Book Discussion– Contemporary Black Women’s Writing: A Five-Part Course with Dr. Maria Seger - Context Travel

Book Discussion– Contemporary Black Women’s Writing: A Five-Part Course with Dr. Maria Seger


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In this five-part book discussion series, participants will discover and explore some of the major themes and styles of contemporary Black women’s writing through reading, lecture, and conversation of canonical and award-winning fiction novels by Toni Morrison, Yaa Gyasi, Octavia Butler, and Jesmyn Ward.

Imaginatively depicting Black histories of slavery and the middle passage, Jim Crow segregation, and contemporary mass incarceration through genres like historical fiction, science fiction, neo-slave narrative, and bildungsroman, these novels engage themes of mothers and daughters, love and sexuality, freedom and unfreedom, and, indeed, life and death. This discussion series balances thoughtful attention to the stories Black women have told with the innovative lyricism with which they’ve told them.

Each week, a vivid mini-lecture that contextualizes the novel will be followed by an inclusive and engaging discussion driven by participants’ questions, observations, and insights. Participants should read the week’s novel prior to each session.

Led by an expert on Black literature and culture, Dr. Maria Seger, this interactive course will shed light on the rich forms, themes, and legacies of contemporary Black women’s writing. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased ability to engage and appreciate the history, beauty, and nuance of contemporary Black women’s writing.

Lecture 1: Toni Morrison, A Mercy

Published in 2008 and becoming a national bestseller, Toni Morrison’s A Mercy tells the story of Florens, an enslaved girl living in the American colonies in the 1680s and 1690s. This novel of historical fiction interrogates the question of slavery near its beginnings, before the codification of whiteness and Blackness.

Recommended edition: Vintage, 2009. ISBN: 9780307276766.

Lecture 2: Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing

Published in 2016 and receiving a number of prestigious awards, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing traces the legacies of two half-sisters born in Ghana in the eighteenth century. One goes on to marry a British Governor, while the other is held captive and enslaved. This novel of historical fiction investigates slavery’s afterlives and traumas across many generations.

Recommended edition: Vintage, 2017. ISBN: 9781101971062.

Lecture 3: Toni Morrison, Beloved

Published in 1987 and winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction the following year, Toni Morrison’s Beloved tells the story of Sethe, a formerly enslaved woman haunted by the ghost of her eldest daughter. Based on the true story of Margaret Garner, Beloved’s Sethe tragically considers how Black mothers are supposed to protect their children.

Recommended edition: Vintage, 2004. ISBN: 9781400033416.

Lecture 4: Octavia Butler, Kindred

Published in 1979, Octavia Butler’s widely popular novel Kindred imagines a young Black woman named Dana time traveling between 1970s Los Angeles and an antebellum plantation. This science-fiction neo-slave narrative puts a contemporary Black woman in touch with her ancestors, for better and for worse.

Recommended edition: Beacon, 2003. ISBN: 9780807083697.

Lecture 5: Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing

Published in 2017 and winning the National Book Award for Fiction, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing follows an interracial family on the road to collect their father from Parchman State Penitentiary in Mississippi. On the way, histories and generations collide. This gothic bildungsroman explores the legacies of poverty, violence, and love on a boy’s coming-of-age in the Deep South.

Recommended edition: Scribner, 2018. ISBN: 9781501126079.

Maria Seger is an assistant professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where she researches and teaches US, Black, and ethnic literatures and cultures and critical race and ethnic studies. Her work appears in Callaloo, Nineteenth-Century Literature, and Studies in American Naturalism, and her edited collection, Reading Confederate Monuments, is under contract with the University Press of Mississippi. She earned her PhD from the University of Connecticut in 2016.

How does it work?

This is a five-part journey series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $175 for five lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. If you need to miss a lecture, you will be sent a recording after the event.

This course is not suitable for children under age 16

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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