20th Century African American Literature

Teacher: Lise Brody
Extra Help: Mondays in Room 302 or by appointment.


Course Overview

For more than 200 years, life in the United States has been shaped by the concept of black and white. In this course, we will examine the history that underpins the world described by some of the African American masters of the 20th century: Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Toni Cade Bambara (list subject to change). The central text will be Beloved by Toni Morrison, a stunningly beautiful and relentlessly horrific narrative of survival – and its costs – under slavery. We will ask what these American artists reveal to us about the world we live in, our collective history, and ourselves. If possible, the course will also include at least one field trip to see a live theater performance. Coursework will include reflection and discussion, critical writing, and creative writing.

Works we will read include (subject to change):

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

Beloved by Toni Morrison
“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin
Stories by Toni Cade Bambara

Skills Assessed

Analysis (30%); Composition (30%); Oral Expression (this includes participation in class discussions) (20%); Work Habits (20%)

Course Expectations

In order for this course to be a fun and meaningful experience for all of us, we ask you to:

  • Come on time and prepared. Always bring your book or reading material, notebook, pen or pencil.

  • Listen to others in class with engagement and respect.

  • Don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts!

  • Ask for help when you need it.

  • Complete assignments on time.

  • Do NOT bring phones or electronics of any sort into class (except by special arrangement). See below.


If you are absent on the day something is due, I will consider it on time if you had it in on your first day back. If you are absent when the homework is assigned, you are responsible for it. The homework will always be posted at Current Homework. Obviously, if you are too sick to work, or if you don't have access to materials that you need, I will make accommodations – as long as you communicate with me!

Cell phones

    Do NOT bring phones or electronics of any sort into class. If I see one, I will ask you to take it to Tina. Every time. I really mean it. If you listen to music when you work, please plug your phones into your computer.

Risk taking and respect

This class will involve a lot of discussion. That means that we all need to feel safe thinking aloud and sharing our ideas even if we’re not completely sure of them. Therefore, it is important that we give both others and ourselves permission to take risks, and that we listen to one another closely and with open minds. In class discussion, there is no such thing as a stupid idea or a stupid question!

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism is claiming someone else’s words or ideas as your own. That means:

  • copying/ pasting something from the internet or another source without quote marks and citation

  • paraphrasing something from any source without citation

When in doubt, CITE! If it’s in the gray area, it IS plagiarism. I take this very seriously.

Part of engaging in lively, meaningful conversation is building upon one another’s thoughts. If we do this without giving credit to other thinkers, no matter whether they died 200 years ago or are sitting in class with us, we are not participating in this collective process in a constructive, respectful way.

For more information on the Academic Honesty policy, please refer to the student handbook.

Late Work Policy

In order for an assignment to be eligible for revision, it must be turned in on time. If you would like an extension, you must ask for it before the end of the school day at least two school days before the assignment is due. If you do not have an extension, I will accept late work up to one week after the due date, but the grade will suffer. If you are failing the course due to missing work, please do not ask me to design special extra credit assignments for you.


Honors work for this course is TBD.

Extra Help

Please come see me! My extra help is on Monday afternoons or by appointment. You can reach me at lbrody@innovationcharter.org.

Saving work for Exhibition Night, POLs, and college recs

I will only approve work for exhibition night or POLs if you bring me the original version with the original rubric and notes. Do not just save it on the computer. Likewise, if you think you might ask me for a college rec, please save any work you are especially proud of with my comments. Much as I always believe I'll never forget a thing about your beautiful paper, sadly, I very well might. Bringing it without the notes and rubric is asking me to do my job twice.