ENGL 773 (or) ENGL 873: Topics in Minority Literature: (W)Rites of Passing: Narratives of Shifting African American Identities

ENGL 773 (or) ENGL 873: Topics in Minority Literature: (W)Rites of Passing: Narratives of Shifting African American Identities

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania
Fall 2012

Veronica Watson, Associate Professor of English

Passing” is a term that has, until quite recently, been used to refer almost exclusively to a person classified by society as a member of one racial group choosing to live as a member of a different racial/ethnic group. In the U.S. it was borne out of an oppressive racial classification system that placed African American at the bottom of a hierarchy that denied them basic human, social, and political rights. Passing, as narrative content and form, has traditionally been understood as a response to those conditions, a critique of American social systems, and a revealing argument about the ambiguity of “race.” This almost sociological approach to reading the phenomenon of passing in literature accounts for the canonization of a fairly narrow list of titles within African American literature.
In this class we will engage a broader mix of 19th-21st century texts as passing narratives than is typically considered. We will also expand our understanding of the passing narrative by examining contemporary scholarship on the topic, like Mary Balkun’s The American Counterfeit: Authenticity and Identity in American Literature and Culture, Steven Belluscio’s To Be Suddenly White: Literary Realism and Racial Passing, Juda Bennett’s The Passing Figure: Racial Confusion in Modern American Literature, and Laura Browder’s Slippery Characters: Ethnic Impersonators and American Identities.

By the end of the class you are sure to have a new appreciation of the complexities and richness of these works and to have thought about new research trajectories that could lead to cutting-edge scholarship and publication opportunities.

The tentative literary reading list is as follows:
Charles Chesnutt: House Behind the Cedars
Willam and Ellen Craft: Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom
Grace Halsell, Soul Sister
Jessie Redmond Fauset: Plum Bun
Pauline Hopkins, Of One Blood
James Weldon Johnson: Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Nella Larsen, Passing
Martha A. Sandweiss, Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line
George Schuyler, Black No More
Danzy Senna, Caucasia
Walter White, Flight

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