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20th Century American Literature

Seminar Leader:
Peter Conn, Andrea Mitchell


This seminar offers a diverse survey of major texts in twentieth-century American literature, with a significant emphasis on African-American and other minority writing. The following is a list of possible authors and texts included: W. E. B. Du Bois, Soulsof Black Folk (1903); Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio (1919); Alain Locke, ed., The New Negro (1925); F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925); William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936); Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937); James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son (1955); Robert Hayden, selected poems (1960s and 1970s); Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior (1976); August Wilson, Fences (1987).

Additional readings were selected in consultation with the seminar participants. This seminar was appropriate and interesting for teachers of English and Literature creating curricular materials at many levels, Social Studies teachers seeking an understanding of American culture of the period, as well as teachers looking to augment their curriculum and personal knowledge from other subject areas.

Unit TitleAuthor


The Story of Us: An Urban Fifth Grade Class Creates a Living History Document Through Memoir and Photography

Joyce Arnosky
Keywords: analyze, data collection, History, literacy, Math, memoir, photography, social studies, Visual Art, writing

Philly Girls Grow Up Through Memoir and Fiction

Barbara McDowell Dowdall
Keywords: African American women, American Literature, growing up, memoir, women, writers

Looking Through Others’ Eyes- Literature and the Double Self in the 20th Century

Laura C. Jacklin
Keywords: American short stories, American society, double-consciousness, Literature, The Souls of Black Folk, World War I

Recurring Themes of African American Folktales

Catherine Thornton Brownlee
Keywords: African American folktales, African American literature, Afro-American, language arts, Reading, symbolism, themes

The Lesson the Piano Teaches: August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and the African-American Experience It Illuminates

William S. Lewis
Keywords: African American History, August Wilson, griot, History, Literature, personal history

Poets of the Harlem Renaissance and Students’ Poetic Perceptions of Contemporary Issues

Kemo Donita Logan
Keywords: African American literature, Compare and contrast, Harlem Renaissance, literacy revolution, poetry, social activism, social themes

What Matters the Most through Reading and Writing

Christine Lokey
Keywords: direct reading, inspire to act, integrating, Literature, racial justice, Reading, scaffolding, social justice, writing, writing instruction

Connecting Nineteen Eighty-Four to Today

Alison McCartney
Keywords: analyze, British literature, debate, English, George Orwell, involved citizens, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Reading, social science, World Literature

Exploring African American Culture Through Literature

Susan King
Keywords: African American culture, African American literature, autistic support, books, comprehension skills, Reading, storytelling

Jim Crow and Apartheid: Walking hand in hand to the Promised Land

Stacia D. Parker
Keywords: African American History, America, Apartheid, Harlem Renaissance, political literature, South Africa, think globally