Liberal Arts Course Highlights Black Women Writers

Professor Z'étoile Imma's new "Black Women Writers" Maymester course

“As an academic, I’ve moved a lot and am now reckoning with New Orleans as my recent home. I’ve really been thinking about the question, what does it mean to feel at home?” This past May, Z’étoile Imma, Michael S. Field Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies, taught the course “Black Women Writers: Black Women Writing Home” to explore literature by black women writers around the world and the concept of home. Over the span of two weeks, Imma and her students conducted close readings of texts by black female authors, wrote reflections on the texts and their own experiences, and engaged with the (Per)Sister: Incarcerated Women of Louisiana exhibition at the Newcomb Art Museum on Tulane’s campus.

Imma teaches literature and gender and sexuality studies, both in the context of African contemporary culture. And while her new “Black Women Writers” course resonates with her own research, offering these readings was just as much about teaching an important subject “that reminds me of why I do the work I do,” said Imma. “Black women’s literature is an expansive field but focusing in on the concept of home opens the door to think about identity, politics, migration (small, large, forced), travel, social mobility, and sexual mobility—all of these things and more!”

Between the readings by authors such as Claudia Rankine, Ntozake Shange, and Jamaica Kincaid, visiting and discussing the Per(Sister) art exhibition on campus created another opportunity for students to engage in difficult conversations together. “I was personally very moved and a little overwhelmed by the exhibition. And bringing my students there added such a wonderful, rich layer to what we were discussing,” said Imma.  The students studied the oral narratives and the visual texts within the exhibition, and the catalogue for the show became a text for the course as well. As Imma described, each woman in the exhibition was grappling with home, just as she was becoming the author of her own story—a consistent theme in the course.

Jasmine Wallace, a senior majoring in public health and minoring in international development, was inspired by Imma’s course and has continued to conduct close readings of additional texts by black women writers. “The structure of the class facilitated in-depth conversations between the students and the professor which I really loved, but above all I think the strongest aspect of the course was the readings. The readings were so powerful and had a huge impact on everyone in the class, regardless of racial or ethnic background.”  

“This is what being a Tulane student of the liberal arts is all about—crossing disciplines and genres and putting them in conversation with each other,” Imma explained.

The Maymester session, offered through Tulane's Summer School programing, begins immediately after the spring semester and offers innovative and intensive academic experiences. Material is covered quickly over just 10 days, but the longer class periods allow for in-depth discussion. The classes are smaller, more interactive and focused, which leads to a greater sense of community in the classroom. The Maymester courses are open to Tulane students as well as visiting students.