English 250: Black Women Writers
Saturdays, 12:10-2:40pm
Professor Frank Roberts
Department of English
Hunter College, City University of New York
Office Hours: By Appointment
E: [email protected]
Course Blog: http://frankroberts.wordpress.com/huntercollege2/
Course Description:
This seminar course will focus on the politics and poetics of twentieth century black feminist thought and practice.
More specifically, in this course we will consider how black women writers in the U.S. have troubled the waters of
what constitutes "theory," what constitutes "activism," and ultimately what constitutes feminism. Though literature
will be our primary object of analysis, we will go astray many times by engaging black feminism in non-literary
genres (such as in music and art). Central themes this semester will include: the dialogic nature of black women's
fiction; sexual conservation and the politics of black respectability; subaltern knowledge and "theory from below";
variations in literary form (fiction, poetry, personal essays, etc.), intersectionality and the quadrilateral nature of
oppression, and the black female body as a site of ideological and political warfare.
Authors whose work we will engage will include Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Lynn Nottage,
Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Cheryle Clarke, Hortense Spillers, Patricia Hill Collins, Tricia Rose, Joan Morgan, bell
hooks, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw and Alexis Pauline Gumbs.
Required Texts:
(Will be available at Hunter College Bookstore)
 Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of
Empowerment
 Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
 Ntozake Shange, For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
 Toni Morrison, Beloved
 Toni Morrison, Home
 Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel
 Joan Morgan, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip Hop Feminist
Requirements
 Active Participation in every session
 Weekly Response Papers (2 pages each, single spaced, 1500 words each)
 1 In-class presentation (Approximately 25 minutes)
 3 Discussion questions per class (these questions must be printed and submitted at the beginning of each
class)
Grading Breakdown:
50%: Response Papers
25%: Active Participation
25%: In-Class Presentation + Quality of Weekly Discussion Questions
Classroom behavior:
Student participation is required. Arrive to class prepared to work. Students should be respectful of the professor
and their classmates by talking when called upon, not disrupting classmates or the instructor, addressing issues and
scholarship, and referring to readings and academic arguments to support their statements. The professor encourages
students to think critically and use scholarly analysis in their oral and written assessments. Students should come to
class prepared, having read the readings and completed assignments on time. Students should be punctual and
responsible.
Students are expected to stay awake in class. Do not use cell phones or laptops during class. All cell phones must
be turned off and put away during quizzes and examinations. Other electronic devices should be switched off during
class, unless a specific exception is made by the professor.
Attendance:
Students are expected to be in attendance to every session. You can be granted up to one absence without having
your grade effected. If you miss two of more classes you will be categorically incapable of scoring an “A” grade in
this course:
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2 or more absences = Your overall grade will be scored from an B+ (meaning the highest grade you can
receive in this course is a B+).
3 or more absences= Your overall grade will be scored from a C+ (meaning the highest grade you can
receive in this course is a B+).
4 or more absences= Automatic failure (Your start-grade will begin at “D”).
Statement of College Policy on Plagiarism:
Plagiarism is the presentation of someone else’s ideas, words, or artistic, scientific, or technical work as one’s own
creation. Using the ideas or work of another is permissible only when the original author is identified. Paraphrasing
and summarizing, as well as direct quotation, require the citation of original sources. Plagiarism may be intentional
or unintentional. Lack of dishonest intent does not necessarily absolve a student of responsibility for plagiarism.
PLAGIARISM WILL INCURE AN F GRADE.
It is the student’s responsibility to recognize the difference between statements that are common knowledge (which
do not require documentation) and restatements of the ideas of others. Paraphrasing, summaries, and direct
quotations are acceptable forms of restatement, as long as the source is cited. Students who are unsure of how and
when to provide documentation are advised to consult with their instructors. The Library has free guides designed to
help students with problems of documentation.
An asterisk * indicates that the reading is available on blackboard and/or the course blog.
A pound sign (#) indicates that there will be a student presentation paired with the reading.
PART I: BLACK WOMEN (W)RIGHTING THEORY
September 8: Towards a Black Feminist Criticism
Required Readings:
 Bell Hooks, Feminism Is For Everybody: Passionate Politics
 Kimberle Crenshaw, "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against
Women of Color" *
 Bell Hooks, "Theory as Liberatory Practice" *
 Combahee River Collective, "A Black Feminist Statement"
September 15: Towards a Black Feminist Criticism
Required Readings:
 Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of
Empowerment
 Bell Hooks, "Patriarchy" *

September 22: The Black Female Body as a Site of Ideological Critique
Required Readings:
 Bell Hooks, "Straightening Our Hair" *
 Lisa Jones, "The Hair Trade"*
 Kobena Mercer, "Black Hair/Style Politics" *
In-Class Screening: Chris Rock (Dir, 2008) Good Hair
PART II:
IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHER'S GARDENS
LITERATURE, POETICS AND THE FICTIONS OF IDENTITY
September 29:
Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Politics of Womanist Theory
Required Readings:
 Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
 Zora Neale Hurston, "Art and Such" *
 Alice Walker, "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens" *
October 6:
Audre Lorde, June Jordan, and the (Lesbian) Politics of Survival
Required Readings:
 Audre Lorde, Collected Poems (Selections)
 June Jordan, Collected Poems (Selections) *
 Sharon Holland, 'Which Me Will Survive': Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Black Feminism"
 Alexis Pauline Gumbs, "Audre Lorde and the Poetics of Survival"
Part III:
Black Feminist Art, Theater and Performance
October 13: Listening to the Sounds of Black Feminism: Lauryn Hill's Sonic Rage
Required Readings:
 Hortense Spillers, "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book" *
Guest Lecture: La Marr Jurelle Bruce, Yale University
October 20: Material Girls: Black Feminist Stylin(gs)
Required Readings:
 Zora Neale Hurston: “Characteristics of Negro Expression” *
 Harryette Mullen, Trimmings
 Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel
 Harryette Mullen: “African Signs and Spirit Writing” *
Guest Lecture: Chelsea Adewunmi, Princeton University
October 27: Kara Walker and the Art of the Neoslave Narrative
Required Readings:
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Sherley Anne Williams, Dessa Rose (Exerpts)
Arlene Keizer, "Gone Astray in the Flesh: Kara Walker, Black Women Writers, and African American
Postmemory" *
Kara Walker, Pictures from Another Time (Selections)
November 3:
Required Reading:
 Ntozake Shange, For colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Part IV:
The Fiction of Toni Morrison
November 10:
Required Reading:
 Toni Morrison, Beloved
November 17:
Required Reading:
 Toni Morrison, Home
Guest Lecture by John Murillo, Brown University
Part V:
Contemporary Black Feminisms
December 1:
Joan Morgan, When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: My Life as a Hip Hop Feminist
December 8:
To Be Announced
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English 250 Syllabus - Black Lives Matter Syllabus