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Spring 2013 Course Descriptions

English 4905 - African American Youth Literature

Section 001       CRN 37325

African American Youth Literature     1000-1050 MWF

This is an opportunity to focus on the range of works written for or about African American children and young adults, starting in the early twentieth century, when racist depictions of African Americans were commonplace in mainstream children’s literature, up to the present moment, when works by African American authors and illustrators of youth literature regularly win major literary prizes.

To understand and appreciate the development of this literature, we will look at a variety of works produced over the last 100 years, with special attention to the historically specific contexts in which they were produced. This will enable us to identify some of the artistic and rhetorical strategies used by African American authors and illustrators in their negotiations with an industry that in 1965 was famously charged with responsibility for “the all-white world of children’s books.” We will also look at some depictions of African American characters by white authors and illustrators from before and after this turning point in the history of children’s literature.

We will cover a lot of ground in this course, both historically and generically: you will read picture books, poetry, and graphic narratives as well as novels and short fiction. Historical readings will include selections from The Brownies’ Book (1920-1921) and the first Nancy Drew book plus material from library collections and my own collection. As we approach the present moment, we will slow down to appreciate—and evaluate—touchstones of African American youth literature by Virginia Hamilton and Ezra Jack Keats, and the rich variety of works by contemporary authors such Jacqueline Woodson, Christopher Paul Curtis, Walter Dean Myers, and Rita Williams Garcia; poet Marilyn Carver; and illustrators Jerry Pinkney, Leo & Diane Dillon, and Kadir Nelson.

Assignments will include analytic responses, a formal review essay and a final exam essay and at least one oral presentation. Students taking the course for graduate credit will be assigned additional secondary readings and complete a more extensive research project with the expectation that they will present the results at the English Studies conference towards the end of the semester. (Group 2 & Group 5)