Contemporary Black Feminist Literature
Christiane Alcantara
Email: calcant@purdue.edu
Office: HEAV 416
Office Hours: F 2:00pm or by apt.
Course Description
Welcome to Contemporary Black Feminist Literature. This course will introduce you to
major themes in contemporary black feminist literature produced in the U.S. from 1970s to the
present. Through our readings of selected novels and critical essays we will discuss a variety of
themes such as: the relationship between the emergence of black feminisms in the U.S. and the
increase of black feminist literary and cultural productions; the politics of race, class, gender, and
sexuality as found in writings informed by black women’s experience; concepts of black family,
marriage, motherhood, and community; representations of black women’s sexuality and black
women’s bodies; and representations of black women’s health, wellness, spirituality, and
religion. Much of your success or failure in this course will depend on your consistency in
completing all of your course assignments and participating effectively in class. Like any
activity, writing and talking about literature are habits. The more you read and write, the more
likely it is your abilities will improve. By the end of the course, we should be more actively
informed readers, more effective writers, and more discerning thinkers. These skills will then
help you not only throughout your college career, but far beyond.
Course Requirements
You are expected to be completely engaged in this course. There will be both in class
and out of class assignments which may involve written and oral skills. Below are the kinds of
assignments that you are required to complete in this course:
Readings: You will be asked to read approximately 90 pages a week. Please allow at
least six hours per week of homework time for class reading, plus extra time for writing papers
and to study for exams. Our class time will be spent discussing and analyzing literary texts, NOT
reading them. You will be required to read not only literary pieces, but also secondary texts to
increase your understanding of literature. All texts must be read thoroughly BEFORE coming to
Homework: For each class period, you will be asked to write a 200-250 word homework
in which you will summarize the readings, highlight important concepts and annotate your
arguments and ideas. These short responses usually contain your observations and reactions to
the readings. They must be submitted via Backboard BEFORE the respective class when such
works will be discussed starts. Handwritten or printed hard copies of homework will NOT be
accepted. If you experience problems submitting your work to Blackboard, let me know
BEFORE the date it is due.
Response Papers: You will be required to write two response papers out of the several
readings selected on the syllabus. Each response paper should address at least one reading and
each must cover a different literary movement. Throughout the semester I will provide you with
four possible topics, from which you will have to choose two. Response papers help you to get
used to writing literary responses as early as possible, so that you won’t struggle later on in the
semester. Thus, for your first essay, I strongly recommend that you choose either the 1st or 2nd
topic so that I can get an idea of where you are at with your writing early on in the semester.
Length is 3-5 pages, double spaced, 12 point font (please use only Times New Roman), standard
1 inch margins. Please follow the MLA format for all your writings in this class. For information
on using the MLA format, as well as other valuable resource for writing, please consult the
Writing Lab and the Purdue Online Writing Lab (owl.english.purdue.edu).
Quizzes: There will be two quizzes throughout the semester. Please refer to the calendar
for their dates. There may also be unannounced quizzes (“pop-up” quizzes) throughout the
semester. Barring extenuating circumstances, you may NOT make up any quizzes.
Midterm exams: There will be one midterm exam at about halfway into the semester.
Barring extenuating circumstances, you may NOT make up the midterm exam.
Final Paper: This paper will give you the chance to spend more time on works of your
choice. You will write a 7-10 page essay in which you develop a thoughtful argument and
analyze a work on the syllabus. You consider context, audience, and purpose.
Halfway through the semester I will offer a Workshop (during class time) about writing
Literature papers. I strongly advise you to attend the workshop so you know how to write your
Final paper. Moreover, you will be asked to turn in your topic, list of references, and outline of
your paper in advance. You may find the guidelines for each part of the assignment on
I am more than happy to help you with your writing and to read a draft of your work if
you make an appointment to see me. To be successful in your writing assignments, please plan
ahead! Late work will NOT be accepted!
Final exam: There will be a final exam at the end of the semester, during finals week.
Under NO circumstances will any exam or quiz be given early. DO NOT MAKE PLANS TO
Sula; Corregidora; Dessa Rose; Half of a Yellow Sun; Breath, Eyes, Memory; What Looks Like
Crazy on an Ordinary Day; Zami; Nervous Conditions; and Still Brave: The Evolution of Black
Women's Studies.
Any other material will be posted to our Blackboard Learn page.
Response Papers
Attendance + in class
* For your own records, make a
photocopy or back-up electronic
copy of each homework and paper
before submitting the original for
* All projects and assignments
must follow MLA format.
Midterm Exam
Comparative Paper
Final Exam
* All projects and assignments will
receive a score based on a 100 point
60- 63- 67- 7062.9 66.9 69.9 72.9
Our class is structured so that every person’s opinions and feelings are integral to the
learning environment. It is extremely important that all class members feel comfortable so that
everyone can participate freely in discussions, presentations, and workshops. Therefore,
everyone in the class is expected to act in a respectful manner at all times.
Cell Phones: You ARE NOT allowed to text in class. If I see you texting, I will count you
absent and you will lose all participation points for that day. I may or may not inform you of this
absence. Also, make sure to put on silence mode all cell phones, pagers, MP3 players, and
anything else that beeps, screams, or squeals before class begins.
Computers: Laptops are allowed, but only for classroom related work. If a student is
caught on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Instant Messengers, gaming, checking their personal
email accounts or any kind of website that is not related to class content he/she will lose ALL
participation points for that day.
You will earn your participation grade by attending the three contact days, being well-prepared,
and participating in discussions frequently. I reserve myself the right to give 0 participation
points to students who do not behave well or act inappropriately in class.
At this point, you are expected to have mastery of the basic rules of grammar,
punctuation, and spelling. Poor grammar, spelling, and punctuation in your writing assignments
WILL be penalized. If you have questions about grammar and punctuation, please refer to the
Purdue Online Writing Lab (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/), or make an appointment to visit
the Writing Lab in person. If you do visit the Writing Lab, feel free to have them notify me about
your visit.
I will take attendance at the beginning of each class. You will be required to sign up an
attendance sheet each day of class. It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to make sure you sign up for
each class. If you forget or are late for class, you may be marked absent. It is your responsibility
to see me immediately after class in order to change your absence to a tardy. Three late arrivals
will be considered equivalent to one absence. Students noticeably engaging in behaviors such as
sleeping, texting, daydreaming, checking Facebook, reading the newspaper, etc. will be
considered absent. You may miss up to five (5) class meetings for any reason; however,
missing that much instructional time is likely to put you far behind in completing the coursework
and will affect your participation grade. Additional absences, regardless of the reason, will
result in one letter grade lower for the course. Absences beyond eight (8) will result in a failing
grade for this course.
Please do NOT come to class if you are sick, but please let me know by e-mail and make
sure to get the notes and/or assignments from classmates. I do not review missed classes over email. If you experience severe illness or emergency and you meet with the Dean of Students
Office, they may contact me about making arrangements for you to complete your coursework.
However, the absence penalty of one letter grade may still be upheld.
Late response papers will be accepted, but I will deduct 10% for each calendar day they
are late. After 10 consecutive days I will no longer accept them. Barring extenuating
circumstances, you MAY NOT make up quizzes or exams. I will NOT accept late final papers
due to the lack of time to grade them at the end of the semester and there is no make-up for the
final exam.
If you have special needs related to a disability which may affect your performance in
this course, please, speak to me privately to discuss your needs.
Academic honesty is expected of all students. All written work should be either your own
or contain clear references to your sources. I expect you to abide by university regulations on the
proper acknowledgement of source material, and to follow accepted MLA conventions for how
to reference scholarship. Students who knowingly plagiarize will be reported to the Dean of Students. Plagiarized Projects or assignments will receive a grade of zero and will not be eligible for
In the event of a major campus emergency, course requirements, deadlines, and grading
percentages will be subject to changes that may be necessitated by a revised semester calendar or
other circumstances. If and when this occurs, I will tell you how to proceed with your class.
We will be using Blackboard Learn as our primary means of communication regarding
course assignments; however, if you have questions for me, you should e-mail me directly. I will
answer all emails within 36 hours. Additionally, I will use our course email list to notify you of
important information. Plan to check Blackboard and your Purdue email account at least once
every day. Please keep your e-mail correspondence with me formal and polite.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not allow instructors to
discuss grades by email. Therefore, if you have questions about any grades or want to discuss
your development in this class please schedule an appointment with me or come to my office
Week 1
M - Course Introduction/Class Introductions/Presentation Assignments
W - “A Black Feminist Statement” and “That the Mothers May Soar and the Daughters
May Know Their Names: A Retrospective of Black Feminist Literary Criticism”
F - “Black Women Shaping Feminist Theory” and “‘What Has Happened Here’: The
Politics of Difference in Women’s History and Feminist Politics”
Week 2
M - “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism” (BB)
W - Sula
F – Sula
Week 3
M - Sula
W - “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” (BB)
F - “Phallus (ies) of Interpretation: Toward Engendering the Black Critical “I””
Week 4
M - “‘Don’t Let Nobody Bother Yo’ Principle’: The Sexual Economy of American
W - Corregidora
F - Corregidora
Week 5
M - Corregidora
W - QUIZ 1 +“Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves”
F - “Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance” and “Womanist” and “The Black Lesbian in
American Literature: An Overview” (BB)
Week 6
M - Dessa Rose
W - Dessa Rose
F - Dessa Rose
Week 7
M - “The Last Taboo” and “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism”
W - “Some of Us Did Not Die” and “Adichie’s Genealogies: National and Feminine
Novels” (BB)
F – Half of a Yellow Sun
Week 8
M – Half of a Yellow Sun + John Marx’s “Failed-State Fiction” (BB)
W – Half of a Yellow Sun
F - Midterm Exam
Week 9
M - “The Relevance of Black Feminist Scholarship: A Caribbean Perspective” and
Breath, Eyes, Memory
W - Breath, Eyes, Memory
F - Breath, Eyes, Memory
Week 10
Spring Break (No class)
Week 11
M - “Race, Gender, and the Prison Industrial Complex: California and Beyond”
W - “AIDS the Secret, Silent, Suffering Shame”
F - “New Directions for Black Feminist Criticism” by (BB)
Week 12
M - “The Race for Theory” by Barbara Christian (BB) and “But Who do You Really
Belong To - Black Studies or Women’s Studies?”
W - “Olympia’s Maid: Reclaiming Black Female Subjectivity”
F - What Looks Like Crazy
Week 13
M - What Looks Like Crazy
W - What Looks Like Crazy
F - QUIZ 2 + “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought” (BB) and “The Uses
of the Erotic” (BB)
Week 14
M – Zami +“Textual Healing: Claiming Black Women's Bodies, the Erotic and
Resistance in Contemporary Novels of Slavery” (BB)
W – Zami
F – Zami
Week 15
M - “When Fighting Words Are Not Enough: The Gendered Content of Afrocentrism”
W – Frantz Fanon’s “Colonial Wars and Mental Disorders” (BB) + Bruch, Hilde. “Body
Image and Self-Awareness.” (BB)
F - Nervous Conditions
Week 16
M – Nervous Conditions
W – Nervous Conditions
F - Final Paper Due
Week 17 – FINAL EXAM (TBA)