ENG 155: Toni Morrison & James Baldwin

Year offered

This major authors seminar examines the inter-sectional aesthetics of critical categories such as race, gender, sexuality, politics and religion, through a comparative reading of the novels, stories, plays, essays, speeches and biographies of James Baldwin (1924 – 1987) and Toni Morrison (1931 – 2019), two prominent and globally renown writers in the world, American and African American literary traditions. The course traces their literary and personal relationships with one another, and focuses on their respective and inter-related histories, uses of literary forms, collaborations with other artists, influences, political activity, community engagement, university teaching, internationalism, criticism, and reception. Baldwin produced nearly 7,000 pages of published prose and pierced the psyche of the US American public with the 1963 publication of A Fire Next Time. Scholarly attention to his work is adjoined by equally vibrant community interest: a conglomerate of cultural institutions across New York City declared 2014-15 The Year of James Baldwin, resulting in documentary films, new biographies and critical scholarship, museum exhibits, and the naming of streets in his honor.  Morrison is the last writer (distinct from Bob Dylan, a poetic musician) from the United States to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature; the impact of her novels and essays on race is evident by not only her popularity among diverse reading publics in the United States but also the immediate translation of her work into several languages globally. As Lovalerie King suggests, “In the second half of the twentieth century, no two authors did more to shape an African American literary tradition and gain a broad national and international audience for that tradition than James Baldwin and Toni Morrison.”