Class name: “The New Black Arts Movement: Expressive Culture After Black Nationalism”
Taught by: Assistant Professor of English Asali Solomon
Here’s what Solomon had to say about her class:
This class frames contemporary African American literature as a response to the Black Arts Movement/Black Arts Era. The BAM refers to literature of the late 1960s and early 1970s that posited itself as a rejection of “white” aesthetic and political values in favor of a literature that would be an artistic expression of the racial justice activism of organizations like the Black Panther Party. In this course we are reading writers associated specifically with the BAM and more loosely associated with this era, including Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, June Jordan, and Audre Lorde. We are then turning to contemporary writers Evie Shockley, Claudia Rankine, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Octavia Butler to name a few. We will also listen to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. I hope students take away some knowledge of the BAM, which I think has had a crucial influence on contemporary culture. I hope they also gain some knowledge of the expansive range of African American literature in the late 20th and early 21st century. Finally, I want them to come away with a greater understanding of how historical context creates art.
I believe your average American student can get through an education in English knowing nothing about BAM—because it deliberately departs with certain kinds of literary tradition, because it was so politically strident, because it was sometimes violent and confrontational. Though I knew a lot about this literature from my parents, the work of writers like Baraka and Shange was all but ignored by my high quality education, including my Ph.D. in English. While scholars of African American literature have made arguments for its importance in American literature, it has not achieved a mainstream reconsideration. And yet its political stance and aesthetic innovations are key ancestors to a great deal of contemporary poetry—including spoken word—theater, fiction, and visual art. In many ways it also helped give rise to hip-hop, the global cultural influence of which can never be overstated.
See what other courses the English Department is offering this semester.
Photo of Kendrick Lamar with President Obama by Pete Souza/White House
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