African American Autobiography is an ENGL 6360 course offering in the Spring of 2009 taught by Angela Ards.

Course Description Edit

This pro-seminar studies canonical and contemporary texts of black autobiography, arguably the single most influential genre in African American literary history. For a people defined as three-fifths human, creating a narrative self in the Western world has had great significance. By examining the autobiographical mode in traditional nonfiction narratives, as well as novels, poetry, and essays, we will track how this complex search for identity over the past three centuries launched a literary tradition. The self-written life poses challenging questions about truth and history, memory and imagination, identity and textual representation. To illuminate the methods and meanings behind autobiographers’ use of rhetorical strategies and cultural idioms to fashion a textual persona, we will supplement primary texts with secondary readings on autobiographical criticism, as well as African American literary and cultural theory.

Course Texts Edit

The list of texts below represents reading assignments from the original syllabus. During the semester, Prof. Ards made some changes.

Primary Texts Edit

  • Henry L. Gates Jr., ed, Classic Slave Narratives (Equiano, 1789; Douglass, 1845; Jacobs, 1861)
  • Vincent Carretta, Phillis Wheatley: Complete Writings (2001)—on reserve in Fondren Library and on Blackboard
  • Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (1855)
  • John Franklin, ed. Three Negro Classics (Washington, 1901; Du Bois, 1903; Johnson, 1912)
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road (1942)
  • Richard Wright, Black Boy (1945)
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  • Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1964)
  • Barack Obama, Dreams From my Father (1995)
  • Edwidge Danticat, Brother I'm Dying (2007)

Secondary Texts Edit

These texts were available on reserve in Fondren Library and were also distributed through Blackboard.

  • Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, Reading Autobiography (2001)
  • William Andrews, To Tell a Free Story (1986)
  • William Andrews, African American Autobiography: A Collection of Critical Essays (1993)
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr, The Signifying Monkey (1998)
  • Paul Eakin, ed. American Autobiography (1991)
  • Katherine Bassard, Spiritual Interrogations (1999)
  • Winston Napier, ed. African American Literary Theory (2000)
  • Eric Sundquist, To Wake the Nations (1993)
  • Valerie Smith, Self-Discovery and Authority in Afro-American Narrative (1987)
  • Deborah McDowell and Arnold Rampersad, eds. Slavery and the Literary Imagination (1989)

Recommended Texts Edit

  • Henry Louis Gates Jr, Pioneers of the Black Atlantic (1998)
  • James Olney, ed. Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (1980)
  • Audrey Fisch, ed. The Cambridge Companion to The African Slave Narrative (2007)
  • Robert Stepto, From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative (1979)
  • Robert O’Meally, ed. New Essays on Invisible Man (1988)

Sources Edit

Course Descriptions, Spring 2009. <>

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