On paper, the English major at the University of Washington may not seem to present much opportunity to study writers of color. However, if you know where to look, you can find quite a number. Here are some tips on diversifying your experience. First, watch for course offerings that focus specifically on writers from diverse backgrounds.
However, these courses do not represent the only or even the main opportunity to study African American, Native American, Asian American, and Latino/a writers. Many faculty include a significant mix of such writers in their syllabi when teaching courses that, on the surface, don’t give any explicit indication of such content. These include general introductions like Reading Literature (English 200), Reading Fiction (242), and Modern/Postmodern Literature (213); courses in American Literature (especially 250, 350, 353, 354), women writers (367, 368), and contemporary British literature (339); and various special topics courses such as The Modern Novel (337), Contemporary Novel (342), American Writers: Studies in Major Authors (451), and Topics in American Literature (452). Don’t be scared off by the 400 course numbers—these are not necessarily more challenging than 300-level courses, and if you’ve had an intro literature course or two you will do fine. Content in these courses may range from one or two authors of color, to an entire syllabus devoted to such writers. If you major in English (literature track), you can use your literature elective credits to focus on writers of color as courses are offered.
The place to start when looking for this information is the English department website, where every quarter we post a list of upcoming courses featuring writers of color. Use this list with our quarterly course descriptions, written by the individual instructors, listing the works and authors to be studied, to get an idea of what the class is all about. Many instructors also pay significant attention to issues of race, ethnicity and culture no matter what authors they're teaching, and we try to include that information in our quarterly list as well. This can be harder to see from the descriptions, but English advisers can help with that. English advisers can also help you identify courses that are likely to include significant numbers of writers of color, and can help you identify names with which you may be unfamiliar. Drop in to see us: A2B Padelford (in the basement of the A Wing), give us a call at 206-543-2634 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Of course, there are classes in other departments as well that focus on literature by writers of color, including AAS 401 – 403; AES 212; AFRAM 214, 261, 320, 340, and 358 (joint w/ ENGL 358). This list does not include the extensive offerings in literatures of other nations offered by the language departments, from Chinese to Near East Studies to Scandinavian. A good place to look for these courses is our Field Requirement list, which includes literature classes in all departments taught in English.
A survey of English classes during just 8 quarters in the late 1990s reveals some 110 authors studied in various courses, most not identified as specifically having to do with writers of color. If we went farther back or farther ahead in time, it would be even larger. Below is a list of those authors. Some are studied frequently (Toni Morrison, Sherman Alexie, Zora Neale Hurston), while others may appear only once in years (Ishmael Reed, Younghill Kang, Betty Louise Bell). Highlighted authors are those appearing on our "Some Notable Writers of Color" poster in the English Advising Office.
James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Paul Beatty, Arna Bontemps, Gwendolyn Brooks, Octavia Butler, Xam Wilson Cartier, Charles Chesnutt, Eldridge Cleaver, Lucille Clifton, Anna J. Cooper, Harold Cruse, Samuel Delany, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, Jessie Fauset, Frances E. W. Harper, Essex Hemphill, Chester Himes, Pauline Hopkins, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Harriet Jacobs, Charles Johnson, James Weldon Johnson, Gayle Jones, Elizabeth Keckley, Randall Kenan, Adrienne Kennedy, Nella Larsen, Alain Locke, Audre Lorde, Nathaniel Mackey, Paule Marshall, James McBride, Claude McKay, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, Gloria Naylor, Jill Nelson, Ann Petry, Ishmael Reed, Danzy Senna, Wallace Thurman, Jean Toomer, Sojourner Truth, Alice Walker, David Walker, Booker T. Washington, John Edgar Wideman, Harriet Wilson, Richard Wright
Meena Alexander, Agha Shahid Ali, Peter Bacho, Carlos Bulosan, Lan Cao, G. S. Chandra, Diana Chang, Frank Chin, Louis Chu, Anita Desai, Sui Sin Far, Heinz Insu Fenkl, Amitav Ghosh, Jessica Hagedorn, Lely Hayslip, John Dominis Holt, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, David Henry Hwang, Kazuo Ishiguro, Gish Jen, Younghill Kang, Nora Keller, Patti Kim, Maxine Hong Kingston, Joy Kogawa, Hanif Kureishi, S. K. Y. Lee, Darrell H. Y. Lum, Wing Tek Lum, Anchee Min, Rohinton Mistry, Kazuo Miyamoto, Toshio Mori, Bharati Mukherjee, David Mura, Milton Murayama, Fay Myenne Ng, John Okada, Gary Pak, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, Monica Itoi Sone, Cathy Song, Shawn Wong, Hisaye Yamamoto, Wakako Yamauchi, John Yau