African Americans are "America's metaphor," Richard Wright declared, posing both a riddle and a riff that together reverse conventional perspectives and intimate how we might discover in the shadows of American literary life our brightest mirrors. Following his lead, Professor Wright will help students to "see ourselves"--and the paradoxes and potentialities of our national experience--through the world of words and images conjured up over the past two centuries by African American writers. In the course, Professor Wright will employ a cornucopia of literary texts, oral traditions, audiovisual materials, and internet resources to bring the figures of black literary tradition out of the shadows and under an extended exploratory gaze. Understandably, African American literature evolved as a heavily committed tradition with both ancient African and Euro-American antecedents. Much of its mythological system and special equipment for living has been built on the communal base of the most elaborate vernacular tradition in American English--epic tales and legends, spirituals, blues, work songs, ballads, rhymed toasts, riddles, proverbs, jazz, jokes, and the rhetoric of rap music. During the semester, students will be lead forward from pre-modern Africa itself and the era of the earliest African American literary works. 18th and 19th century slave autobiographies, oral folk texts, abolitionist essays, orations and poems on to the contemporary period of literature marked by burgeoning diversity and modernist innovation, by growing critical acclaim, and by the Jazz Age politico-aesthetic art movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.