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ENGL411: African-American Literature

Unit 1: Oral Traditions   African American culture has always drawn on its historical roots in oral tradition for artistic inspiration.  Music, both sacred and secular, has lent its rhythms equally to poetry, sermons, and fiction.  Oral folk tales and spirituals have migration themes often referring to Heaven, Africa, and the North.  Spirituals often have their themes presented through biblical characters, who persevered and were delivered assurances that they were being watched over by a guardian.  One example of the allusion to the Bible is with the story of Exodus.  In this unit, we will also examine the influence of spirituals and the blues, address the use of vernacular, and explore signifying and its origin in the folktales and storytelling on the plantation

Unit 1 Time Advisory
This unit will take you approximately 8.25 hours to complete.

☐    Subunit 1.1: 3 hours

☐    Subunit 1.2: 2.25 hours

☐    Subunit 1.3: 3 hours

Unit1 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
- Trace the development of African American literature from its oral sources. - Explain the problem of dialect writings. - Compare and contrast the terms "masking" and "stereotyping" as these terms are used to describe African American authors. - Define the terms "signifying" and the "trickster," and explain their place in the African American oral tradition. - Analyze the influence of blues and Negro spirituals on African American literature.

1.1 Use of the Vernacular   1.1.1 Origins of African American Language   - Web Media: YouTube: Melvyn Bragg’s “Origins of African American Language” Link: YouTube: Melvyn Bragg’s “Origins of African American Language” (YouTube)
 
Instructions: Please view the entire video (5 minutes) as Melvyn Bragg explains some of the features of African American language as it developed during slavery and provides examples of the African American vernacular as used in the works of many authors.  Take notes as you view the lecture and afterwards, take 5-7 minutes to write a summary paragraph about what you learned from the video.  Viewing this video, taking notes, and writing the summary should take approximately 15 minutes to complete.
 
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1.1.2 Joel Chandler Harris and the Trickster Figure   - Reading: The University of Texas at Austin’s American Literature Archive: Joel Chandler Harris’ "The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story" (1880) Link: The University of Texas at Austin’s American Literature Archive: Joel Chandler Harris’ "The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story” (HTML)

 Instructions: Although a white author, Chandler's depictions of
African Americans have influenced the perception of black characters
by both white readers and African American authors.  His Uncle Remus
tales set a standard for the use of dialect that African American
authors either embraced or rejected.  You should spend approximately
30 minutes studying and taking notes on this text.  
    
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  • Reading: Annenberg Foundation’s American Passages: A Literary Survey: “Monkeying around: Trickster Figures and American Culture” Link: Annenberg Foundation’s American Passages: A Literary Survey: “Monkeying around: Trickster Figures and American Culture” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read this brief lecture to learn more about the oral tradition of the “trickster tale.”  This reading should take approximately 15 minutes to complete.
     
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1.1.3 Paul Laurence Dunbar, Dialect, and Masking   - Reading: Wright State University Libraries: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s "When Malindy Sings,” “We Wear the Mask," and "A Cabin Tale" Link: Wright State University Libraries: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s "When Malindy Sings," (HTML) "We Wear the Mask," (HTML) and "A Cabin Tale"(HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read all three poems by Dunbar.  It can be difficult to read dialect and more than one reading may be necessary.  Harris and Dunbar have different purposes for using dialect in their texts, and these reasons have been both lauded and criticized by scholars.  Consider comparing and contrasting the different ways in which Harris and Dunbar use vernacular.  You should spend approximately 1 hour reading these poems and comparing and contrasting Harris and Dunbar’s use of vernacular.

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  • Reading: Modern American Poetry: Joanne M. Braxton’s “Dunbar's Life and Career” Link: Modern American Poetry: Joanne M. Braxton’s “Dunbar's Life and Career” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read the entire lecture on the background of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s life and career.  This reading should take approximately 30 minutes.
     
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  • Reading: Modern American Poetry: Revell, Williams, Braxton, and Keeling’s “On ‘When Malindy Sings’" and Hudson, Revell, Emanuel, and Braxton’s “On ‘We Wear the Mask’” Links: Modern American Poetry: Revell, Williams, Braxton, and Keeling’s “On ‘When Malindy Sings'” (HTML) and Hudson, Revell, Emanuel, and Braxton’s “On ‘We Wear the Mask’” (HTML)

    Instructions: Please read the lecture notes by various authors on Dunbar’s poems “When Malindy Sings” and “We Wear the Mask.”  These reading should take approximately 30 minutes to complete.
     
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1.2 Sacred and Secular Music   1.2.1 The Importance of Negro Spirituals   - Reading: University of Houston’s Digital History: “Explorations, Spirituals: Negro Spirituals” Link: University of Houston’s Digital History: “Explorations, Spirituals: Negro Spirituals” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read the brief lecture on the origins of spirituals in the African American community.  Consider answering the question posed about what Fredrick Douglass meant in his passage about spirituals.  This reading and question should take approximately 30 minutes to complete.
 
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1.2.2 Perseverance and Deliverance   - Reading: PoemHunter.com: "Go Down Moses" and Songs for Teaching: "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" Link: PoemHunter.com: Louis Armstrong’s "Go Down Moses" (HTML) and Songs for Teaching: "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read both of these lyrics in their entirety for examples of texts that address themes of perseverance and deliverance.  Consider which lines stand out the most in exemplifying these themes.  You should dedicate approximately 45 minutes to reading and studying these lyrics (reading more than once is recommended).
 
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1.2.3 The Blues Defined   - Reading: Northeastern State University: Benjamin R. Kracht’s “The Blues: A History” Link: Northeastern State University: Benjamin R. Kracht’s “The Blues: A History” (HTML)
 
Instructions: For an overview of the musical genre of the blues, please read first page linked above on “The Beginnings.”  Then, continue on to read the following sections: “The Delta,” “Maps,” “History,” “The Blue Note,” “Examples,” and “Men and Women in Blues.”  You should spend approximately 1 hour reading each of these webpages and exploring any embedded hyperlinks.
 
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1.3 Signifying   1.3.1 Signifying Defined   - Reading: University of Arkansas at Little Rock: Professor J. Briton’s “The Signifying Monkey Will Get All Over You” Link: University of Arkansas at Little Rock: Professor J. Briton’s “The Signifying Monkey Will Get All Over You” (HTML)
 
Instructions: Please read Professor Briton’s lecture, which helps to contextualize signifying in trickster folktales.  This reading should take you approximately 30 minutes to complete.
 
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1.3.2 African Folktales   - Reading: National Humanities Center: Trudier Harris’s “The Trickster in African American Literature” Link: National Humanities Center: Trudier Harris’s “The Trickster in African American Literature” (HTML)

 Instructions: The first and third parts of this overview provide an
explanation of the importance of the African American trickster tale
and scholars' debates over the trickster and its function in African
American literature.  It may be useful to click on embedded
hyperlinks of interest to read about associated content.  This
reading should take you approximately 1 hour to complete.  

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  • Reading: Oxford University Press: Summary of Henry Louis Gates’ The Signifying Monkey Link: Oxford University Press: Summary of Henry Louis Gates’ The Signifying Monkey (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read the brief description of Gates’ book, The Signifying Monkey.  This reading should take you approximately 15 minutes to complete.

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  • Reading: George Mason University: Susan Tichy’s “Some Notes & Quotes from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s The Signifying Monkey” Link: George Mason University: Susan Tichy’s “Some Notes & Quotes from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s The Signifying Monkey” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read Professor Tichy’s notes on Gates’ The Signifying Monkey in their entirety.  "The Signifying Monkey" is a bawdy tale that foreshadows folk heroes, such as Stackolee, who live on their quick wits and fast talking.  You should spend approximately 30 minutes studying these lecture notes.
     
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  • Reading: Louisiana Division of the Arts: Mona Lisa Saloy’s “The African American Toast Tradition” Link: Louisiana Division of the Arts: Mona Lisa Saloy’s “The African American Toast Tradition” (HTML)
     
    Instructions: Please read Saloy’s entire lecture on the oral tradition of performed narratives, called “toasts.”  You should spend approximately 45 minutes reading this lecture and studying how the lecture relates to the narrative example, “Shine and the Titanic.” 
     
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