Syllabus: Riot and Rebellion in U.S. Literature

A class I’m teaching:

Senior Seminar: Riot and Rebellion in American Literary History

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of July 1967—an event still alternately called a “riot” or a “rebellion,” with very different meanings implied by each word—this class will explore urban uprisings in American literature. The class is bookended by literary and cultural responses to Detroit 1967, but in between we’ll explore the draft riots of the Civil War era, which includes the 1863 Detroit riot, the Haymarket “riot” of 1886, the “Red Summer” of 1919, the Watts uprising of 1965, and the Ferguson and Baltimore riots of recent years.

Required Readings:

Charles Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition

John Hersey, The Algiers Motel Incident 

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth 

Walter Mosley, Little Scarlet

Course Schedule

Jan. 10: Claude McKay, “If We Must Die,” Juliana Spahr, “Turnt,” Margaret Danner, “Garnishing the Aviary,” Langston Hughes, “Beaumont to Detroit: 1943,” Dudley Randall, “Ballad of Birmingham,” Bill McGraw, “Riot or rebellion? The debate over what to call the 1967 disorder continues”

Listen: Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Other America,” Stanford University, Apr. 14, 1967;  John Lee Hooker, “The Motor City is Burning,” and the cover by the MC5, The Clash, “White Riot”

To watch in class: Gangs of New York (excerpt on the 1863 draft riots)

Jan. 17: Read: Gwendolyn Brooks, Riot (Broadside Press, 1969), Kerner Commission, pp. 1-13, Philip Levine, “They Feed They Lion,” Marvin Jackmon, “Burn, Baby, Burn”

Listen: The Trammps, “Disco Inferno,” Gil Scott-Heron, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Marvin Gaye, “What’s Goin’ On,” The Rolling Stones, “Street Fighting Man,” The Damned, “Smash It Up”

Jan 20: Writing exercise 1 due on Blackboard: keyword analysis

NB: Mon., Jan 23 is the last day to drop classes with tuition reimbursement.

Jan. 24: John Hersey, Algiers Motel Incident, pp.7-37, 63-142, 157-204

Listen: The Impressions, “The Young Mod’s Forgotten Story”

Jan. 31: John Hershey, The Algiers Motel Incident , 219-293, 304-326, 345-352, 379-385, 392-394

Listen: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, “I Care About Detroit,” Ice Cube, “We Had To Tear This Mothafucka Up”

NB: Classes dropped by Feb. 5 will not appear on your transcript.

Feb. 7: Broadside/Lotus/Third World Press: Selected poems by Dudley Randall, Carolyn Rodgers, and Naomi Lane Madgett, Melba Boyd, Roses and Revolutions, Chapter 1

Listen: Sly and the Family Stone, “There’s a Riot Goin’ On,” The Bar-Kays, “Son of Shaft” (from the Wattstax film)

Feb. 9: Writing exercise 2 due on Blackboard: unpacking simile, metaphor, and symbol

Feb. 14: Frantz Fanon, “On Violence,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Barack Obama, Ferguson, and the Evidence of Things Unsaid,” Jonathan Chait, “Obama, Ferguson, and the Torments of Liberalism,” George Cicciarello-Maher, “Riots Work,” Salon, Brittney Cooper, “America’s New Racial Low Point,” Salon, Dudley Randall, “Sniper”

Listen: Run The Jewels, “Thieves”

Feb. 21: Walter Mosley, Little Scarlet

Listen: Junior Murvin, “Police and Thieves,” The Clash, “Police and Thieves”

Feb. 28: José Martí, “A Terrible Drama,” William Dean Howells, “Clemency for the Anarchists,” Caleb Crain, “The Terror Last Time,” The New Yorker, Lucy Parsons, “I Am An Anarchist”

Listen: Hazel Dickens, “Rebel Girl” (lyrics by Joe Hill), Bikini Kill, “Suck My Left One”

Mar. 7: Meet at the Burton Collection, Detroit Public Library

Read: A Thrilling Narrative From the Lips of the Sufferers of the Late Detroit Riot, Glenn Hendler, “Feeling Like a State: Writing the 1863 New York City Draft Riots”

Listen: Ice Cube, “When Will They Shoot?”

Mar. 9: Writing exercise #2 due: 1-page critical summary of an archival image or text 

Mar. 14: No class-spring break

Mar. 21: Charles Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition; material from the Norton critical edition: “1898 Wilmington Riot Commission Findings,” “Hell Jolted Loose,” Negro Rule Ended, Washington Post (Nov. 11, 1898)

Mar. 28: Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition; “Sheet Music from the 1890s,” “Dusky Dinah: Cake-Walk and Patrol,” “Way Down South: Characteristic March, Cake-Walk and Two-Step”

Apr. 4: Watch: Zoot Suit

Read: Catherine Ramírez, “Saying “Nothin'”: Pachucas and the Languages of Resistance”

Apr. 11: Suzanne Smith, Dancing in the Street, “’The Happening’: Detroit, 1967”; Scott Saul, “What You See Is What You Get”: Wattstax, Richard Pryor, and the Secret History of the Black Aesthetic (focus on section 3, “As Real as Real Can Get,” and watch the accompanying clip

Listen: Martha and the Vandellas, “Dancing in the Street”

Thesis workshop part 1

Apr. 18: Watch: Finally Got the News

Thesis workshop part 2













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