"This Girl Is on Fire!": Contemporary Black Women Preachers in Literature and Music
In James Weldon Johnson's 1927 preface to "God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse", he declares the black male preacher as the "master" or "conqueror" of all forms of "eloquence", thus deeming the black male preacher as the "artist of oration." But what about the black woman preacher? In this course, we will explore literarily and musically how black women preachers, from Jarena Lee to Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie and Bishop Dr. Barbara M. Amos have used their voices and sermons to transgress the antiquated conventions of preaching in the black church. What tangible literary sources have effectively marked the voice of the black woman preacher and how is the voice and sermon of the black woman sonically portrayed? We will also examine literary representations of women preachers in Toni Morrison's "Beloved", James Baldwin's "Just Above My Head," and other novels. Further, we will redefine the term "preacher" as it is conventionally understood within the church, investigating the works of hip-hop female artists from MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliott. As both text and performance, prose and poetry, literature and music, the sermons of the black woman preacher offer an excellent resource for our investigation of various research methods in literary studies, while introducing you to this important facet of African-American culture.
The Junior Research Seminar is designed to involve students in the kinds of research that the discipline of literary studies currently demands, including: working with primary sources and archival materials; reviewing the critical literature; using online databases of historical newspapers, periodicals, and other cultural materials; exploring relevant contexts in literary, linguistic, and cultural history; studying the etymological history and changing meanings of words; experimenting with new methods of computational analysis of texts; and other methodologies. The course typically involves a few main texts that are studied intensively from a variety of approaches. Research exercises throughout the semester will enable and culminate in a final project: either a scholarly essay of 10-15 pages or a creative project. In either case, the final project must emerge out of each student's intensive, independent research agenda.