Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Women's Work and Black Poetry
I really enjoyed Courtney Thorsson's thoughtful book Women's Work: Nationalism and Contemporary African American Women's Novels (2013). She covers a range of wonderful, engaging writers, including Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Ntozake Shange, Paule Marshall, and Gloria Naylor, and her book also charts the creative and critical histories of the work over time.
Women's Work is even more important when we consider that so many English departments across the country offer "Black Women's Writers" courses. So Thorsson's book can serve as a useful guide or complement to those classes and general courses in the field.
Lately, I've also been thinking about poetry and "Black Women's Writers" classes. When I scan through syllabi for those courses, the works of novelists and scholars are highlighted. But what would a course showcasing the poetry of African American women look like? Where would the class lead if the focal authors were Elizabeth Alexander, Evie Shockley, Patricia Smith, Nikky Finney, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Allison Joseph?
A black women's writers course focusing on verse instead of prose would lead us to an even larger number of writers, when we consider the expansive landscapes of poetry. The course would also prompt us to refine our sense of distinct fields--not just poetry, not just black poetry, but black women's poetry. And like Thorsson, we might take a close look at the texts and discuss the significance of those compositions as "women's work."
• A Notebook on work by Courtney Thorsson