Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Course Number:
ENG 258
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. Emphasizes the way contemporary political and social aspirations of African Americans are reflected in the literature of the periods from the Harlem Renaissance through the present. 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 Harlem Renaissance to the present 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:

  • Autobiography
  • Black Arts Movement
  • Be-bop
  • Blues
  • Call and response
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Drama
  • Double consciousness
  • Gospel
  • Hip hop
  • Jazz
  • Journalism
  • Modernism
  • Naturalism
  • Novel
  • Oration
  • Pamphlet
  • Patois
  • Playing the dozens
  • Protest
  • Realism
  • Sermon
  • Neo-slave narratives
  • Rap
  • Socialism
  • Spirituals
  • 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:

Draper, James P., ed.  Black literature criticism: Excerpts from Criticism of the Most Significant Works of Black Authors Over the Past 200 Years.

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

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

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

Massey, Douglas S. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993.

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

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