Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Going Back, Back, Back to My Roots!

African American girl, full-length portrait, seated on stool, facing slightly right. Photo by Thomas E. Askew. From Types of American Negroes, compiled and prepared by W.E.B. Du Bois, v. 1, no. 59. Part of the Paris Exposition of 1900.

Today, I want to get back to "my roots," so to speak, in terms of blogging on humanities-related topics. In addition to my primary campaign activities, many of you know that I am also teaching a summer literature course titled "Major African American Writers." For the summer session, we will be examining the black intellectual tradition of radicalism, rebellion, and protest through the writings and speeches of authors such as David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Frances E.W. Harper, Lucy Parsons, W.E.B. Dubois, Richard Wright, Ralph Waldo Ellison, Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Marlon Riggs, Angela Davis, and others. 

In addition, we will be reading a total of four novels--two from the 19th century antebellum era, and two from the 20th century: Frederick Douglass's 1855 work, The Heroic Slave (the only novel Douglass ever published), Harriet E. Wilson's 1859 novel, Our Nig, 1929's Passing, by Harlem Renaissance era author Nella Larsen, and Toni Morrison's first novel, The Bluest Eye, published in 1970 during the height of the Black Arts Movement.
The two antebellum works are available as e-texts--here are links to each:

At the end of this month, when we read Nella Larsen's Passing, which deals with racial passing and cultural identity, among other things, we will be watching selected scenes from relevant films as part of our discussion.

What follows are two scenes from the film adaptations of novelist Fannie Hurst's Imitation of Life (clip misspells "imitation"). The first version, made in 1934, stars African American performers Louise Beavers (Delilah) and Fredi Washington (Peola) as the mother and daughter, respectively. The second adaptation, filmed in 1959, features Juanita Moore (playing the Delilah character, here named Annie) as the long-suffering mother, and Susan Kohner (renamed Sarah Jane) as her daughter. Interestingly, Susan Kohner is a white actress passing as a black woman passing as a white woman in this version.

Imitation of Life, 1934. Delilah (Louise Beavers) and Peola (Fredi Washington).

Imitation of Life, 1959. Annie (Juanita Moore) and Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner).

All best,


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