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Topics in Postcolonial Literature: Caribbean Modernisms

a painting

In this seminar we will situate Caribbean literature from the 1930s to the 1960s in the broader context of transatlantic modernisms, with a specific focus on the novel as a genre. Engaging with the fields of Caribbean, postcolonial, and modernist studies, the course will be divided into four units. The first unit, “Remembering Haiti,” will introduce the problem of modernism in relation to the Caribbean via a number of texts focused on the Haitian Revolution (1791-1803) and the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-34), including Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of this World (Cuba, 1949). In the second unit, “Desiring Subjects,” we turn to the Anglophone Caribbean, and (following critics like Alison Donnell, Belinda Edmondson, and Leah Rosenberg) trace how the tenets of “hegemonic modernism” have shaped our understanding of the emerging Caribbean canon, looking in particular at intersections of race and sexuality in Claude McKay’s Banana Bottom (Jamaica, 1933) and Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark (Dominica, 1934). The third unit, “Migrating Identities,” carries the story of Anglophone Caribbean literature forward to the post-WWII Windrush Generation, attending (in the wake of critics like J. Dillon Brown, Nadia Ellis, and Peter Kalliney) to the “migrant modernism” of George Lamming’s The Emigrants (Barbados, 1955) and Sam Selvon’s Lonely Londoners (Trinidad, 1956), paying special attention to their conflicted representations of black masculinity. The course concludes with a final unit, “Transforming Tragedy,” where we read Wilson Harris’s The Palace of the Peacock (Guyana, 1960) alongside Sylvia Wynter’s The Hills of Hebron (Jamaica, 1962) in order to consider the unanswerable but essential question of what might come after modernism/modernity/coloniality. 

Provisional requirements: two oral presentations (on a recent book-length critical intervention in Caribbean studies; and a “hypothetical essay report” at the end of the semester), one short paper (3-4 pages, based on close reading a passage from an assigned novel), posted discussion questions (on 4-6 novels), strong participation and attendance. 


Department of English, Queen's University

Watson Hall
49 Bader Lane
Kingston ON K7L 3N6

Telephone (613) 533-2153



Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.