ENG 155: James Baldwin and Toni Morrison


Jimmy, there is too much to think about you,

and too much to feel. The difficulty is your life

refuses summation - it always did - and invites

contemplation instead. Like many of us left

here I thought I knew you. Now I discover that

in your company it is myself I know.


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 and Toni Morrison, two prominent and globally renown writers in the 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 have declared 2014-15 The Year of James Baldwin and will celebrate his work accordingly. Morrison is the last writer 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. 

Required texts:

Baldwin, James. Collected Essays. Vol. 98. New York: Library of America, 1998.

---. Early Novels and Stories. New York: Library of America, 1998.

---. If Beale Street Could Talk: A Novel. New York: Vintage International, 2006.

---. Just Above My Head. New York: Dial Press, 1979.

---. Tell Me How Long the Train's been Gone: A Novel. New York: Vintage International, 1998; 1968.

Morrison, Toni, and Carolyn C. Denard. What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel. New York: Vintage International, 2004; 1987.

---. The Bluest Eye: A Novel. New York: Vintage International, 2007; 1970.

---. Home. New York: Vintage International, 2013; 2012.

---. Love: A Novel. New York: Vintage International, 2005; 2003.

---. A Mercy. New York: Vintage International, 2009; 2008.

---. Song of Solomon. New York: Vintage International, 2004; 1977.

---. Sula. New York: Vintage International, 2004; 1974.

---. Tar Baby. New York: Vintage International, 2004; 1981.