I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. I envied my fellow-slaves for their stupidity. Freedom now appeared, to disappear no more forever. I saw nothing without seeing it, I heard nothing without hearing it, and felt nothing without feeling it. It looked from every star; it smiled in every calm, breathed in every wind and moved in every storm.
—Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave
What will you do with your freedom? It is the question inherited by each generation of Black writers. From the antebellum slave-narrative of Frederick Douglass to the modernist tragedies of Toni Morrison the answer demanded a revolutionary consciousness. One could not heal the traumatized Black body and fractured psyche without a prophetic vision of radical change. Literature is the treasure house of that vision as well as the bitter accounting of its toll on our lives.
In this 10 week course, we will learn about literary conventions and aesthetic strategies, the conflict between art and ideology and finally the history of the African-American canon and why it is the shadow text of the Constitution. Among our readings will be Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Frederick Douglass and From Pieces to Weight: Once Upon a Time in Southside Queens by 50 Cent.
Nicholas Powers is a poet, journalist and Associate Professor of Literature at SUNY Old Westbury. His second book The Ground Below Zero: 911 to Burning Man, New Orleans to Darfur, Haiti to Occupy Wall Street was published by Upset Press in 2013. His writings have appeared in The Indypendent, The Village Voice, Truth-Out and Alternet.