New Year, New Course to Teach: Jan Term 043-01: “The Art of Race: (Re)-Imagining Ethnicity and Identity in Literature, Art & Pop Culture”

 

After years and years and years of research, writing papers, presenting at conferences, not to mention living and breathing these topics in my every day life, for this January term 2018,  I will be teaching for twenty-six undergrads at Saint Mary’s College of California:

The Art of Race: (Re)-Imagining Ethnicity and Identity

in Literature, Art & Pop Culture

COURSE DESCRIPTION

How do writers and artists such as Junot Diaz, Louise Erdrich, Beyoncé, John Coltrane, Kara Walker, comedians like Key & Peele, and the creators of the show Broad City, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, subvert, de-center, and make new notions of race, identity, gender, and sexual orientation? How do they challenge cultural otherness to incite as writer Pankaj Mishra calls “a bolder cartography of the imagination”? In this class we will explore how writers, musicians, artists, and comedians make stylistic choices of form and content to challenge dominant narratives and put center stage traditionally marginalized voices, neglected histories, and sub-histories. The aim of this course is to discover how art can complicate and challenge some of our greatest public narratives: race and gender; and how these narratives serve as writer Kaitlyn Greenridge says as a “collective and imagined space that exists only as a metaphor, rhetorical argument, figurative language, in short, as a fiction, though that does not mean that [they are] not real.”

Reading from diverse authors and viewing other artistic forms, we will consider the many different ways art and pop culture help us understand and challenge identity and politics, and conversely how we can interrogate notions of identity and politics to create art that incites a world awareness.

REQUIRED TEXTS

  • Barbara Jane Reyes, Invocation to a Daughter
  • Junot Diaz, Drown 

READING LIST

  • Media Selections from Beyonce’s Lemonade and Key & Peele 
  • Art Selections from Kara Walker, Ramiro Gomez and Jennifer Wofford

Poetry and Essay Selections:

  • Carlos Soto Roman, selections
  • Harryette Mullen, The Cracks Between What We Are and What We Are Supposed to Be, “Imagining the Unimagined Reader: Writing to the Unborn and Including the Excluded”, “Kinky Quatrains: The Making of Muse & Drudge”, “Optic White: Blackness and the Production of Whiteness”
  • Kevin Young, The Gray Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, “The Shadow Book”, “How Not to Be a Slave: On the Black Art of Escape”
  • Dorothy Wang, Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry 
  • John Yau, “Please Wait By the Coatroom”
  • Diane Glancy,In-between Places, “July: She has some potholders”
  • Zadie Smith, “Brother from Another Mother”, The New Yorker, 2015.

We will be kicking off the semester with pre-assignments that include reading Robin DiAngelo and Özlem Sensoy, “Leaning In: A Student’s Guide to Engaging Constructively with Social Justice Content”, Radical Pedagogy, (2014) , Syreeta MacFadden’s  “Beyonce’s Formation reclaims America’s black America’s narrative from the margins” The Guardian, (February 8. 2016) and watching Beyonce’s “Formation” from Lemonade. Even more exciting is a class visit with poet and professor Barbara Jane Reyes to discuss her latest book from City Lights, Invocation to a Daughter. With luck, I’ll be able to confirm more guest speakers.

Some of the questions I have to start, with hopefully many more to come, so the research, the writing, the living, and breathing can grow:

  1. How does art, literature, and pop culture help student understand their own positionality?
  2. How does art, literature, and pop culture help students understand the collective and individual racial imaginary? Male/Female imaginary? Class imaginary?
  3. How do students navigate, transform, challenge collective (public) and private (individual) narratives?

I’m of two hearts and minds about the course, since I probably won’t get much writing done myself, but instead will be discussing topics that fuel me and drive me with purpose and heighten meaning, hopefully not just for myself but for the willing students. Let’s see what this new adventure holds. Ready. Steady. Go!

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