Although African American fiction is typically associated with realist writers, many of the earliest and many of the most highly regarded novels by African American writers have contained speculative elements—including alternate histories, ghosts, secret African kingdoms, fantastical plots, and futuristic scientific technologies. By examining the long history of this fictional sub-genre, this course traces how and why the formal and thematic conventions of speculative fiction have proven germane to the task of representing and reimagining the experience of being black in the United States. In particular, we will consider how speculative narratives open up new ways of thinking about the intersections of gender, race, and class; humanity, embodiment, and technology; and history, geography, and literary authority. In addition to short fictions by W. E. B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Samuel Delany, Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, Jewelle Gomez, and Nalo Hopkinson, we will read Pauline Hopkins’ Of One Blood (1902/03), George Schuyler’s Black No More (1931), Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao (2007), and Mat Johnson’s Pym (2011). Throughout our discussions, we will locate this body of literature within the context of African American political and intellectual history, while also reading these fictions both from the perspective of and as part of ongoing critical conversations on postcolonial theory, new historicism, critical race theory, whiteness studies, Marxism, and posthumanism.
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