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New course examines literature, rhetoric of American slavery


September 18, 2013

This fall, a new graduate-level course on the literature and rhetoric of American slavery has made its way into the classroom.

Offered by ASU's Department of English, the course examines the history of North American slavery and slave revolts via narratives, neo-slavery novels, speeches and histories spanning the 18th to 21st centuries.

Professors Joe Lockard and Keith Miller will share extensive knowledge on the subject, as both study abolitionism and the civil rights movement. Miller, specifically, has dedicated his career to studying the life and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., while Lockard is notably known for creating the Antislavery Literature Project, which makes accessible a range of high-quality antislavery texts via digital space.

Students will read “The Confessions of Nat Turner” by William Styron, “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” by Harriet Jacobs, and the “Middle Passage” by Charles Johnson, to name a few.

“African American literature is absolutely central to any understanding of American literature as a whole," says Lockard. "Our graduate students should be conversant with literature and rhetoric of slavery, in order to understand and teach the basic concept of what it means to be free or not free."

The class will begin the semester with a somewhat surprising piece, though. Miller and Lockard have selected the science fiction novel “Kindred” by Octavia Butler to help students imagine what it would be like to travel back in time and live as a slave. Lockard says that doing so will enhance understanding of the depth of this conflict and its manifestations.

Beyond the ability to properly educate others, studying slavery brings to light the prevalent problems of such that remain in society today.

“One of (author William) Faulkner’s characters says, 'The past is not dead. It’s not even the past.' It’s pretty obvious that despite claims that this is a post-racial America, racism is still big," says Miller. "Look at the racial composition of high schools, the population and housing in places like Paradise Valley."

Through class discussion and a seminar paper, students will be able to delve deeply into the issues revolving around slavery. Those interested in learning more may visit the official website.