Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English & Feminist Studies Course Blog


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Capstone bloggin’

So, before I get to blogging about Capstones, I want to share a literary theory that I happened upon online. It’s from 2000 but with Gatsby coming to theaters (and obviously, given the content of the course) I figured it’s relevant. Is Gatsby black (in this case, high yellow)?: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2000/aug/13/books.booksnews – definitely interesting to think about, and it got some pretty intense backlash when it was first presented. Hmm.

Anyway, Capstones! I always love seeing these presentations, and every time I go, I’m amazed by the huge variety of topics that manage they cover. This was definitely the case with Aesthetics, I guess because it’s such a broad category to begin with. Because of this, it’s pretty hard to hone in one consistent theme, but overall, what I found most interesting about them is the exploration of what makes something aesthetically pleasing (or ugly). There’s no way to get a concrete answer, but these Capstones were a really neat exploration of the possibilities.

The presentation about Sherlock Holmes adaptations through time and about “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” together, raised an interesting question. Both examined these title characters, who have remained popular since they were published, and how new adaptations have brought them to audiences. But what makes these Victorian characters so popular, even with modern audiences? The presenters seemed to say that there are certain sets of traits that, regardless of time period, are relatable to readers (or viewers). It’s cool to see what audiences view as universal human narratives, or just engaging character traits, and think about why this is so.

I also really enjoyed the presentations about music – jazz improv and contemporary Christian. When Riley, in his presentation, played Kenny G as a contrast to jazz improv, the audience laughed and groaned. Even though this music is more “composed” and because of this, presumably, aesthetically pleasing, everyone seemed to like the jazz improv music more. Mark’s presentation brought up questions of accessibility – though complicated contemporary Christian music is more aesthetically pleasing overall, popular staple Christian songs featured in church worship services must be able to be sung by everyone, and are thus repetitive and musically simple – less aesthetically pleasing. I love music, and these were things I’d never really thought about before, which made them great to listen to.

Wow, this got lengthy. I guess it goes without saying that I was really glad to attend these presentations and that all presenters did a great job!


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Just some reflecting

     So, I am also going to jump on the reflecting-on-the-semester train (I can’t believe it’s already ending…whaat?). I took this course for two main reasons: because it’s a crosslisted English and Fem Studies course and because until this semester, the only genre of literature I’d gotten the chance to study (both in high school and at SU) was British literature or pretty standard novels in the American lit cannon (think Scarlet Letter). No offense to either genre, but I wanted the chance to broaden my horizons a little more.
     That’s why I have to echo everyone else who has said that this course offered a chance to read novels that I would have never read before, because it definitely did. Honestly, had I not taken this course, I don’t think I would even know that The Street existed. Some of them I’d heard good things about (Push, The Color Purple), or put on my list to read eventually (The Bluest Eye), and I’m really glad to have gotten the chance to do so, in addition to learning about their historical context and critical reception when they were written. Another great thing about the course was reading these novels chronologically, and being able to observe different trends evolving within the genre, and seeing different facets of it (standard novel, epistolary, performance art, etc.).
     This class was also a different experience from any other English class I’ve taken before, because I’ve never seen a class where everyone consistently was really eager to participate. I honestly think we had a really great group, because I was never bored listening to the lively discussions that happened every class period (yes, even the completely random, “what-are-we-even-talking-about” po-mo tangents that inevitably happened). You guys really opened my mind to new perspectives on the novels, and reminded me why I enjoy the seminar-style learning of English classes here.
     Basically, it’s been a great semester and I’m glad to have taken this class with all of you! Congrats to everyone who’s graduating, and hope all of you have a great summer!


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A Reflection on this Semester

I’d like to take this moment to reflect on this semester as a whole, as most of the posts have done so far. I recently realized that this class was my fifth English course at Southwestern, though I’m neither a major or a minor. This was completely accidental, I just kept taking English classes because I love reading and discussing/analyzing texts, and taking these classes tends to allow me to read books I would have never read or even heard of otherwise. I almost took this course last year, but took Engaged! instead, and I’m really glad that I ended up with room in my schedule to take it this semester. I’ve enjoyed all of the conversations we have had regarding the books, articles, and poems that we have read this spring. 

I really enjoyed each of the books we read in this class. I’m not going to lie, I normally steer clear of books and films that are really emotionally jarring, and I was really nervous in particular about reading Push given what I had heard about it in the past. However, like I said before, what I love about English courses is getting to experience books that I never would have otherwise. Though some of the parts of these novels were difficult to get through, I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to read and discuss them with the class. Whether intended by the authors or not, these novels brought up some very important issues and I really enjoyed talking them through in class and getting everybody’s points of views. 

 


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Addressing the discussion we had on social commentary and novels, I have a somewhat difficult to articulate point. I tend to be all for the idea of not forcing an interpretation onto a text; just get me started on “Death of the Author” at some point and you’ll witness me unleashing my mighty viking fury. That said, I think there is a lot to be said for unintentional subtext, while still respecting the author’s initial point. One student in class mentioned the preponderance of poor people in sci-fi, fighting amongst each other or against an oppressor. They said that they felt that the authors may not have intended a social commentary in each text, and I think this is true, and it is certainly not my will to impose upon the author, for it is their art. That said, I feel that this would certainly constitute an inadvertent social commentary, as the author did not pull the concept of strife in poverty from thin air. In short, without meaning to do so, or deliberately in many cases, the author has recreated an aspect of society which they’ve previously observed, rendering the text at the very least an observation, if not an actual commentary.

On a slightly different note:
I think that when reading a novel, individuals should be aware of the potential for social critique, regardless of genre. As one of the Capstone presentations noted tonight: just because it isn’t serious doesn’t mean it’s not insightful. (This could likely be applied to our discussion of happy vs tragic endings as well, come to think of it.) Novels of all sorts provide a wealth of unique perspectives and approaches to societal problems. Above all else, this class has taught me to explore new fields of literature and therein find meaning, and this is a truly valuable lesson. For me, it means straying from fantasy and sci-fi, but for others it may mean diving into those very fields. I have no apt words to close this post, only shall I say that it has been an honor and privilege to study alongside you all.


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As we gooooo onnnnnnn…

Although I cannot claim that this course has “awakened” me to different cultural perspectives, I can attest to how much I thoroughly enjoyed the texts we were required to analyze.  Initially, I elected to enroll in Black Women Writers for the professor as well as the opportunity to read novels and poetry of authors I have never been exposed to before.  Maybe I’m not easily shocked, but the harshness that sprung from The Bluest EyePush, and The Color Purple did not inspire me to be more socially engaged with members of different races, or to combat racism wherever it appears.  This is no knock to the qualities of the novels (coincidentally, I enjoyed those three in particular) but a recognition that I am already aware enough about critical race theory and feminism to remain open-minded to absolutely any viewpoint as long as it is articulated clearly and reinforced by evidence.

What I can appreciate, however, are the real effects of fiction on a particular audience.  One of my favorite aspects of a work of the imagination is its therapeutic potentialities.  Throughout class we like to incorporate the term “a laying on of hands” to describe the sensation of group healing through the relation of non-fictional world problems to a work of clever genius.  This employs the power of touch, illustrating the tangibleness of a well-written character to the readers in need of a fictional foil.  Although I did not feel a particular connection to any character this semester, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading their stories.  I love analyzing, and this course was a gold mine for that.  I enjoyed listening intently to our heated discussions which almost always culminated in a rousing laugh, because y’all are good people.  It’s been fun.  Take care.

Cue slow-motion hugging and year-book-signing montage on the mall:  


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I’m satisfied

I am really glad that I decided to continue taking English courses despite already having enough credit for my minor.  I am even happier that I decided to take this particular course.  I had only seen the film adaptation of Push and heard about The Color Purple, so I was unsure about what to expect from our reading list.  However, I did like that I was able to engage with variety of texts with optimistic or real-world endings.  I have also enjoyed listening to and partaking in our group discussions.  It was validating when we agreed on an issue collectively and super exciting when we (or just 2-3 people) argued opposing sides.

As a psychology major I particularly enjoyed the psychological concepts and phenomena that were illustrated in these texts. Regardless if the authors knew that the situations they were depicting were actually scientifically proven psychological phenomena, I found it useful for myself to be able to further understand why certain situations occurred and how they were then maintained.  The Blues Eye and Push were like a (clinical) psychologist’s playground. I am not saying that characters in these books had disorders, but I would say that they had disorder-like symptoms.  As such, it was interesting to see how laypeople (in this case, people with no or little background in psychology) portrayed such cases.

Lastly, this course really pushed me to think about and engage with other perspectives.  I will never forget our first or second discussion about The Street.  I mentioned how I thought it was kind of sweet that Jones would paint Lutie’s apartment with color (he just wanted to brighten it up).  However, it was then pointed out that this act could also be seen has Jones not respecting Lutie’s wishes, which reflects that power dynamic between (black) men and women.  After this discussion, I think I became more aware of others’ perspective.  I may not have agreed with each perspective, but I think I became better at acknowledging them.  With that being said, if I ever offended you or made you feel awful in class, I am sorry; it wasn’t my intention.

P.S. Good luck to our seniors! Happy end of the semester :)


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(Includes spoilers!)

In class today, we were talking a bit about how abrupt the ending was, and how Precious hadn’t figured or planned things out for the children very much. The story kind of leaves us hanging between the naturalistic ending of The Street, and the happier ending of The Color Purple. As such I think it kind of throws off some of the critique that we’ve encountered about both story endings. Some people find The Street “too” harsh, and some people find The Color Purple’s ending “too” happy.

 

I find that to a degree, there is an uplifting ending in Precious. A lot of hope comes from developing the mind, and separating the mind from the body. When Precious’ father is raping her, she has to go to a special place in her mind to deny the reality of rape happening to her. The mind becomes a place of escape, a place of survival.

 

A similar dichotomy between mind and body happens when Precious is at the Survivors of Incest Anonymous meeting, and she sees that not only “ugly” girls are the ones to get raped, she gets the sensation of flying: “I see flying. Feel flying. Am flying. Far up, but my body down in circle. Precious is bird” (129). It is a moment in which her body no longer haunts her as a sign of her lack of worth. Instead, she can relate to someone else purely on the basis on their internal experiences. That recognition allows her inner self feel free – no longer trapped by her body. It exists, and not alone. It is a good moment.

 

Even though we know what must happen to Precious, she seizes every day and tries harder than ever to be educated and to give a voice to her and her friends. There is power in the mind – there is hope in it and a new kind of peace that allows her to even feel better about her body.

 

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