Few social issues are more pivotal today than those that animate the Black Lives Matter movement. Those issues have a long history, however, in art as well as politics. Indeed, the historical devaluation of black life casts a long shadow over the formation of American literature. From the era of slavery to what many theorists view as the racialized expansion of the US prison system in recent decades, black life has been a major if often marginalized force shaping literary history. At the same time, literature has often been a proving ground for competing forms of antiracist politics. This course explores that force and those forms through a broad overview spanning from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass to recent writings by Toni Morrison, Fred Moten, and Claudia Rankine. Along the way we will also take up work by writers such as Phillis Wheatley, Paul Laurence Dunbar, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Zora Neale Hurston, and Amiri Baraka.