Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
ENG 257
Course Title:
African-American Literature
Credit Hours:
Lecture Hours:
Lecture/Lab Hours:
Lab Hours:
Special Fee:

Course Description

Introduces the literature of Americans whose roots are in Africa. The course explores the period of Reconstruction through Harlem Renaissance. It incorporates novels, short stories, poems, journalism, autobiographies and plays. Focuses on the oral tradition and written texts of African Americans. 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 from the Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance 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 African American 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:

  • Autobiography
  • Be-bop
  • Blues
  • Call and response
  • Double consciousness
  • Great Migration
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Jim Crow
  • Garveyism
  • Gospel
  • Jazz
  • Journalism
  • Niagara Movement
  • Novel
  • Oration
  • Pamphlet
  • Pan-Africanism
  • Patois
  • Playing the dozens
  • Reconstruction
  • Sermon
  • Slave narratives
  • Socialism
  • Spirituals
  • Talented Tenth
  • Toasts
  • Vernacular tradition


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


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 anthology use with novels or additional historical texts such as:

Baker, Houston A.  Blues, Ideology and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Tradition. U Chicago P, 1987.

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

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

Floyd, Samuel A. Jr. Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of Essays. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

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

Gatewood, Willard B. Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1920. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Graham, Lawrence. Our Kind of People: Inside America's Black Upper Class. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Jordon, Ervin L. Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

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

Joyce, Donald F.  Black Book Publishers in the United States: A Historical Dictionary of the Presses, 1817-1990. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991..

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

Olive, Gilbert. The Narrative of Sojourner Truth, A Bondswoman of Olden Time: With a History of Her Labors and Correspondence Drawn from her "Book of Life."

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

Robinson, Randall. The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks. Dutton, 2000.

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

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

Wells, Ida B. et al. The Reason Why the Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition. Robert W. Rydell, ed. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.

Wintz, Cary D., ed. The Critics and the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.

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