COOL CLASSES: “African American Literature: Black Horror”

This English course examines literary and artistic horror by black artists (including Charles Chestnutt, Gwendolyn Brooks, Victor LaValle, the Geto Boys, Childish Gambino, and Jordan Peele) as a way to explore racial identity and oppression.

Class name: “African American Literature: Black Horror”

Taught by: Associate Professor of English Asali Solomon


Here’s what she had to say about her class:

Unsurprisingly, the genesis of this class was watching the 2017 film Get Out, which used traditional horror film tropes to critique white racism. I decided to teach a class focusing on African American writers and artists using the horror medium to explore racial identity and oppression. I hope the students come away with stronger critical skills and a sense of how the truly horrifying can be turned into art.

In classes like this, I also tend to be giving students an education in the ubiquity of racism in popular art and in daily life. This happens as I’m putting the work of black artists in conversation with non-black writers and artists. For example, we got off on a tangent [the other day] discussing Charles Chestnutt’s Conjure Tales, which participates in the late-19th-century genre of Southern local color stories, the most famous of which are Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales. I showed the class a trailer for the 1946 Disney movie Song of the South, which is based on the Harris stories (which was reissued in theaters several times, most recently in 1986). Watching the trailer for Song of the South with a contemporary understanding of racism and representation is almost as terrifying as Get Out. (When I was watching it in my office, I nearly passed out from the racism.)

I taught this class, because I like thinking about how genre interacts with representations of identity. I was also able to mine a long suppressed interest in racial identity and the gothic, which was basically what my dissertation was about. Also, some of the popular culture I’ve recently loved is in the horror genre: The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle (who will be visiting our class and giving a reading), Get Out, just about everything involving Donald Glover/Childish Gambino. The aesthetic of his show Atlanta, his album Awaken, My Love! and the music video for the song “This is America” are all steeped in horror in a way that I find exhilarating.


NOTE: Victor LaValle will give an on-campus reading on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 4:30 in Chase Auditorium that is free and open to the public.


See what other courses the Department of English is offering.

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.

Photo: Universal Studios