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Outside the Stacks: Teaching a Semester Course

by Trevar Riley-Reid on 2022-06-29T09:00:00-04:00 in African American Studies, English | Comments

Black Women Novelists is an elective offered each spring through the City College of New York Black Studies Program. This course provides opportunities for students to explore the canon of Black women writers from the Harlem Renaissance to the present, including Nella Larsen, Alice Walker, and many others. We explore the major issues, themes and narrative framing devices of each of these texts. For the past couple of years, I have taught this coursebooks with candles and it has been a wonderful opportunity for me to get to know our CCNY students in a myriad of ways.

This past spring, with the return to campus, I wasn’t sure what to expect after being on lockdown for two years. What made the transition smoother was that the hybrid format of this class allowed us to meet both in person (one day a week) and online via asynchronous, self-paced assignments. Students committed to reading four full-length novels along with some shorter pieces and journal articles which provided us the literary analyses to delve deeper into the texts.

Here's what we read:

Passing by Nella Larsen

The Third Life of Grange Copeland by Alice Walker

Corregidora by Gayl Jones

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Students were given specific questions about the readings and encouraged to share their insights about setting and character development. Our discussions got very, very interesting especially when we looked at the cultural and historical influences associated with each novel and then analyzed the societal expectations surrounding gender and sexuality. We explored the themes of oppression, identity, freedom, and the American Dream. As a librarian, I usually teach library sessions which are information packed and resource driven; the sessions are tightly conscribed to a specific goal and generally only allow me to meet students once or maybe twice a semester. Teaching a semester course allowed me to really get to know our CCNY students and to better understand their needs. I made a point of offering links to a variety of resources (counseling and mental health services) along with links to educate students on the historical and cultural influences of the works we read. With COVID-19 still affecting us, I made a point of being more flexible with deadlines which students expressed appreciation for in their course feedback. I look forward to teaching this course again next year!


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