Urban Encounters: Hispanic and African American Literature

Brenda Flanagan, Edward Armfield Professor of English, Davidson College

Some 30 years ago, Sandra Cisneros’s delightful novel, The House on Mango Street, introduced readers to members of a Mexican-American family, the neighborhood in which they live, and, most importantly, their dreams and hopes of being fully American. Writers such as Cisneros, Judith Ortiz Cofer (Puerto Rico), Cristina Garcia (Cuba), Juno Diaz (Dominican Republic), and a host of others, have enriched American literature thematically, stylistically and certainly linguistically. As the American population changes, and as more students of Hispanic heritage enter school systems, the need for an understanding of what it means to be Hispanic/Chicano/Latina-American is imperative. That awareness can often come from a study of culturally specific literary texts, and can be enhanced through a comparison of such texts with those from another American ethnic group: African American.

This seminar, then, will introduce Fellows to the literature Hispanics – an all-consuming even if problematic term – have written, and several texts written by African Americans. The focus will be on novels set in major American cities, as this will afford an interesting basis of dialogic comparison and contrast.

Participating Fellows