Recently, I just finished reading Charles W. Chesnutt’s “The Future American” (1900) and The Quarry (1928) for a paper I am writing. As I read Chesnutt’s last novel, I started to think about a possible syllabus that would use Chesnutt as a focal point to explore “the race question” at the turn of the twentieth century. I have posted syllabi such as “African American Crime and Detective Fiction” and “The ‘Vanishing American’ in American Literature” on my blogs before. Feel free to take these syllabi and incorporate them into your own classroom, tweaking them as you see fit. If you do use these syllabi, please let me know how the class goes. I would like to hear from you in regards to what students thought and what types of discussions ensued.
Note: Texts prior to 1912 are available in full with the links below.
Charles W. Chesnutt and The Race Question at the Turn of the Twentieth Century
Charles W. Chesnutt’s lengthy career spanned the local color and regionalist movements of the late nineteenth century all the way to the close of the Harlem Renaissance at the end of the 1920s. As a result, his writings explored the “race question” at a time when activists such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois were arguing for their respective views regarding African American advancement, when white authors such as George Washington Cable and Mark Twain were exploring the role of African Americans in the body politic at the turn of the century, and when the ascendance of Paul Laurence Dunbar and Harlem Renaissance authors such as Nella Larsen began to gain attention from a wider audience. With all of these aspects, and more, Chesnutt serves for us as a locus to explore late nineteenth century and early twentieth century debates on racial uplift, race science, modernism, and regionalism amongst other items. As such, this class will explore a selection of Chesnutt’s works in relation to his predecessors and contemporaries to help us delve further into the issues surrounding the “color line” at the turn of the twentieth century.
- Charles W. Chesnutt The Conjure Woman, and Other Conjure Tales (1898)
- — The House Behind the Cedars(1900)
- — The Marrow of Tradition(1901)
- — Paul Marchand, F.M.C.(1921)
- — The Quarry (1928)
- George Washington Cable The Grandissimes (1881)
- Mark Twain Pudd’nhead Wilson(1894)
- Paul Laurence Dunbar Folks From Dixie (1898)
- James Weldon Johnson Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912)
- Nella Larsen Quicksand (1928)
- In this seminar, regular and substantive class participation is required. A seminar is a place for collaboration and discussion on the assigned readings and scholarly texts. Come to class prepared to ask questions and discuss topics that spark debate.
- Each student will be required to lead class discussion for one day during the semester. The purpose of this is to provide you with pedagogical practice in leading class discussions. You will have 30-45 to lead the class on your assigned day, and you may use handouts, articles, media, or any other pedagogical tool to aid in the discussion of the day’s reading. You will be graded on the following items: Organization, Originality, Relevance to the week’s reading(s), and Oral delivery.
- Occasionally, there will be short (one to two page) written responses. The responses should follow MLA format and should focus on a specific concept or passage from the assigned reading(s).
- At the end of the semester, there will be a 10-12 page research paper due. The paper will be this length because I want you to submit the paper to a conference for presentation. With that in mind, you will be required to submit an appropriate CFP along with the research paper.
- The final exam will occur during finals week. It will consist of identifications, short responses, and a long essay.