University of Notre Dame

The First Black Person

Course Number: ENGL 13186-14
Instructor: Mark Sanders

While taking a hemispheric approach to black writing, this course will examine the creation of the black first person through autobiography. Taking up classic texts from across the Americas and the Caribbean, such as Biography of a Runaway Slave, Child of the Dark, The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and Black Boy, we will explore the multiple ways in which black writers create the black rhetorical self. Why is the black “I” ubiquitous across African American writing of the hemisphere, and what are its implications in relation to race, gender, class, and community? What does it mean for a black narrator to announce him or herself as author or speaking subject? What does it mean to speak or write oneself into the public’s consciousness, and why does it matter? What are the constitutive elements of a black rhetorical self, and how might they differ from other racial/ethnic identities?

The class will pursue these questions through the examination and creation of autobiographies.

Authors will include Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Solomon Northup, Richard Wright, Anne Moody, Esteban Montejo, Carolina Maria de Jesus, and Barack Obama.

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