Skip to content

Composition Forum 20, Summer 2009

Black Female Intellectuals in the Academy: Inventing the Rhetoric and Composition Special Topics Course

Bookmark and Share

Staci Maree Perryman-Clark

Abstract: Using the African American women’s intellectual tradition as a framework, this essay investigates a special topics graduate-level course design. It also positions the special topics course as an enabling sight for revising how graduate courses are commonly designed in rhetoric and composition. Through the study of Black women’s intellectual tradition, the author emphasizes a focus on the intellectual processes, including an understanding of the pedagogies and research methodologies that Black women explore.

The implications surrounding graduate course designs that focus on ethnic minorities and women is a topic worth exploring in published rhetoric and composition scholarship. Despite the hype surrounding so-called multiculturalism and cultural studies courses that seek to include Other rhetorical traditions (Villanueva “Rhetoric”; Reid), there still remains a limited representation of course designs that explore alternative cultural and rhetorical traditions published in disciplinary scholarship. For example, in their most recent (2007) consortium of rhetoric and composition doctoral programs, Brown et al. make no mention of cultural studies courses, cultural studies specialized concentrations, or cultural studies-focused dissertations; nor do they note any required or specialized courses that explore alternative cultural traditions at all, although they do indicate that the majority of the doctoral programs surveyed included ongoing training and orientation sessions and required coursework in composition theory and practice (“Portrait” 337). While training in composition theory and pedagogical practice may be required in most doctoral rhetoric and composition curricula, these curricula need not require an exploration or focus on ethnic minorities and/or women.

The limited focus on alternative rhetorical traditions and/or cultural groups in required graduate course training does not mean that scholars have not called for such exploration. Krista Ratcliffe states that graduate pedagogy and TA training should demonstrate

not only the presence of rhetorical theory along with cultural studies scholarship but also an awareness of rhetorical theory along with cultural studies pedagogy. This scholarly presence and pedagogical awareness of rhetorical theory, along with cultural studies, must be made overt in graduate classes, TA training and in the undergraduate classroom if students are to see the rhetorical dimensions of their cultural studies critiques; otherwise, students may leave graduate seminars or writing classrooms thinking that they’ve learned to write specific kinds of papers rather than understanding that they’ve learned rhetorical conventions that they may adapt in other university courses and beyond. (par. 15)

The fact that Ratcliffe calls for cultural studies courses and programs to be “made overt in graduate courses” also speaks to the limited representation of these calls in our disciplinary scholarship. If one considers the most recent rhetoric and composition catalog of the profession and Ratcliffe’s call for cultural studies exploration in required graduate training, one might infer that cultural studies courses that explore alternative rhetorical traditions, even if taught, remain both under taught and underemphasized in our field’s published scholarship.

As a result of these often neglected discussions in disciplinary scholarship, I began thinking more critically about the graduate courses I may want to teach as a future faculty member, teacher, and scholar. Although it is perhaps unrealistic to demand an exhaustive exploration of alternative cultural traditions in required graduate rhetoric and composition courses, it might be more feasible to create particular spaces by using the special topics course. Thus began my quest to engage more critically in specific types of graduate courses, including special topics courses, that faculty members often have limited opportunities to teach. I am also interested in thinking about special topics courses as an enabling site for course design because I believe that these courses may provide graduate students with increased opportunities—and more time—to explore alternative cultural traditions and other specialized sets of knowledge less traditionally offered in other courses. Although such cultural traditions may be explored in other required courses, I find special topics courses to be unique sites for centering on these traditions and practices.

To provide graduate students with knowledge and exploration in varying subfields, I offer a special topics graduate course design model that investigates the cultural traditions and intellectual practices of African-American female scholars. More specifically, I look at how African-American women’s intellectual discourse is situated in the academy, using Black women’s scholarship in rhetoric and composition (and related fields) as a lens. I am most interested in African-American women’s presence in the academy because while some attention has been paid to African-American women’s intellectual practices and processes outside the academy (Logan; Royster; Troutman; Lathan), I find the experiences associated with production of contemporary African-American women’s academic scholarship also worthy of exploration. In her own study on the intellectual work and processes performed by Black women academics, Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner argues that “the lives of faculty women of color are often invisible, hidden within studies that look at the experiences of women faculty and within studies that examine the lives of faculty of color” (76). She further notes: “In a similar vein, . . . scholars writing about Black intellectual life focus solely on the lives and works of Black men, ignoring and devaluing the scholarship of Black women intellectuals” (80). Thus, I call for a more critical look at Black women’s intellectual processes and experiences within the academy.

My decision to focus on the Black women intellectual tradition is also because while many African American special topics courses investigate the study of African American literacy, rhetorical, and linguistic practices that may or may not include a particular focus on women, most courses do not position African American females as the primary agents for initiating these intellectual practices. Put simply, while African American female intellectuals or research participants may be included or studied, the role of the African American female as the primary focus of inquiry is less often considered, or if considered, is not taken up exhaustively over the duration of an entire semester. Even though there are trends in literary theory to design courses that focus exclusively on African American female literary authors, I see this trend less often in rhetoric and composition courses that focuses exclusively on African American female rhetors and scholars.

Using the Black intellectual tradition as a framework, this essay investigates my attempt to invent a special topics graduate-level course design, a course I hope to have the opportunity to teach someday. It also positions the special topics course as an enabling site to provide different ways of seeing, different sets of relationships, and different ways of revising how graduate courses are commonly designed in rhetoric and composition. The special topics course, then, becomes an inventive site for thinking about intellectual discourse, alternative communicative practices, and alternative cultural traditions. Through the study of the Black Women’s Intellectual tradition, I emphasize a focus on the intellectual processes, including an understanding of the pedagogies and research methodologies that Black women explore and publish with, not the actual publications as products themselves, because I am more interested in the challenges and decisions that confront Black women’s scholarship and not on the quality of the products that are published. Such a course seeks to investigate how Black women’s intellectual work can be made possible, thus paving the way for future graduate-student scholars.

I acknowledge that the Black woman’s intellectual presence need not exist only in the academy. As Patricia Hill Collins reminds us, “One is neither born an intellectual nor does one become one by earning a degree. Rather, doing intellectual work of the sort envisioned by Black feminism requires a process of self-conscious struggle on behalf of African American women, regardless of the social location where that work occurs” (13). Nonetheless, I find a look at the Black woman’s role in the academy to be quite valuable. Collins also recognizes that Black women scholars [are] in a position to see the exclusion of Black women from scholarly discourse, and the thematic content of their work often reflected their interest in examining a Black woman’s standpoint. However, their tenuous status in academic institutions led them to adhere to Eurocentric masculinist epistemologies so that their work would be accepted as scholarly. As a result, while they produced Black feminist thought, those Black women most likely to gain academic credentials were often least likely to produce Black feminist thought that used an Afrocentric feminist epistemology. (“Social” 238)

Collins’s discussion of Black feminist intellectual practices provides insight into the challenges associated with academic scholarship. On one hand, Black women are expected to produce Eurocentric scholarship typically associated with the academy and academic discourse. On the other hand, when Black women produce scholarship reflecting feminist discourse, they are often pressured to ignore the intersections that exist between race and gender. Those who produce feminist scholarship are often more likely to gain academic credentials than those who produce an Africanized version of feminist scholarship.

Joyce Middleton further illustrates the tensions associated with Black women writers and scholars who grapple between assimilation and retaining the oral and rhetorical practices of their home communities. In reference to Zora Neal Hurston’s writing, she states:

In an assimilationist era, Hurston was especially concerned with the danger of losing the black oral memory—with the way memory is constructed and esteemed in black culture. Other black intellectuals of the time—what she called the ”black literati“—were often more concerned with assimilating Western values for written language use and representing the race. Many contemporary writers and scholars, black women and women of color, have revisited these issues, experimenting with oral and written values. (29)

Because of these challenges associated with Black women’s intellectual decisions about how to write and/or what to publish both inside and outside the academy, I aim to design a special topics course that looks at the ways in which African American women have confronted these conflicts and made significant contributions to academic scholarship, contributions that are often not rewarded in the disciplines where they publish or by the academy at large.

A Conceptual Framework for Designing the Special Topics Course

In envisioning my new course, I began to lay out the elements I needed to design the course, starting with the course description and required readings I wanted to assign. In order to compose the description and select the required texts, I decided that I needed a conceptual theoretic framework for demonstrating my commitment to studying the African American women intellectual tradition and a list of required readings that reflected this commitment. The theory behind my special topics course draws from Jacqueline Jones Royster’s concept of Afrafeminism in Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women, where she indicates that “[t]he task is to make overt connections . . . between the everyday understanding of African American women” (274). She goes on to add that “[a]n Afrafeminist approach, as an enabling site of operation for both thought and action, suggests in rhetorical studies a paradigm shift.The shift begins with a reconsideration of who . . . the agents of the research and scholarship include” (274).

My rationale for drawing on Afrafeminism is to urge scholars in rhetoric and composition to begin thinking of yet another paradigm shift, one that posits African American female intellectuals as subjects and agents of research and scholarship, agents who have traditionally been excluded from areas of inquiry, in addition to being traditionally excluded from the academy entirely. I believe that one way to position African American women with greater agency is to begin with a graduate rhetoric and composition course. My course design aims to invent new ways of positioning the African American female intellectual as the primary agent, by first urging students to make explicit connections between the everyday experiences of African American women and the women scholarly intellectuals studied in class, and then, by reconsidering what agents in scholarship should include. One main goal for the course, then, will be to identify and consider African American women epistemologies as intellectual work. Such a consideration poses challenges for both the instructor and students to identify these epistemologies in ways that do not oversimplify or stereotype African American women’s intellectual and academic work. The key will be how student intellectuals identify collective identities and community practices associated with the African American women intellectual tradition while considering the many variations that exist in Black women’s intellectual practices, including her pedagogy, research, scholastic, and publishing decisions.

Appendix 1 identifies the proposed course description used to craft my special topics course. Specifically, its questions ask the students and instructor to make connections between the experiences of African American women and African American scholastic intellectuals. By using an Afrafeminist lens, students will investigate the literate, rhetorical, and linguistic practices employed and studied by African American women, while thinking more critically about how these processes and practices are situated in scholarship and academic discourse. This way, students can also explore and think more critically about non-dominant linguistic and rhetorical traditions. In my own required PhD coursework, there was never a shortage of learning and studying Western dominant linguistic and rhetorical traditions, traditions to which students should be exposed during required core coursework. This special topics course, however, provides another opportunity to explore traditions not exhaustively covered in other required courses. Perhaps it is not enough to read one book or to have an African American rhetoric or African American women week or unit in a fifteen week seminar; such an exploration, I believe, needs its own distinct seminar space.

When determining which texts to include in my bibliography, I wanted to select those texts that may speak to the ways in which rhetoric, linguistics, and literacy are understood and positioned in African American scholarship by African American women. As an instructor and African American woman, I understand these areas to be situated in particular pedagogical and methodological contexts, and thus position these themes in relation to pedagogical scholarship and empirical research (although African American women’s intellectual processes need not be restricted to these categories of scholarship). Because this course focuses on scholarship by African American women, each required text needed to reflect this focus. The challenge associated with deciding which texts to include was to select texts that employed different research methods and methodologies. Because one purpose for the course is to urge students to make connections between Black women’s everyday practices and intellectual processes, some texts needed to reflect research on the literate and rhetorical practices employed by Black women (Logan, Coming; Royster, Traces; Troutman; Dyson; Pough; Smitherman. “Testifyin”; Spellers; hooks; Richardson, “Workin”). But not all Black women necessarily conduct research or produce scholarship on Black women, even though they too are part of the intellectual tradition, which is why I chose to focus the course on intellectual processes employed by Black women and not the products or topics on which they publish (Smitherman, Word; Delpit; Richardson, African; Moss; Ladson-Billings). Creating a balance between Black women’s scholarship on Black women, and Black women’s scholarship on additional communicative (primarily racial) practices also helps students confront the processes, decisions, and challenges Black women intellectuals face when publishing, challenges that exist across disciplinary contents.

The common threads that informed what to include in the course bibliography also include providing a representation of different ways of doing, seeing, and understanding scholastic discourse. I also wanted to provide a gloss of texts reflecting different research methodologies provided by and made available to graduate students. The course bibliography is noteworthy because the works on classroom-research (Richardson, African American Literacies), ethnography (Moss, A Community Text), autobiography (Williams, The Alchemy), historiography (Royster, Traces of a Stream; Logan We Are Coming) critical discourse and/or rhetorical analysis (Smitherman, “Testifying, Sermonizing”; Richardson African American Literacies; Royster Traces of a Stream; Logan We Are Coming), and discourse analysis (Troutman, “African American Women”, Richardson, “She Was Workin”) all employ methods and methodologies used by African American female intellectuals. As part of the course, I encourage students to consider why Black women adapt and publish using these methods. Are there institutional and/or disciplinary pressures to produce certain types of methodologies over others? Besides the racial/gender conflicts that Black women face when publishing, what other methodological challenges exist when they produce such scholarship?

I focus on the challenges associated with Black women’s scholarship, as much has been said about its relationship to Black female subjectivity. Royster’s Traces of a Stream offers a good example of how African American women must balance the research they do in their home communities with the challenges associated with producing this type of scholarship. She states that “with special knowledge-making potential, African American women intellectuals are challenged to build bridges between afrafeminist insights within the group and the visions and experiences of others” (277). Other bibliographic references speak to the challenges associated with producing scholarship based on research conducted on home communities (Logan; Moss; Williams). I find looking closely at the challenges associated with producing academic scholarship to be valuable for graduate students who will one day go on the market and need to make decisions about the type of scholarship they will need to produce.

While it may be counterproductive to provide justification for each bibliographic choice, I do want to highlight a couple that speak to the ways in which methodology, composition pedagogy, and rhetorical theory are deliberately positioned in ways that permit students to identify and examine the many relationships they have with each other. For example, in A Community Text Arises: A Literate Text and a Literacy Tradition in African-American Churches, Beverly Moss employs ethnographic research methods to study the literate and rhetorical practice African American ministers use to compose the sermon texts. Moss understands literacy in the Black Church in its relationship to rhetorical discourses as "a complex, social process involving multiple levels of participation by rhetors and audience, intertextual relationships (i.e. interdependent relations between oral, written, and sometimes musical texts) and complex belief systems of members of particular communities" (6). In We Are Coming: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth Century Black Women, Shirley Wilson Logan similarly understands the interconnected relationship between literacy and rhetoric in historical and archival research on nineteenth-century African American women’s intellectual discourse. She writes: “[African American] traditions of literacy influenced rhetorical practices. Within the context of the fact that North American blacks have their origins in Africa and inevitably retained much of their various cultures, the pull toward an African connectedness justifiably persists” (27). Understanding the ways in which research, composition, literacy, and rhetoric are published and interwoven in the African American women intellectual tradition is one primary factor influencing the required texts that were used to design the special topics course.

I focus on interconnectivity when speaking of African American women’s intellectual traditions because the relationship between rhetoric, literacy, education, and pedagogy is not easily separated; thus, graduate students shouldn’t feel pressured to select one particular subfield as a focus in their own research and scholarship. Similar to the examples I draw from Moss and Logan, we can point to much scholarship on African American Vernacular English,{1} and its effects on African American students writing, as one of many examples of the ways in which education, rhetorical discourse, linguistics, literacy, and pedagogy are all reflected through the study of African American students’ composing practices (Redd and Webb, A Teachers Introduction; Gilyard and Richardson, “Students’ Right”; Smitherman, “Blacker the Berry; Delpit, Other People’s; Moss, Community). Because African American communicative practices (both oral and written) often embed African-based rhetorical and idiomatic stylistic features (e.g., call/response, signifyin, narrative sequencing, imagery, etc.), we might also expect African American women intellectuals to draw on similar rhetorical and discursive community-based practices in their own scholarship.

When reflecting on the many contributions to education and the teaching of writing that Royster and Jean C. Williams offer in “History in the Spaces Left: African American Presence and Narratives in Composition Studies,” for example, I would be remiss if my special topics course did not cover and rediscover the ways in which African American intellectuals have not only contributed research to the academy, but also have worked to shape and contribute ideologies about teaching practices, including but not limited to the teaching of writing. While some special topics courses on key scholars in the field—regardless of gender or race—often focus on theory as it applies to their research, many of these courses provide limited opportunity to focus on theory as it applies exclusively to scholars’ teaching practices. I am concerned with the trend, primarily at research-extensive institutions, to value research over teaching (Park, “Research”), and see a similar trend in many graduate courses—especially those focusing on research methodologies, contemporary rhetoric, and composition theory—to devote more attention to empirical and other forms of theoretical research in the field that does not involve explicit devotion to teaching. This trend, I believe, leaves out many contributions by African American women, particularly those who value teaching as much if not more than they do research. In short, I wanted to make sure that course texts devoted specific foci on both the methodologies and pedagogies employed by Black women intellectuals.

Course Design: Using the Special Topics Course to Meet Students’ Pedagogical, Scholastic, and Research Goals

Appendix 2 provides a description of the major assignments and duties. My rationale for assigning each task is primarily to provide opportunities for graduate students to synthesize course material in ways most useful for their own teaching, research, and other professional purposes. With each assignment, students have the option to explore methodologies or pedagogies employed by Black women, as they begin to understand these intellectual processes. Students are also encouraged to make overt connections between the special topics course goals and pedagogical theory and training. (These connections are also explicitly made in the course description.) Select readings and assignments also encourage students to make connections between course material and undergraduate and graduate pedagogy, although students also may use the course to fulfill additional professional needs.

The first major writing assignment asks students to submit weekly responses. I would also emphasize that rationales for assigning weekly responses are rarely addressed in the field. Weekly reaction papers are not just busy work; they provide students with opportunities to pull useful concepts and theories for future use. As a graduate student, I pulled a lot of dissertation and comprehensive exam material from my weekly responses to special topics course readings, and therefore suggest that using weekly responses as inventive spaces may be essential for future graduate-level work. The responses served as a filing system for how I understood new ideas and ways of seeing, doing, and researching intellectual practices. These responses I filed electronically under various labels—methodology (theoretical or empirical), pedagogy, literacy, rhetoric, linguistics, feminism, etc.—that for me defined sub-areas for future research. I also hope that weekly responses serve as inventive sites for student to explore new ideas and relationships drawn from course texts.

The second assignment, leading class discussions, asks students to engage in oral forms of communication by synthesizing course readings and raising critical questions for class discussion. While requirements designate the types of questions, activities, etc., that students may include, it is expected that activities make connections with their work and experiences as graduate students. Like weekly reaction papers, such questions may also be pedagogical or methodological in nature. Possible activities for leading discussion might include a lesson demonstration, a class study design based on the methodologies used in assigned readings for that week, or an oral or visual performance based on assigned readings. Like writing assignments, I believe that oral discourse is also critical to understanding the ways in which intellectual discourse is situated in African American-centered traditions.

The other assignments also provide practical ways for students to file knowledge learned from course material. The book review (see Appendix 3 for a bibliography of possible books) gives students an opportunity to practice writing and submitting work for potential publication. It also provides students opportunities to file references of books they may need to reference or cite later. For book reviews, students may select texts based on particular methodologies or pedagogies that interest them and prepare a review based on the effectiveness of these methodologies and/or pedagogies. The purpose is to use the book review to help graduate students think more critically about the professional and intellectual work they wish to accomplish as graduate students and beyond.

The final seminar essay provides professional and other scholastic opportunities for students to situate their work in particular contexts of scholarly discourse. The student can either design his/her own undergraduate or graduate special topics course (teaching/pedagogy), write a conference paper or article presenting on pedagogical or non-classroom scholarship (research), or prepare for his/her comprehensive exam as (s)he works toward the degree. The purpose of making the final project flexible serves to help the student make professional decisions most useful to him/her during a specific stage of his/her career/coursework. If the possible choices for the final project do not suit students’ professional needs, they may also propose an alternative project that will help them think critically about the relationship between the African American female intellectual tradition and the methodological and pedagogical work they wish to accomplish during their careers. Hence, each of these assignments may serve as possible inventive spaces for trying out new theories and ideas, while still serving a practical purpose.

Appendix 4 represents the fourteen-week course schedule and sequence of readings/assignments. Composing the schedule also proved to be quite challenging as I attempted to position the bibliographic schedule in relation to some of the common methodologies I associate with African American women’s intellectual discourse. The first topic begins with an understanding of women’s autobiographical narrative methodologies in the field. Thus, on the first day students read Logan’s “When and Where I Enter” and Royster’s “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own,” as both draw on narrative methodologies to confront challenges associated with their students, colleagues, and the academy at large. As it is common for many first-year writing courses to assign a narrative essay at the beginning of the semester, I wanted to begin on the first day with an autobiographical understanding of the challenges that African American women intellectuals encounter within the academy. In doing so, I offer Black women’s autobiographical experiences in ways that encourage graduate students to make connections with their own experiences. These connections, I believe, are quite useful conversations to have with graduate students, as we prepare them for the challenges they may encounter as future scholars. Subsequent weeks focus on African American women’s contribution to historiography, feminist theory, critical discourse analysis, pedagogical theory, and ethnography; thus, each week is scheduled to focus on a particular methodology employed by Black women intellectuals.

In this section, I want to emphasize that the purpose of examining the relationships between course descriptions, required texts, required assignments, and course sequencing is to understand what new ideas come directly from pedagogical and methodological exploration. By creating new opportunities for invention, I sought to discuss my composing process for designing the course materials. I also want to emphasize that through our course descriptions, required texts, and assignments, new ideas and practices emerge that create potential areas of research and scholarship in the field. As a result, additional opportunities and inventive spaces are created within various publication venues. By using African American women’s scholarship we can use such experiences to prepare graduate students for the pedagogical and methodological decisions they will make upon degree completion.

Conclusions and Implications

The purpose of this essay is to offer a pedagogical model for exploring the Black woman’s intellectual tradition. I further argue that this model must devote attention to an exploration of Black women’s pedagogical and methodological processes, as both require critical intellectual engagement that extends beyond institutional boundaries. I also argue that such a course be used to encourage graduate students to make connections between the Black female intellectual tradition and their own methodological and pedagogical processes and goals, since training in methodology and pedagogy is often required for students to develop a disciplinary orientation to the field.

I also offer this essay as a lens for thinking more critically about graduate course designs and pedagogy. The purpose of this exercise is to position Black intellectual traditions in relationship to graduate course design, using the special topics as a useful space and heuristic for examining graduate-level pedagogical approaches. In this demonstration, I hoped to think more clearly about inventive spaces for encouraging both students and instructors to generate new ideas and relationships between subfields and the field of rhetoric and composition studies. I also hoped to provide opportunities for students to put invention in relationship with their own professional and curricular goals. Finally, and more importantly, I sought to pair invention in relationship to the exciting work that African American female intellectuals are doing inside and outside of the field. Placing sistas with more agency permits students and the instructor to explore what the rhetoric of African American female intellectuals is, and what it does.


  1. Some sources use the terms, Ebonics, AAVE, BEV, or BE when discussing pedagogical scholarship teaching African American students to write Standard English, while encouraging them to draw on African-based rhetorical and discursive practices at the same time. (Return to text.)

Works Cited

Brown et al. “Portrait of the Profession: The 2007 Survey of Doctoral Programs in Rhetoric and Composition.” Rhetoric Review 27.4 (Oct. 2008): 331-40.

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990.

———. “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought.” Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy. Eds. Garry and Pearsall. New York and London: Routledge, 1996. 222-249.

Gilyard, Keith and Elaine Richardson. “Students’ Right to Possibility: Basic Writing and African American Rhetoric.” Insurrections: Approaches to Resistance in Composition Studies. Ed. Andrea Greenbaum. Albany: State U of NY P, 2001.

Hardin, Joe Marshall. Opening Spaces: Critical Pedagogy and Resistance Theory in Composition. Albany: State U of NY P, 2001.

Park, Shelley M. “Research, Teaching, and Service: Why Shouldn't Women's Work Count?” The Journal of Higher Education 67.1 (1996): 46-84.

Lathan, Rhea Estelle. Writing a Wrong: A Case Study of African American Adult Literacy Action on the South Carolina Sea Islands 1957-1962. Diss. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006. Ann Arbor: UMI 3234565.

Logan, Shirley Wilson. We Are Coming: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth Century Black Women. Carbondale: Southern IL UP, 1999.

Middleton, Joyce. “Review: Where to Look for Zora.” The Women's Review of Books 13.2 (Nov. 1995): 28-29.

Moss, Beverly. A Community Text Arises: A Literate Text and A Literacy Tradition in African-American Churches. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton P, 2003.

Ratcliffe, Krista. “The Current State of Composition Scholar/Teachers: Is Rhetoric Gone or Just Hiding Out?” Enculturation 5.1 (Fall 2003): <>.

Redd, Teresa and Karen Schuster Webb. A Teacher’s Introduction to African American English: What a Writing Teacher Should Know. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2005.

Reid, Shelley. “Starting Somewhere Better: Revisiting Multiculturalism in First-Year Composition.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 4.1 (2004): 65-92.

Richardson, Elaine. African American Literacies. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.

———. “‘To Protect and Serve’: African American Female Literacies." College Composition and Communication 53.4 (2002): 675-704.

Rouen, Duane, Stuart Cameron Brown, and Theresa Enos, eds. Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline. Philadelphia, PA: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change among African American Women. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh P, 2000.

Smith, Louise. “Composing Composition Courses.” College English 46.5 (Sept. 1984): 460-69.

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Detroit and Boston: Houghlin Mifflin and Wayne State UP, 1977/1986.

———. “Testifyin, Sermonizing, and Signifyin: Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the African American Verbal Tradition.” Talkin that Talk: Language, Culture and Education in African America. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. 251-267.

———. “‘The Blacker the Berry, the Sweeter the Juice’: African American Student Writers and the National Assessment of Educational Progress.” Paper read at the National Council of Teachers of English held at Pittsburgh November 17 to 22, 1993. Pittsburgh, PA: National Council of Teachers Conference, 1993.

Sullivan, Patricia. “Writing in the Graduate Curriculum: Literary Criticism as Composition.” Composition Theory for the Postmodern Classroom. Eds. Olson and Dorbin. Albany: State U of NY P, 1994. 32-48.

Troutman, Denise. “African American Women: Talking that Talk.” Sociocultural and Historical Contexts of African American English. Ed. Sonja Lanehart. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2001. 211-37.

Turner, Caroline Sotello Viernes. “Women of Color in Academe Living with Multiple Marginality.” The Journal of Higher Education 73.1 (Jan./Feb. 2002): 74-93.

Villanueva, Victor. “On the Rhetoric and Precedents of Racism” College Composition and Communication 50.4 (1999): 645-661.

Williams, Patricia. The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991.


Appendix 1: Course Description and Selected Texts

This course examines the intellectual practices and processes of African American female academics. It further investigates how African American female intellectual activity situates itself—and is situated rhetorically and linguistically—and how these in turn inform the literate practices employed in the African American community. We will explore analyses of various African-based and African American rhetorical and linguistic practices in rhetoric and composition, in addition to understandings of rhetoric and pedagogy as it is situated by African American women outside of composition studies (including education, women studies, and legal theory). One primary objective of this course is to recover and rediscover African American female contributions to the academy, and how these contributions may speak to the work that we as rhetoricians and educators are called to do.

The goals of this course are two-fold. On one hand, I encourage you to make connections between the Black women’s scholarship and your own research and scholarship. On the other hand, since the Black women’s intellectual traditional also includes a focus on teaching, it is also my hope that you use this course to think more critically about your own pedagogical goals, both as a teaching assistant and beyond. Through our exploration, we hope to consider the following questions:

Course Texts:

Adams, Aesha. “A Community Text Arises: A Literate Text and a Literacy Tradition in African-American Churches, by Beverly Moss.” Composition Studies 32.1. Spring 2004. 15 March 2008.

Delpit, Lisa. “The Politics of Teaching Literate Discourse.” Literacy: A Critical Sourcebook, Eds. Cushman et al. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 545-54.

hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Cambridge, MA: South End P, 1992.

Ladson-Billings, Gloria. The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.

Logan, Shirley Wilson. "'When and Where I Enter': Race, Gender, and Composition Studies.” In Feminism and Composition Studies:In Other Words.Eds. Susan C. Jarratt and Lynn Worsham. New York: Modern Language Association, 1998. 45-57.

———. We Are Coming: The Persuasive Discourse of Nineteenth Century Black Women. Carbondale, IL: Southern IL UP, 1999.

Middleton, Joyce. “Orality, Literacy, and Memory in Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon.” College English 55.1 (Jan. 1993): 64-75.

Moss, Beverly. A Community Text Arises: A Literate Text and A Literacy Tradition in African-American Churches. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton P, 2003.

Pough, Gwendolyn. Check It While I Wreck It: Black Womanhood, Hip-Hop Culture, and the Public Sphere. Lebanon, NH: Northeastern UP and UP of New England, 2004.

Richardson, Elaine. African American Literacies. London and New York: Routledge, 2003.

———. “‘To Protect and Serve’: African American Female Literacies.” College of Composition and Communication 53.4 (2002): 675-704.

———. “She Was Workin Like For Real: Critical Literacy and Discourse Practices of African American Females in the age of Hip Hop.” Discourse and Society 18.6 (2007): 789-809.

Royster, J. J and J. C Williams. “Histories in the Spaces Left: African American Presence and Narratives in Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication 50. 2 (Jun. 1999): 563-84.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women. Pittsburgh, PA: U of Pittsburgh P, 2000.

———. “When the First Voice You Here is Not Your Own.” College Composition and Communication 47.1 (1996): 563-84.

Smitherman, Geneva. “Testifyin, Sermonizing, and Signifyin: Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the African American Verbal Tradition.” Talkin that Talk: Language, Culture and Education in African America. London and New York: Routledge, 2000. 251-67.

———. Word from the Mother: Language and African Americans. New York and London: Routledge, 2006.

Spellers, Regina. “The Kink Factor: A Womanist Discourse Analysis of African American Mother/Daughter Perspectives on Negotiating Black Hair/Body Politics.” Understanding African American Rhetoric: Classical Origins to Contemporary Innovations. Eds. Ronald Jackson and Elaine Richardson. New York and London: Routledge, 2004. 223 -43.

Troutman, Denise. “African American Women: Talking that Talk.” Sociocultural and Historical Contexts of African American English. Ed. Sonja Lanehart. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2001. 211-37.

Williams, Patricia. The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1991.

(Return to text.)

Appendix 2: Course Assignments and Descriptions

  1. Weekly Responses: Each week students will submit (electronic is fine) a 1-2 page response or reaction to the assigned week’s readings. These responses need not cover every reading assigned; however, they should provide a glimpse of critical thinking, theories, and/or research methodologies you wish/do wish not to apply/critique for your own personal scholastic inquiry and intellectual activity.
  2. Discussion Leaders: Each group will plan to lead discussion once per semester. In pairs or threes, you should prepare to provide a brief overview or summary of assigned readings, in addition to activities and questions you wish for the rest of the class to take up during the seminar period. Groups should prepare a 45-minute to 1-hour presentation (format and technological platforms are totally up to the group, as long as groups arrange for the necessary resources to be provided). I encourage you to provide pedagogical activities that you find useful in graduate courses.
  3. Book Review: Each student will write a 5-page book review of a work associated with issues taken up in the seminar for potential submission to an academic journal in his/her chosen field/subfield. Please identify one journal in the discipline, and carefully review and attach the book review guidelines (citation style, word/page limit etc.) for the journal you wish to publish in with your work. For this review, you may choose to tackle the pedagogical or methodological arguments made in your selected book. You will also present a 10-minute oral report on your selected book. A list of potential books serves only as a guide for possible choices. You may broaden these to include works in Latina studies, queer theory, etc. I might also recommend that if you choose a book not listed that you select one published no more than two years ago. For works not listed, please consult instructor for approval.
  4. Final Seminar Paper: The final project is fairly open-ended. You may choose to write a seminar paper, a theoretical essay or an empirically-based article to be published, a conference paper, an exam question, or an undergraduate or graduate-level course design (with a syllabus, major assignments, a lesson plan, and a 3-5 page reflective overview). A 1-2 page proposal is required before submitting the final project. An oral presentation of your project will be given at the end of the course.
  5. An alternative assignment: You are also encouraged to propose an alternative assignment to the final seminar paper listed above (digital, print, or oral) that helps you meet your pedagogical training and/or research goals. A 1-2 page proposal is required before submitting the final project

(Return to text.)

Appendix 3: Possible Books for Book Review

Ball, Aretha F. and Ted Lardener. African American Literacies Unleashed: Vernacular English and the Composition Classroom. Carbondale: Southern IL UP, 2005.

Delpit, Lisa .Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. New York: New P, 1995.

Dyson, Anne Haas. The Brothers Learn to Write: Popular Literacies in Childhood and School Cultures. New York: Teachers College P, 2003.

Heath, Shirley Brice. Ways With Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms. Cambridge, UK: UP, 1983.

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Ladson-Billings, Gloria. Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms. New York: Teachers College Record, 2001.

Lanehart, Sonja. Sista Speak!: Black Women Kinfolk Talk about Language and Literacy. Austin: U of Texas P, 2002.

Redd, Teresa and Karen Schuster Webb. A Teacher’s Introduction to African American English: What a Writing Teacher Should Know. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 2005.

Richardson, Elaine. Hip Hop Literacies. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover, NH: UP of New England, 1994.

Royster, J. J. and A. M. Simpkins, eds. Calling Cards: Theory and Practice in the Study of Race, Gender and Culture. Albany: State UP of NY, 2005.

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Detroit and Boston: Houghlin Mifflin and Wayne State UP, 1977/1986.

(Return to text.)

Appendix 4: Course Schedule

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Week 9

Week 10

Week 11

Week 12

Week 13

Week 14

(Return to text.)

Bookmark and Share

Return to Composition Forum 20 table of contents.