ENGLISH 653 - Topics in Twentieth Century American Literature
Fall 2020, Section 001
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is   Hybrid (see other Sections below)
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
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Waitlist Capacity:
With permission of instructor.
Advisory Prerequisites:
Graduate standing and permission of instructor.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:


In a much-cited New York Times editorial that focuses on the deaths of young black males, Claudine Rankine asserts that “the condition of black life is one of mourning.” Beginning with literary, visual, and filmic reactions to the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till, whose battered face continues to haunt the (black) American imagination, we will examine the always-vexed (and often vexing) representations of the structural vulnerability and violent deaths of black boys. We will explore, among other examples, the following cases: the Atlanta Child Murders; the 1981 murder of Michael Donald, “the last recorded lynching in the United States”; the life and death of Birdie Africa/Michael Moses Ward, the lone child survivor of Philadelphia’s bombing of MOVE; the Central Park Five, long-imprisoned innocent black and brown boys whom Donald Trump’s insistence that they be executed rendered them, by their own account, “modern-day Emmett Tills”); and, finally, the 21st century murders of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Oscar Grant, and Mike Brown. Looked at in conjunction with literary works, including Toni Morrison’s Sula, Julius Lester’s And All Our Wounds Forgiven, Albert French’s Billy, and Randall Kenan’s A Visitation of Spirits, as well as scholarly formulations of black masculinity, death, trauma, and mourning, these cases will help us to glean, among other things, how and whether the condition of which Rankine speaks has shaped post-Civil Rights black American masculinity itself.

Course Requirements:

Weekly writing assignments, one conference-length (10-15 page) paper, and the composition, on two occasions during the semester, of discussion questions.


ENGLISH 653 - Topics in Twentieth Century American Literature
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
MW 11:30AM - 1:00PM

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