ENGL 316
Blackness, Theater, Theatricality Spring 2017
Division I Exploring Diversity Initiative
Cross-listed ENGL 316 / AFR 336
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Representations of African American life have pervaded the various genres and tiers of American culture, embodying a carnival of competing attitudes and perspectives. Many oddities and ironies result from this curious history. For example, African Americans as theatrical figures enter American consciousness via the minstrel stage, where white entertainers wearing burnt cork lampooned Negroes to amuse white audiences. Eventually, black performers created their own versions of minstrelsy, black playwrights created dramas more sympathetic to black life, and representations of black life proliferated in every noteworthy medium. This course will consider how attitudes about blackness have informed or deformed theatrical representations of African American life. It will examine major texts by African American writers, considering both their social importance and their aesthetic experiments and innovations. It will range from politically oriented works of social realism such as Theodore Ward’s Big White Fog and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun to expressionistic protest works like Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman and Slave Ship and Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls to August Wilson’s earnest histories and the post-modern satires of Adrienne Kennedy and Suzan-Lori Parks. Alongside these, we will also consider a variety of comic traditions, ranging from minstrelsy to Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled and characters created by comedians such as Jackie “Moms” Mabley and Richard Pryor. And how should we assess Porgy, a play by the white writer Dubose Heyward, which evolved into America’s greatest opera, Porgy and Bess? This course will be an ongoing inquiry into the riotous theatricality of American blackness.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 20
Expected: 15
Class#: 3986
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: journal, a 15-page final paper
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Enrollment Preferences: English majors
Distributions: Division I Exploring Diversity Initiative
Notes: meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under ENGL; meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under AFR
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ENGL 316 Division I AFR 336 Division I
Attributes: AMST Arts in Context Electives

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