Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
ENG 256
Course Title:
African-American Literature
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Introduces the literatures of the American people whose roots are in Africa. Investigates African civilization and writers of African descent up to the period of Reconstruction. Explores American and European slave narratives, as well as the African origins of African- American writing and storytelling. Prerequisites: WR 115 and RD 115 or equivalent placement test scores. Audit available.

Intended Outcomes for the course

Students should be able to:

1. Analyze AfricanAmerican literature up to the period of the Reconstruction to identify themes about race, ethnicity, and culture and recognize the contribution of AfricanAmerican writers to recreate cultural identity.
2. Examine the intersection of economics, history, culture, politics, religion, and gender to AfricanAmerican literature.
3. Perform textual analysis by using literary terminology and theory to examine relationships between literary forms and themes.
4. Identify the relationship between AfricanAmerican literary forms and Black vernacular (gospel, blues, jazz, sermons, stories, and the oral tradition).
5. Write coherent academic essays that explore the complexity of the literature.

Course Activities and Design

Students read, discuss, write and perform research on related topics and events presented in the literature. Class activities may include instructor lecture, whole class discussion, small group work, student presentations and guest lectures. Instructors may use videotapes and CD recordings to reinforce lectures. Students may use the African American Literature Instructional Web page for Eng.256/257/258, which has links to numerous other Pan African literary sources and related historical topics. Students may attend a library visitation class to develop the latest library, web research and documentation skills.

Outcome Assessment Strategies

Students will complete a term project, typically a research paper of 1500-2000 words in length, pertinent to the literature of the period. Instructors may also permit alternatives to the traditional research paper. Such alternatives include the following possibilities: scrapbook/family history projects; websites; PowerPoint presentations; multimedia presentations; portfolios of creative writing or visual art forms; dance, theatrical or spoken word performances. Instructors who permit such alternatives will ensure that students also write substantive analytical pieces in the form of journal, examination, or other appropriate format. Additionally, instructors may use a variety of other assessment tools such as quizzes, participation, etc. 

Course Content (Themes, Concepts, Issues and Skills)

  • Awareness of key literary concepts.
  • Perform research using primary and secondary sources including the Internet and document sources.
  • Critical reading of historical accounts
  • Small group collaboration
  • Increased critical thinking skills
  • Ability to make connections between the literature and historical events.

Key concepts:

  • African literary traditions in African-American literature: the role of the griot; animal, conjure and trickster tales; epic narratives such as Sundiata; antiphonal forms
  • Middle passage
  • African diaspora
  • Slave songs
  • The shout
  • Gullah
  • Folk cry
  • Call and response
  • Spirituals
  • Vernacular tradition
  • Slave narrative
  • Fugitive slave narrative
  • Jubilee
  • Novel
  • Pamphlet
  • Quadroon, Octaroon, and Creole
  • Jeremiad
  • Jim Crow
  • Folktales
  • Conjure tales
  • Confessional narrative
  • Sermon
  • Oration
  • Slave poet
  • Abolitionist appeal
  • Work songs

Most instructors use anthologies such as the Norton anthology, supplemented by additional books, articles, and web sites.


Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., ed. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. New York: Norton. 2004.

Hill, Patricia Liggins et al, eds. Call & Response: The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 

Smith, Rochelle and Sharon L. Jones, eds. The Prentice Hall Anthology of African American Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000. 

Some instructors may choose to augment an anthology with novels or additional historical texts such as:

Andrews, William L.  To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865. Urbana, U Illinois P, 1988.

Bascom, William Russell. African Folktales in the New World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Begg, Ean. The Cult of the Black Virgin. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Bennett, Lerone, Jr. Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 1988.

Brooks, Evelyn et al. The Harvard Guide to African American History. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2001.

De Beaumont, Gustave. Marie or Slavery in the United States: A Novel of the Jacksonian America. Stanford: Univ. Press, 1958.

Dickens, Charles. American Notes. The Modern Library. New York, 1996.

Everett, Jenkins. Pan-African Chronology: A Comprehensive Reference to the Black Quest for Freedom in Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia, 1400-1865.

Fabre, Michel. From Harlem to Paris: Black American Writers in France, 1840-1980. Urbana: U Illinois Press, 1996.

Foster, Frances S. Written by Herself: Literary Production by African American Women, 1746-1892. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Microsoft, 1999.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. "All the Way to Timbuktu." The New Republic 20 April 1998: 17-19.

Jackson, John G. Introduction to African Civilizations. New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1995. 

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. The Signifying Monkey : A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism. Oxford UP, 1989.

Jones, Gayl. Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1991.

Long, Richard A., ed. Black Writers and the American Civil War.  Secaucus,NJ: Blue & Grey Press, 1988.

Njoku, Scholastica. "Black History: A Bibliography of PCC LRC's Selected Resources 1990-1998." Portland Community College. 1998.

Prophet, Matthew W. African American Baseline Essays. Portland, OR: Portland Public Schools, 1988.

Pushkin, Alexander. The Blackamoor of Peter the Great. 1827.

Pushkin, Alexander. The Works of Alexander Pushkin: Lyrics, Narrative Poems, Folk Tales, Plays and Prose. New York: Random House, 1936.

The Royal Prince or Memoirs of the Young Prince of Annamboe. London, 1753.

Sherman, Joan R. African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: An Anthology. Urbana: U Illinois P, 1992.

Stepto, Robert B. From Behind the Veil: A Study of Afro-American Narrative. Urbana: U Illinois P, 1991.

Sundquist, Eric J. To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature. Belnap Press, 1994.

Web Sites

Web Resources on African American Writers and Literature:

Library of Congress American Memory: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/

African American Literature 256, 257, 258 http://spot.pcc.edu/lrc/snjoku/romanskiEng257.htm

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture  http://www.nypl.org/research/sc/sc.html