ENGL 631-01: Black Women Writers

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In her 1993 Nobel Lecture, Toni Morrison, the first Black woman to win the Nobel prize in literature, stated: “Narrative has never been merely entertainment for me. It is, I believe, one of the principal ways in which we absorb knowledge.” If Morrison’s statement is true, what types of knowledge have Black women writers provided through their narratives? What “scenes of instructions,” as S. Hartman theorizes, or “codes of conduct,” as K. Holloway analyzes, are presented by Black women writers? What knowledge is proffered, indeed essential, “in the wake”, as C. Sharpe posits, of the afterlife of slavery? From the eighteenth century to the present, Black women writers have certainly used the literary imagination not only as an epistemic tool to transmit cultural, social, political, and civic knowledge but also as an epistemic tool to interrogate the mainstream knowledge concerning Black life, generally, and Black women, specifically. In doing so, Black women writers also engage in the enterprises of self-definition and self-representation while challenging the socially constructed limited and limiting knowledge concerning Black women and Black life. In this seminar, students will analyze the following historical concerns for Black women writers: How can art be both beautiful and political? What role does art play in struggles for freedom and equality? How might art theorize democracy? How might cultural productions mediate the political and personal? For whose sake is art? We will also be concerned with the social, historical, political, and cultural texts, conditions and questions surrounding issues of racial and national identities, identities complicated by class, region, gender, and sexuality. A number of critical methodologies, including critical race theory and Black feminist theories, especially intersectionality, will assist our readings. Writers may include A. J. Cooper, T. Morrison, A. Walker, Z. N. Hurston, T. Bambara, A. Lorde, G. Naylor, J. Ward, L. Hansberry, S. Parks, A. D. Smith, M. Angelou, J. Kincaid, A. Petry, N. Larsen, L. Clifton, N. Giovanni, J. Jordan, and O. Butler.