We met at Duke University--mid-summer, Atlantic, at mid-campus--to talk about teaching courses that focused on the post-soul aesthetic. We met outside the John Hope Franklin Center, and soon enough we five youngish black professors were walking a hallway towards a conference room near the African and African American Studies program. Not at all surprisingly, the walls of the hallway were lined with framed photographs of the esteemed John Hope Franklin at various stages throughout his long and storied career. For me, given the topic I was about to raise among these professional colleagues, walking that hallway was something like running a gauntlet: Franklin's career is one of continued, sustained Negro uplift, as the photomontage of him documents. The post-soul aesthetic, on the other hand, critiques and questions certain black assumptions and traditions, and most professors who teach the art and literature of this post-civil rights movement aesthetic must, to apprehend the course material, assume a peculiar, if not precarious, pedagogical stance in the classroom, one that respects careers like Dr. Franklin's, but also constructively interrogates--and sometimes explodes--the very presumptions and precepts on which such a career stands.
And so, a mere hallway removed from the intense, startlingly direct gaze of Professor Franklin, I gathered together four professors who have had various experiences teaching the post-soul aesthetic in a variety of locales: among the five of us, we have taught at large public schools and small liberal arts colleges; at mid-list colleges and elite universities; at Midwestern, northern, and southern universities. Additionally, the experience of teaching post-soul material ranges from several years to one course to the planning stages for a first course.
Sitting around the table were Crystal Anderson, then of the University of Kansas but now of Elon University; Mark Anthony Neal, of Duke University; Evie Shockley, of Rutgers University; and Alexander Weheliye, of Northwestern University. We began when Alex confirmed that he had titled his course "Post-Integration Blues."
BERT: And you, Evie, said you're going to call yours "21st-Century African American Literature." Crystal, what do you call yours?
CRYSTAL: "post-soul aesthetic."
MARK: "Post-Black Culture."
BERT: And I used "post-soul," as well, even though I started out with "The New Black Aesthetic." Why the variety of names? And how do you define what helps you choose the names that you've chosen?
MARK: I think we all feel a sense of "break," and we're trying to articulate that break in some way. For me, at some point, "post-soul" really didn't encompass all the things that I wanted that break to represent. So when Thelma Golden began talking out loud about this notion of post-black, that became helpful for me, but that was actually the middle move. For me the thinking is to go from a post-soul to a post-black to what I term a NewBlack--one word. (1) That s what we try to do in the post-black course--to identify post-soul texts, and what becomes post-black texts, and what becomes NewBlack texts. The idea was to work that chronologically, but that...