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ENGL 556 A: Cultural Studies

Black Radicalism, Anti-Colonialism, Marxism, and Communism: literary and critical studies

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 1:20pm
* *
Close up of Laura Chrisman
Laura Chrisman

Syllabus Description:

Black Radicalism, Anti-Colonialism, Marxism, and Communism: literary and critical studies

Instructor:  Laura Chrisman

Office Hours: Mondays 3.30pm-5.30pm. Please email in advance to schedule an appointment. Office Hour URL

This course explores the complex interactions of anti-colonial, communist, and Black radical political cultures across the long 20th century. Drawing upon the resources of Marxist and postcolonial studies, this course fuses literary criticism, archival enquiry and critical theory. Under consideration are writers and movements from Europe, continental Africa, the Caribbean, and North America.

Keywords: postcolonial studies; theories of colonialism/anti-colonial nationalism/postcoloniality; Marxism; African studies; socialism; communism; black radicalism; global literatures (1900s-present); postcolonial literatures; Caribbean political culture; African political culture; black diasporic political culture.

List of Books & Readings: 

Langston Hughes, selections from The Ways of White Folks [1934] and poetry (1920s-1930s)

Richard Wright, selections from Uncle Tom’s Children [1938]

CLR James, Toussaint Louverture: the story of the only successful slave revolt in history [1934]

Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism [1950]

Alice Childress, Gold Through the Trees [1952], in Selected Plays

Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun [1958]

Sembene Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood [1960]

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth [1963], trans. Philcox

Alex la Guma, A Walk in the Night [1962]

Dionne Brand, Inventory [2006]


 Course requirements

--Twice-weekly Responses (25% of final grade)

100+ word responses to the next day’s readings will be due to the Canvas discussion page, by midnight, on Sundays and Tuesdays. Please read through the responses of the other seminar members before class.

--Participation (25% of final grade)

Graduate seminars, obviously, depend upon fruitful discussion for success. Please come to class with readings prepared and readiness to engage with issues raised by other participants in the class.

--Writing assignments. (50% of final grade)

You have a choice: either two 7-10 page research papers, or one 15-20 page research paper. If you choose the two paper options, the first is due at the start of week 5, and should focus on materials explored in weeks 1-4 of class. The other paper should focus on materials explored in weeks 5-10 of class. Both it, and the 15-20 paper option, are due by midnight on Monday, March 15.


If you have a documented disability that requires special accommodations, please let me know as soon as possible so that I can make necessary arrangements.

English Department diversity statement

The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use is powerful and holds the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world—skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.”

     As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities.  Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class.  These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue.  We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department.

     Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, genders, national origins, political views, and citizenship status; nontheists; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised. 

Provisional schedule.

Week 1.

Jan 4:  Intro.

Jan 6: Communist International Debates on Colonies, Nationalism, and Black Liberation, 1920. Comintern #2, 1920. Read from July 25, M.N. Roy, ‘Supplementary Theses on the National and Colonial Question’, to the end of that session (incl John Reed, Karl Radek, etc):

Supporting materials:

Sabine Dullin and Brigitte Studer, ‘Communism + Transnational: the Rediscovered Equation of Internationalism in the Comintern Years’, Twentieth-Century Communism, issue 14 [pdf]


Week 2. Communist International Debates on Colonies, Nationalism, and Black Liberation, 1922-30.

Jan 11:

Comintern #6, 1928, Theses on the Revolutionary Movement in the Colonies and the Semi-Colonies:


Jan 13:  Cominterns 1922, 1928 and 1930, on 'the Negro/Black Question'.

Comintern #4, 1922, ‘Theses on the Black Question’:

Claude McKay, 'Report on the Negro Question', Speech to the 4th Comintern Congress, Nov. 1922 [pdf]

The 1928 and 1930 COMINTERN resolutions on the Negro Question of the US:


Supporting materials:

John Riddell, 'Black Liberation and the Communist International', ISR #81 [pdf]

Robin D G Kelley, Black Communists chapter, Hammer and Hoe [pdf]

WReC, chapter 1, ‘World-Literature in the Context of Combined and Uneven Development’, from Combined and Uneven Development (Liverpool U P, 2015) [pdf]


Week 3. Langston Hughes, 1920s-30s.

Jan 18: no class.

Jan 20: Langston Hughes,  selections from 1920s and 1930s poetry [pdf]

Robin D G Kelley, NPR Interview, 'How Communism Brought Racial Equality to the South' [pdf]

Laura Chrisman, 'Du Bois in Transnational Perspective' [pdf]

Supporting materials:

Langston Hughes: ‘Moscow and Me’ [pp. 56-64], ‘Negroes in Moscow’ [pp. 65-71], ‘A Negro Looks at Soviet Central Asia’ [pp. 71-102], ‘In An Emir’s Harem’ [pp. 105-110], ‘The Vigilantes Knock at My Door’ [pp. 110-116], ‘To Negro Writers’ [pp. 131-133], ‘Farewell to Mahomet’ [pp. 133-140], from Langston Hughes, Essays on Art, Race, Politics and World Affairs (vol 9, 1930-1939) [pdf]

Anthony Dawahare, ‘Langston Hughes’s Radical Poetry and the “End of Race’’’, chapter 5 of Nationalism, Marxism, and African American Literature [pdf]


Week 4. Langston Hughes, cont., and Richard Wright, 1930s fiction.

Jan 25: Langston Hughes, ‘Rejuvenation Through Joy’, ‘Cora Unashamed’, ‘Slave on the Block’, ‘Home’, ‘Passing’ from The Ways of White Folks  

Jan 27: Richard Wright, ‘Fire and Cloud’ and ‘Bright and Morning Star’, from Uncle Tom’s Children

Supporting materials:

Richard Wright, Blueprint for Negro Writing (1937) [pdf]

Timothy P. Caron, ‘”The Reds are in the Bible Room”: Political Activism and the Bible in Richard Wright’s Uncle Tom’s Children’, Studies in American Fiction, vol. 24, no.1 (1996), pp. 45-64 [pdf]

April Conley Kilinski, ‘Flinging a New Star: “Fire and Cloud” and “Bright and Morning Star” as Reflections of Richard Wright’s Changing Relations with Communism’, Epiphany, vol. 5, no. 1 (2012), pp. 52-69 [pdf] 

Josep M. Armengol, ‘Black-White Relations in Red: Whiteness as Class Privilege in Langston Hughes’s The Ways of White Folks’, MELUS, Vol 43, No 1, spring 2018, pp. 115-133 [pdf]

Sonnet Retman, ‘Langston Hughes’s “Rejuvenation Through Joy”: Passing, Racial Performance and the Marketplace’, African American Review, vol. 45, no. 4, Winter 2012, pp. 593-602 [pdf]

George Padmore, The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers (1931):


Week 5. CLR James, 1930s.

Feb 1 and Feb 3: CLR James, Toussaint Louverture: the story of the only successful slave revolt in history (1934) (ebook available at UW library); CLR James, ‘Revolution and the Negro’ (1939) [pdf]

Supporting materials:

Contemporary articles included in the Toussaint Louverture scholarly edition.

Raj Chetty, ‘The Tragicomedy of Anticolonial Overcoming: Toussaint Louverture and The Black Jacobins on stage’, Callaloo, vol 37, no. 1 (2014), pp. 69-88 [pdf]

CLR James Marxist theoretical writings of the 1930s and 1940s:


Week 6. Aime Cesaire, and Alice Childress, 1950s.

Feb. 8: Aime Cesaire, Discourse on Colonialism [pdf]

Feb 10: Alice Childress, Gold Through the Trees (1952), in Selected Plays [pdf]

Supporting materials:

Mary Helen Washington, ‘Alice Childress, Lorraine Hansberry, and Claudia Jones: Black Women Write the Popular Front’, in Bill V. Mullen and James Smethurst (eds), Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism, and Twentieth-Century Literature of the United States (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), pp. 183–204 [pdf]


Week 7. Lorraine Hansberry. 

Feb 15: no class.

Feb 17:  Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun (1959).

Supporting materials:

Michael Anderson, ‘Lorraine Hansberry’s Freedom Family’,  vol. 7, no.2, 2008, pp. 259-269 [pdf]

Erin D. Chapman, ‘Staging US radicalism at the height of the Cold War: A Raisin in the Sun and Lorraine Hansberry's Vision of Freedom’, Gender & History, vol. 29, no. 2 (2017), pp446-467 [pdf]


Week 8. Frantz Fanon and Sembene Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood (1960)

Feb 22 and 24: Sembene Ousmane, God’s Bits of Wood (1960)

Frantz Fanon,  selections from The Wretched of the Earth [pdf]

Supporting materials:

James A. Jones, ‘Fact and Fiction in God’s Bits of Wood’, Research in African Literatures, vol. 31, no. 2, 2000, pp. 117-131 [pdf]


Week 9. Alex La Guma, A Walk in the Night (1962) [pdf]

Mar 1 and Mar 3: Alex La Guma, A Walk in the Night (1962)

Supporting materials:

Alex La Guma, ‘The Condition of Culture in South Africa’ (1971) [pdf]

Programe of the South African Communist Party, 1962 [pdf]

Gareth Cornwell, ‘“Style is the Great Betrayer”: Social Realism in Alex La Guma’s A Walk in the Night’, English Studies in Africa, vol. 54, no. 1 (2011), pp. 11-20 [pdf]

Abdul R. JanMohamed, ‘Alex La Guma: The Literary and Political Functions of Marginality in the Colonial Situation’, Boundary 2, vol. 11, nos. 1-2 (1982-3), pp. 271-290  [pdf]


Week 10:  Dionne Brand, Inventory (2006)

Mar 8 and Mar 10: Dionne Brand, Inventory (2006)

Supporting materials:

Cara Fabre, ‘From Cultural Transformation to Systemic Resistance through Dionne Brand’s Thirsty and Inventory’, MaComiere, vol. 15, nos. 1-2 (2013), pp. 99-121 [pdf]

Brenda Carr Vellino, ‘‘History’s Pulse Measured with Another Hand’: Precarity Archives  and Translocal Citizen Witness in Dionne Brand’s Inventory’, University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 82, no. 2 (2013), pp. 242-260 [pdf]


Last updated: 
October 26, 2020 - 11:22am