claudia Rankine

2.  Title: David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World
Author: Peter P. Hinks (Editor, Introduction by, Annotations by)

3.  Title: Lilith’s Brood
Author: Octavia E. Butler

4.  Title: Venus
Author: Suzan-Lori Parks

5.  Title: Monster (Reprint)
Author: Walter Dean Myers; Christopher Myers (Illustrator)

6.  Title: John Henry Days
Author: Colson Whitehead

7.  Title: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Author: Rebecca Skloot