I love The Conjure-Man Dies.

If you want a syllabus for The Black Mystery Novel, I'm not sure I still have my actual physical syllabus, but I AM sure that I still have all the books from the class. Black Mystery is a remarkably great sub-genre.

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Oh yes, I'd love that!

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Pauline Hopkins, Hagar’s Daughter (1901-1902)

Rudolph Fisher, The Conjure Man Dies (1932)

Chester Himes, Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965)

Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (1972) (critics overanalyze this one. the whole book is a very dry, very imaginative, very dark joke, and it is very funny)

Walter Mosely, Devil in a Blue Dress (1990)

Barbara Neely, Blanche on the Lam (1992)

Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (1999) (much much better than his more popular The Underground Railroad, IMHO)

Mat Johnson, Incognegro (2008)

Attica Locke, Black Water Rising (2009)

Victor LaValle, Big Machine (2009)

Percival Everett, Assumption (2011)


Edgar Allen Poe, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"

Stephen Soitos, "The Paradigmatic Gesture" (from The Blues Detective) and "Hoodoo"/"The Tropes of Black Detection"

Jerry Bryant, "Born in a Mighty Bad Land: The Violent Man in African-American Folklore and Fiction," pp109-118 & pp146-153

Swope, “Crossing Western Space, or the Hoodoo Detective on the Boundary in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo”, pp611-614


While for many Americans, the law and its enforcement have served to assuage anxieties about societal order and stability and to provide for a sense of security (ex. “To Protect and Serve”), for African Americans the law has often been a barrier to freedom and dignity – a clear and present danger to human existence. It is the volatile nature of this relationship that makes detective, crime, and mystery novels by African American writers so fascinating. More often than not, the characters in these novels exist in a world where criminality depends entirely on one’s perspective. Often the real villain is a power structure that attempts to define and fix identity, status, privilege, and even humanity itself. This course will explore the complex terrain of crime and mystery novels written by black authors and seek to understand the ways protagonists of these works occupy a unique and precarious position while attempting to negotiate a world in which notions of “criminality,” “justice,” “morality,” and even “identity” are highly contested and almost always dependent on who occupies the positions of power or how effectively secrets remain quiet as they are kept. We will also explore the ways that criminalized and fugitive black subjects can offer a powerful indictment of the very laws and systems that seek to regulate them. Ultimately we will consider the critiquing function of black detective, crime, and mystery novels and attempt to understand the world they construct for us as readers.


I used this class as a springboard into several authors I'd never have thought to read otherwise. Chester Himes' fiction is brutal but I like it. Walter Mosley is great. And of course you already found Rudolph Fisher, although his bibliography is tragically short. Also, a couple of the later books have enough sci-fi elements that I'm not sure I'd personally shelve them with Mystery.

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I've only read The Conjure-Man Dies from this list, but this sounds like a fantastic class!

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About vocations, I hope that one day, the Church can also recognize that single people can have vocations as single lay people even without being formally announced as consecrated virgins. After all, we all have a calling to "love".

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This is interesting! I have qualms about the language of a "single vocation," since it seems to me to hide the fact that we are all in life-shaping relationships (with God, at least!), but I very much agree that more models and understanding of lay celibacy would help a lot of people....

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