Last year, a colleague and I proposed a study travel to Poland to study the intersections between Jim Crow and the Holocaust. Sadly, that trip failed to materialize, for a few reasons. This year, another colleague and I proposed a trip to the South of France, specifically Marseille and Nice. She will teach an environmental science course and my course will focus on African American expatriate writers in France outside of Paris. My “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” course this semester arose out of the study travel course and really serves as a sort of extension of the study travel course.

Today, I want to provide the syllabus for the study travel course. The course is a 2000 level course, and some students have already taken the 2000 level course. So, the students who have done that will take the course as a 4000 level class with more requirements. The syllabus will incorporate both the 2000 and 4000 level course requirements.

Vieux Port Marseille

Course Description and Objectives:

In his memoir A Long Way from Home, Claude McKay writes about Marseille’s importance to him as a writer. He says, “It was relief to get to Marseilles, to live in among a great gang of black and brown humanity. Negroids from the United States, the West Indies, North Africa and West Africa, all herded together in a warm group.” The port of Marseille is at the intersection of Europe and Africa, it is a space of cultural hybridity where people from around the world come together and interact. For McKay, Marseille provides a city that brings individuals from the African diaspora together. It exists as a space where, even amidst the racism of French officials, he feels “relief.”

McKay found Marseille so important that he set two of his novels in the city: Banjo and Romance in Marseille. Speaking with Senghor, a Senegalese café owner who served in France during World War I, McKay notes the impact of the cultural milieu of Marseille on him. Senghor implores McKay to “write the truth about the Negroes in Marseilles,” and McKay promises the café owner that one day he would do just that. Banjo and Romance in Marseille are those books, and each details the intersections of cultures from Africa and Europe that come together in the Southern French port city.

While McKay considered himself an internationalist and spent a lot of time in Marseille before heading to Barcelona and Morocco, James Baldwin expatriated to Europe in order to escape racism and oppression and to write. Baldwin writes, in “The New Lost Generation,” “In my own case, I think my exile saved my life, for it execrably confirmed something which Americans appear to have a great deal accepting. Which is, simply, this: a man is not a man until he’s able and willing to accept his own vision of the world, no matter how radically this vision departs from that of others.”

Baldwin spent the latter part of his life outside of Nice in St. Paul De Vence, and part of his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room takes place in Nice. There, he wrote, until his death in 1987, actively confronting racism and oppression in the United States, even though he was thousands of miles away across the Atlantic, through the words he would type daily on his typewriter. Like McKay, William Gardner Smith, Richard Wright, and others, he continued to fight for social justice while expatriating.

During this course, we will read McKay and Baldwin alongside Jessie Redmon Fauset’s Comedy: American Style and William Gardner Smith’s The Stone Face. As we walk in the footsteps of these writer, activists, and artists, we will explore various themes from the social constructions of race and the psychological impact of racism to discussions of gender and sexuality. We will visit St Paul de Vence and walk through the Vieux Port in Marseille. We will see the same sites, decades later, that these individuals saw. Through this, even though we are separated by decades, we will connect with them and their works.

Primary Texts ENGL 2220

  • Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room (1956)
  • Fauset, Jessie Redmon. Comedy: American Style (1933)
  • McKay, Claude. Banjo: A Story Without a Plot (1929)
  • Smith, William Gardner. The Stone Face (1923)

Secondary Texts ENGL 2220

  • Selections from James Baldwin
  • Selections from Michel Fabre’s From Harlem to Paris
  • Selections from Claude McKay

ENGL 4429 Students Choose One of the Following Texts

  • Djavadi, Négar. Disoriental (2016)
  • McKay, Claude. A Long Way from Home (1937)
  • McKay, Claude. Romance in Marseilles (1933)
  • Silmani, Leïla. In the Country of Others (2020)
  • Williams, John A. Clifford’s Blues (1999)
  • Yerby, Frank. Speak Now (1969)

Course Requirements for Both Courses

Pre-Trip Reflection — Before we leave for France, you will read slections from Baldwin, Fabre, McKay, and possibly others. These will prepare you for the trip, and they will provide you with information about why so many writers and artists chose to expatriate to France or to spend extended amounts of time in the country. For this assignment, you will write a reflection discussing your thoughts on the essays that we read and your expectations for the trip.

Post-Trip Reflection — Upon returning from France, you will compose a post-trip reflection. For this assignment, you will use at least one two secondary/scholarly sources and write a 1,000–1,500 word reflection on how your time in France, including the Black Marseille tour and visits to sites such as St. Paul de Vence, impacted your understanding of the texts and themes we discussed over the course of the class.

Study Travel Journal — During our time in France, you will be required to maintain a journal, writing your thoughts on both courses you are taking during the trip. The journal is your own thoughts and reflections. You can write prose, poetry, draw images, or any other creative act where you take the time to think about your experiences during this trip. There is not set length for these entries, but you will be required to journal at least 10 out of the 14 days during the trip.

Course Requirements for ENGL 4429

Presentation — For this assignment, you must choose one of the books above under the ENGL 4429 section, read it, and prepare a presentation on the text that connects the text with the other texts that we will read for the course. While in France, you will present to your classmates the ways that your text relates thematically to the other texts in the course. This will be informal, but I will look to see that you read the text and that you actively think about the ways that your chosen text connects with others in the course.

Claude McKay

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