Race, Sex, and the Literary Forms of James Baldwin
"Another Country: Race/Sex/Nation in the Literary Forms of James Baldwin"
Instructor: Jason H. Morse, Ph.D.
Image: James Baldwin Bob Tomlinson (2013)
Writing Option 1
Writing Option 2
Jason Morse; ENGL 200 A – Spring '15
“Race, Sex, and the Literary Forms of James Baldwin”
"All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; and
blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex
and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair." -James Baldwin
James Baldwin is one of the most prolific and well respected authors in 20th century American
literature and one of the most prescient theorists of the “noise” of American racial formation, including
the way race stands as the salient social category through which “America” is lived and how sexuality
is the salient way race, through gender, is constituted. Reading his many literary forms – including
novels, short stories, poetry, plays, and essays – this class will look back to Baldwin’s work as a way
to understand our racial present’s contradictions between the continuation of racial violence, including
the epistemic violence of stereotypical representation, and the hegemony of what has come to be called
colorblind, post-racial discourse. We will engage Baldwin’s critique of American racial formation,
including his insightful critiques of white liberalism as well as many anti-racist liberation movements.
Simultaneously, we will engage his understanding of sexuality and gender, including critiques of
homophobia and heteronormativity, theorizations of racialized masculinity and femininity, and queer
of color critique of identity.
To engage Baldwin’s literary theorizations, we will contextualize our reading of his work through a
theoretical framework that engages the intersection of race and sexuality, including the way this
intersection is always gendered. We will read Baldwin’s work in and through our critical essays, not
only applying those concepts to our readings of Baldwin but also applying Baldwin’s literary
theorizations of race and sex to our critical essays. As we look back to Baldwin to understand our
present racial, sexual, and gender formations, we will also situate his work, through historical and
literary critical readings, as part of the time period during which the Jim Crow era elicits many African
American Civil Rights movements. Along with readings theorizing race and sexuality, the stereotype
will be a conceptual path through which we will explore the way social categories define social figures.
We will explore how stereotypes are structures of knowledge that become embedded into social
formations as the salient way of knowing and determining the actions, attitudes, and behaviors of the
figures they represent. This class will also unpack the role of cultural texts like Baldwin’s in
negotiating, reinforcing, and challenging how the cultural representations we call stereotypes define us,
as we also think about how stereotypes mold our very reading process.
To accomplish these reading goals, this class will rely heavily on reading and on participation in whole
class and small group discussions of the critical and cultural texts we read and will require voracious
intellectual curiosity and eager engagement with new ways of thinking we encounter. Coursework will include short presentations, weekly online short comprehension writings, and longer writing
assignments in which you apply the ideas of or critical texts to readings of cultural texts (or vice versa).
Texts may include the novels Go Tell It On the Mountain, Giovanni’s Room, Another Country, the
play Blues for Mr. Charlie, selected poetry from Sonny’s Blues and Other Poems, and essays including
The Fire Next Time, “Here Be Dragons,” “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” “The Preservation of
Innocence,” and others along with conceptual framing by Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Michel
Foucault, Michael Pickering, Sander Gilman, Angela Davis, and literary criticism on select literary