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Race and Performance in the 20th Century US

Scott Saul
University of Virginia
Hiphop Inclusive
Before 2005

This course will look at how all sorts of Americans—blacks, Jews, Latinos, Anglos, Asian-Americans and Native Americans—have played at playing themselves, inventing new kinds of cultural forms for the purpose, or have tried not to play themselves, given the powerful ways that social categories like race can be ill-fitting, arbitrary, or unjust. We will be looking at twentieth-century stories of self-fashioning and self-exposure, masquerade and passing, slumming and nose-thumbing, and will be particularly interested in the interplay between the history of social movements and the bounds of cultural imagination. The course will bring together literature, film and music, with an emphasis on the different strands and practices of African-American music as they emerge over the course of the 20th century. Possible texts include: the novels Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (James Weldon Johnson), Passing (Nella Larson), Giovanni’s Room (James Baldwin), and Dogeaters (Jessica Hagedorn); the films The Jazz Singer, Salt of the Earth, Imitation of Life, Little Big Man, and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song; the drama of Maria Irene Fornes, Adrienne Kennedy, Ed Bullins, Luis Valdez, Naomi Iizuka and Suzan-Lori Parks; the poetry of Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown; the performance art of Adrian Piper and Guillermo Gomez-Peña; and the music of ragtime, early blues, R&B, hip-hop and rock en español.

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