Black Female Voices (From Zora Neale Hurston to Queen Bey) Took Center Stage in Last Year's "Perspectives in Literature" Class
Posted 11/07/2019 09:00AM

* This story was originally published in the summer 2019 edition of Surgere Magazine.

Last year, the interdisciplinary Upper School English elective "Perspectives in Literature" took students on a deep dive into the literature, drama, music, and art created by black women in the United States, from Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (written in the 1800s) to Beyoncé's 2016 album Lemonade. How did the class manage to cover such a wide variety of nuanced material in only a year? The class was co-taught by eight faculty and staff members (plus one guest lecturer—lawyer and activist Nicole Lee), who contributed insights on their areas of expertise.

"I provided the overview of the literature and an introduction to critical theory, which is college-level stuff!" said lead teacher Molly Yurchak, who has studied the work of black female artists for 25 years and received a grant from the school last year to conduct research for the class. "But I think what was most valuable was the ability to have people like Director of Theatre Brandon Kruhm come in to teach a month-long unit on drama, or dance teacher Kashmir Blake drop in for several classes to do a critical analysis of mid-1900s African American dance."

And despite the wide range of voices in the room, Yurchak said that universal themes emerged, including identity, motherhood and female lineage, self-love and acceptance, and liberation.

"Having the class include so many disciplines showed that textbooks aren't the only reflection of history and society," said Jamie G. '20. "Art holds a lot of truth, too."

Now in its sixth year, the "Perspectives" class focuses on a different theme every year, and previous topics have included "memoir," "risk," "monsters," and "weapons." This year's class, taught by English Department Chair Dr. Jessica Bremmer, is a study of literary and artistic acts of dissent under the umbrella theme of "disruption." The class culminates in the annual Upper & Middle School Voices in Literature & Culture Conference, where students present work based on the year's theme.

"It was the hardest and best class I've ever taken," said Caroline P. '20, whose presentation at last year's conference used music, literature, and sculpture to unpack the ways in which African American women have been oppressed specifically through the objectification of their bodies. "The amount of in-depth discussion and analysis of topics that are compelling and relevant is beyond anything I've ever experienced. And to have open conversations about race so young... I feel so prepared for the future."

"Being part of this class completely reignited my love of learning," added Gracie B. '20. "It's made me so excited to be here. And it makes me excited for college!"

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