Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Topics in Women and Literature

ENGL 290.402
instructor(s):
R 1:30-4:30

Conjure: to conspire; to appeal to something sacred; to charm, bewitch.
Conjurement: the exercise of magical or occult influence.
Conjurer: one who performs tricks with words.

This course will explore the relationship between creativity, political activism and spirituality in the works of a number of contemporary women writers. Why do so many contemporary women writers and other creative artist chose to explore this relationship in their work? What is the difference between spirituality, religion and "magic?" What is the relationship of each of these to the act of writing, storytelling, rendering reality? These are but some of the questions we will explore. Others we will "conjure" together in this weekly seminar, where we will not only discuss the readings, but read many of them aloud to each other,learn to "read" paintings by selected artists, listen to music by others, and view films/videos as well.

Although we will focus on the writings in English by black women from throughout the African Diaspora, we will also consider the works of Native American, Latina, and Indian women writers as well. We will read fiction by Leslie Marmon Silko, Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, Divakaruni, Chita, Tina McElroy Ansa, Toni Cade Bambara, Laura Esquivil, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker,and Paule Marshall; essays by Mary Helen Washington, Gloria Wade Gayles, Hortense Spillers, Mae Henderson, Farah Griffin, Houston Baker Ana Castilo, Karla Holloway and Alice Walker. We will listen to music of Sweet Honey in the Rock, Cassandra Wilson, Dianne Reeves and screen works by Ayoka Chenzira and Julie Dash.

Each class will be a collaborative effort: Lectures will be rare. Students are to be active partipants and are expected to become engaged in class discussions as well as provide brief, informal reports and/or presentations to generate these discussions. Written work will take the form of a portfolio that will include response papers, journal entries, book reviews and a final critical essay of 10-15 pages. The final essay will require a bibliography of both creative and critical writings.