Graduate Course Description

350:588 - Slavery and the Black Feminist Imagination

Course No:  350:588
Index # - 14885
Distribution Requirement:  A5, C, D
Monday - 2:00 p.m.
MU 207

Slavery and the Black Feminist Imagination

Evie Shockley

The figure of the Black woman within the transatlantic slave trade and chattel slavery in North America and the Caribbean constitutes a paradox of absence and presence, invisibility and hypervisibility. The exploitation of her labor was facilitated by, among other things, the erasure of her subjectivity from the archive of the Middle Passage and her overdetermined role in the perpetuation of slavery under the rule of partus sequitur ventrem. Launching the course from the recognition of this redoubled brutality, we will investigate some of the ways Black women during and since the era of legalized slavery have imagined, theorized, and represented themselves in the face of and as a counterhistory to the “ungendering” inscription of the Black female figure in white supremacist culture and the dominant public record of, primarily, the U.S., but also the Caribbean and Canada. We will also think through intra-racial issues of gender raised not infrequently by our texts. To keep our inquiry manageable within the context of a single semester, we will focus on two periods: the mid- to late nineteenth century and the post-Black Arts/post-Civil Rights-era through the present. Alongside works of literature from a range of genres, we will take up other forms of Black feminist art, criticism, and theory. We will deploy the term “Black feminist” generously—as potentially encompassing work produced prior to the emergence of feminism, per se, or work by scholars who do not identify as Black women. Our collective goal will be to make literature and literary criticism the spine of a multi-media, interdisciplinary inquiry centering Black women as subjects of and in the social, cultural, and political afterlife of slavery.

Our texts will be drawn primarily from among the following works: Dionne Brand, The Blue Clerk; Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower or “Bloodchild”; Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust; Soyica Diggs Colbert, Black Movements; Marisa Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives; Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Spill or M Archive; Francis E. W. Harper, selections; Pauline Hopkins, Contending Forces; Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Adrienne Kennedy, Funnyhouse of a Negro; Robin Coste Lewis, The Voyage of the Sable Venus; Paule Marshall, Praisesong for the Widow; Jennifer Morgan, “Partus sequitur ventrem”; Toni Morrison, A Mercy; Suzan-Lori Parks, Venus; NourbeSe Philip, She Tries Her Tongue; Her Silence Softly Breaks; Alison Saar, Topsy-Turvey; Christina Sharpe, Monstrous Intimacies or In the Wake; C. Riley Snorton, Black on Both Sides; Hortense Spillers, “Changing the Letter” and “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe”; Natasha Trethewey, Thrall; Kara Walker, selections; Cheryl Wall, Worrying the Line; Alexander Weheliye, Habeas Viscus; Carrie Mae Weems, selections; Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman; and Sylvia Wynter, “Sambos and Minstrels.”

Evaluation will be based on active participation in oral and written discussions of the texts; two class presentations (one on assigned readings and the other of your final project for the course); a midterm of 5-6 pages; and a final paper or project of 9-10 pages (or the equivalent).