Although it's not widely known, the "major author" course on Toni Morrison that our department offers is linked to Richard Wright. During my second year as an undergrad at Tougaloo College in Mississippi, in the fall of 1996, I took a course that focused on Wright taught by Professor Jerry W. Ward, Jr. At the time, no one referred to the course as a "major author" class. Instead, I was simply taking a class on Wright.
For the course readng materials, Professor Ward decided to concentrate on Wright's less well-known works, including Lawd Today!, Black Power, The Color Curtain, Pagan Spain, Savage Holiday, Eight Men, and The Outsider. Ward had somehow put the word out that students in the class would not read Native Son, Black Boy, Uncle Tom's Children, and 12 Million Black Voices during the class, because we were "expected" to have already read those books prior to the course. The word on the street was that the first day of class would begin with an exam on Native Son.
The Wright course stuck with me for many years. I'm reluctant to identify that class or any class as my all-time favorite, as it seems to detract from the integrative, interrelated experiences of my liberal arts education. I can say this though: I made connections to Wright in every undergrad and grad school class that I took afterward that class with Ward.
Some years ago during departmental discussions about our course offerings, the ghost of Wright or that Wright course began to haunt me. Our department has "major author" courses on Shakespeare, Milton, and other European "great" writers, but what about an African American writer or any modern writer for that matter? Given the demographics of our department and university as well as my interest in recruiting a scholar to our department with a strong background in black women's writing, I made the decision to propose and advocate for the creation of a major author course focusing on Toni Morrison.
Over the last few years, the Toni Morrison course has become a mainstay in our course offerings. Along with several other folks here, I'm pleased with what the course now means to our department and university. Quiet as it's kept, the blueprint for the Morrison course was that course I took years ago on Richard Wright.
The Ward, Wright & Whiteside Connections
Toni Morrison, the Major Author Course, & Lovejoy Library