African/American: Afrofuturism

Spring 2018 quarter

Taught by

music composition
creative writing, historical fiction, ethnic american literature

"Space is the place." — Sun Ra

Afrofuturism is a literary and cultural aesthetic embraced by artists who have imagined alternative futures while often grappling with aspects of race, ethnicity, gender, (dis)ability, and class. Rone Shavers and Charles Joseph offered a critical working definition of the genre, first named by Mark Dery in 1993: "Afro-Futurism … combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and magic realism with non-Occidental (non-Western) cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past." Artists often listed in an Afrofuturist pantheon include authors Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler; visual artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Renée Cox; and musicians George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Sun Ra, DJ Spooky, and Janelle Monáe.

After laying the groundwork for explorations of these and other artists, we will ask students to help us address additional avenues for explorations of Afrofuturism, including race and digital culture; utopia, dystopia, and the "post-historical;" prostheses and the body; urban musics (drum and bass, garage, hip-hop, house, jungle, neo-soul, funk, dub, techno, trip-hop, etc.); interrogations of identity and identity politics; previous race-based art movements (e.g., the Harlem Renaissance, Black Arts Movement); Black liberation songs; superheroes, rebels, and comic books as contemporary folklore; film/video studies; and social and cultural implications.

Because the artworks we will encounter will be both exciting and provocative, we think that students will find this hard intellectual work deeply rewarding, sometimes in unexpected ways. We expect to learn from students and to share an intellectual adventure in an ever-evolving, engrossing artistic terrain. While research writing and criticism will be emphasized, students will also be encouraged to pursue optional creative writing and music projects for possible presentation to the entire program.

Program Details

Fields of Study

african american studies american studies cultural studies literature music

Preparatory For

the humanities or the arts, especially creative writing and music


Spring Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$50 for admission to museums, concerts, and other similar venues. 


2017-09-11Kristin Coffey joins the teaching team, replacing Joye Hardiman.