I just finished teaching my Global Black Lit course, which makes the quarter very nearly done. In just a couple hours, I’ll be done with teaching (after the last session of my Literary Theory class). This marks the end of my fourth academic year at Drexel (whoa) and my… twelfth quarter. The quarter system is wild.
In retrospect, I wish I had selected something (anything…) from Latin America for my Global Black Lit class, because it’s really the glaring omission on this map.
I wanted to illustrate where the texts and authors we read during the course came from. I feel OK about the breadth of African nations we covered–it was only ten weeks!–and the connections we made to the U.S. and Europe. But clearly, there’s are whole continents missing. I know I can find Cuban and Brazilian authors of African descent whose works are familiar enough to teach, and I can actually read the original versions of some of these, which always helps, but I realize I’m sorely limited when it comes to experience teaching Afro-Latinx writers.
However, I do feel affirmed by the positive feedback I received from the one African student in the class. He’s Ugandan; he brought up a few examples from his experience of the country’s recent history that I think the class found meaningful, and I certainly appreciated them. The last thing you want when teaching a subject where few students in the course have any frame of reference for the material in their prior experience is to further alienate those who do. More importantly, though, he said he’d discussed some of the material we read with his father, he feels like the course was eye-opening, he had recognized how African authors are looked down upon and cut out of conversations about literature, and he appreciates that we got to read things he never would have otherwise. And he’s going to hang on to the texts for his personal library (I assume all students do this, but I have to remember that I’m an English professor so of course I kept all the books). I pointed out that my former department head edits the Journal of the African Literature Association, in part to remind myself that I’m not the expert around these parts. Fortunately, I’m in good company.
As the map above indicates, we dealt with a works from variety of language communities.I feel good about that. Many of the works were originally published in English or in French. It’s hard to detect at the scale above, but we read the work of Frantz Fanon and Suzanne Césaire representing Martinique. I strongly recommend The Great Camouflage to basically everyone, and if I were to teach this course at the graduate level, I’d assign the work of my esteemed colleague Vanessa Agard-Jones on this country and its contexts, as well. Come to think of it, Christopher Miller’s book The French Atlantic Triangle would be a good read for this, and so would Juan Flores’s Afro-Latin@ Reader. Interesting how thinking about the shift from undergrad to graduate teaching involves replacing primary texts with criticism.
Anyway, we read great stuff: George Schuyler’s Black Empire–essential! Some essays by and about Claudia Jones…
…an excerpt of Wangari Maathai’s memoir, and the film Rostov/Luanda by Abderrahmane Sissako, which I totally understood this time! I was pretty pleased with my students’ writing this term, in general, so I hope this trend continues throughout the oncoming wave of final paper grading. Fingers crossed, inbox open. Next time around, I may utilize more films, at least optional basis. I’d planned to show Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years, and I could assign Marguerite Abouet’s Aya of Yopougon, since I like it so much. If I assigned material on that basis, I’d have derailed the syllabus early on and shown Lemonade 🍋.