Women's Literature of the African Diaspora Course Syllabus


Instructor: Professor Belinda Edmondson

This course shall look at intersecting issues of gender and race in the novels of black women from across the African global community --known as the "diaspora". Some of the founding questions of this course shall be, Is there such a thing as "diaspora literature", particularly in the case of black writers of various nationalities and cultures? Moreover, is there an identifiable tradition of black women's literature, distinctively different from black men's literature? What are the ramifications, literary, political or otherwise, of conclusions either way? Our readings will necessarily encompass an analysis of contemporary issues in feminist and black nationalist discourses.

Course Requirements:

  • You shall be required to write to take three examinations. Exams One and Three will be in-class, and will cover Parts One and Two of the course. Exam Two will be a take-home exam, to be written in the form of an essay, and will cover a more extended analysis of materials from Parts One and Two. The in-class exam format will consist of roughly five-to-seven questions requiring detailed and concise answers on a specific reading or film. The questions will usually involve comparative analysis of two or more items. Your responses must be in full sentences and grammatically correct; points will be taken off for poor grammar. In the case of exceptionally poor grammar, you will receive no points at all. Exams are marked on a scale of 100 points: under 40 is a Fail. 40-49 is a D. 50-59 is a C. 60 to 62 is a C+. 63 to 74 is a B. 75 to 79 is a B+. 80 and over is A.
  • You shall give a written five-minute presentation (a page or two in length) to the class on some aspect of the course materials, some of which may require outside research. (A sign-up sheet will be available the first and second days of class.) The presentation must be handed in after it has been presented. The presentation will not be graded, but rather assessed with an “average” or “superior” rating. When I tally your final grade for the course your presentation shall be considered as a tipping point if your grade teeters between grades: for example, you are averaging a high C+ and you give a superior presentation, your final grade will be a B. No marks are taken off for a bad presentation, but you will fail the course if you fail to give one.
  • Proper note-taking is a critical component in writing a good exam; therefore, we will periodically review our notes for the course and discuss ways in which to take better notes. Students will be asked at various points during the class to read out their notes on a preceding lecture. If you are absent for a class, you are still responsible for the notes on that class. Remember: The purpose of note-taking is not merely so that you can recall information, but, more importantly, so that you can recall key points of analysis on that information. Therefore, your notes may record not only my ideas, but also the conflicting opinions within the class on that subject.

PLEASE NOTE: If you fail to give a presentation, or fail to take any one of the three examinations, YOU WILL FAIL THE COURSE. Therefore you cannot, for instance, complete 3 of the required 4 items and hope to pass by averaging out your grade. I do NOT give temporary incomplete grades unless there are extremely good reasons to do so, such as a documentable illness or other such contingencies. In the case of medical or family emergencies, I will need to receive documentation of an official nature that contains the signature of someone who is not related to you: a signed doctor's note, for example. (Please note: a prescription order is not sufficient.) If you foresee problems in completing the course let me know in advance. For those who have documentable reasons for missing any of the exams or the presentation, I will be happy to schedule make-up exams and presentations.

POLICY ON ATTENDANCE: I do not have an attendance policy, save for exams and presentation schedules. You are free to attend, or not, as you choose. I do, however, have a late policy; if you are more than 15 minutes late without a documentable excuse you may not attend class. Late-comers inevitably disrupt the class discussion.  Either way, whether or not you attend class, you are responsible for any information that is transmitted during class time, whether that be a change of exam time, a cancellation of a presentation, and so forth. My advice is to partner with another student whose notes you can borrow in case you must be absent. Do not expect me to reproduce an entire lecture during office hours. I simply cannot, and will not.

Since I have a joint appointment in English, you can apply to receive credit for this course in that department, provided that you have taken and passed English 101 and 102, or the equivalents, and provided that I am the instructor for the course. You may not receive credit in English for this course under any other instructor.                                                                             

Finally: there has been an unfortunate increase in incidences of plagiarism in my classes. Plagiarism is a serious academic violation that results in an automatic failing grade in this course, as well as a record of the violation on the student's transcript, and possible suspension or expulsion from the University. Be assured that I will immediately report any such violations to the Dean. To avoid unintentional plagiarism, all papers or exams written for this class must not utilize any other scholarly sources outside of class materials. Students may use secondary materials for research presentations, providing each source is fully documented.


Required Texts: Juletane, Myriam Warner-Vieyra (Guadeloupe);  Their Eyes were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (USA); Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua); The Color Purple, Alice Walker (USA), The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta (Nigeria); Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Danticat (Haiti)

Required Readings: “Motherism”, “Talking It Over: Women, Writing and Feminism”, “Womanism”

Books are available at New Jersey Books on University Avenue. Readings are posted on Blackboard.


Course Schedule:

9/4: Introduction. Sign up for presentations.

9/6: General lecture on feminism in the African diaspora. Read “Womanism”

PART ONE: Sexuality and Marriage

9/11: Their Eyes Were Watching God, chs 1-11

9/13: Their Eyes Were Watching God, chs 12-end

9/18: The Color Purple, pp 1-64

9/20: The Color Purple, pp 65-153

9/25: The Color Purple pp 154-204

10/2: The Color Purple pp 205-end

10/4: Read Moynihan Report (www.dol. FINISH THIS)  Discussion of both Eyes and Purple



PART TWO:  Motherhood and Childhood

10/11: “Talking It Over: Women, Writing and Feminism”, “Girl”

10/16: Annie John, chs. 1-3

10/18: Annie John, chs. 4-6

10/23: Annie John, chs. 7-8

10/25: Breath, Eyes, Memory, chs. 1-10

10/30: Breath, Eyes, Memory, chs. 11-21

11/1: Breath, Eyes, Memory, chs. 22 – end

11/6: Discussion of Breath and Annie John


11/13: “Motherism”, The Joys of Motherhood, chs. 1-4

11/15: The Joys of Motherhood, chs. 5-9

11/20: The Joys of Motherhood, chs. 10-14

11/22: The Joys of Motherhood, chs. 15 - end.


11/27: catch-up day

11/29: catch-up day