Professor Carol Allen (English Department)
Tuesdays 6-8:30 PM
This course traces the emergence of the black detective from 1900 to the contemporary moment. Starting with background material and a glimpse at Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and a few of Edgar Allan Poe's short stories, we will delve next into works by Pauline Hopkins (the first black writer to use the detective motif) and several short pieces by Harlem Reiiaissance and mid-century artists. The second half of the semester will be dedicated to contemporary black detectives in both film and literature: the popular and the avant-garde. Possible readings include a Walter Mosley novel and/or film; a Barbara Neely novel featuring Blanche, the domestic detective; a Hugh Holton work that splices the gumshoe figure with the graphic novel tradition; a Charlotte Carter work fixed squarely in the modern city; and Louis Edward's nonlinear N. Examining the black detective is a fun way to outline the emergence of a resilient genre in African American cultural traditions, and doing so becomes another occasion to think about modem life in general and black people inside modernity in particular. The black detective changes with the times but also mirrors the eras that it depicts, judging, sounding, rationalizing, witnessing, testifying, and in the case of black fiction, attempting to remedy or counteract the "evils" in society. Cynical and hopeful, battered and agile, the black investigator is an enigma, part warrior, part coward and perpetually uneasy. Assignments include two in-class essays, a final, leading class discussion, and informal writing.