Research Project Proposal

 

Arielle Steele

Prof. Manigault-Bryant

AFR 406

Project Proposal

 

The Black Literacy Project

 

Research Question

 

How do our environments inform what young black women, at Williams College, read and how they perceive blackness in the Young Adult literary canon?

 

Background and Significance

 

Being an English major with a passionate (and at times questionable) love of young adult (YA) novels, I decided to center my final project on teen readership, specifically black female readership. Aside from the obvious issues of lack of black representation in the genre, I had questions about how black teens are reading these texts, and what they’re reading.

When I reflect on my teenage years, most of the stories I remembered reading and loving were supernatural, sci-fi, and were very white. This wasn’t to say that I didn’t read any Morrison and the like, but my heart lead me to the young adult book store without fail. However as I read deeper into the genre, I noticed that in the young adult section most of the novels that were authored by black writers were stories of tragedy. These tragedies were not those of Nicholas Sparks-esque teenage folly. They were neither romance gone awry nor adventure epics with the world hanging in the balance. These were grim narratives determined and informed by, in my perception, the main character’s race. It was a reality that my teenaged self was unwillingly to face.

The young adult black literary cannon, past and present, has an oversaturation of stories centered on gang violence, dismal ghetto life, historical fictions that span anywhere from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, or some tragedy stationed in an ambiguous Africa. Though there are excellent exceptions to the rule, such as Sharon Draper’s body of work, I found the limited scope for black teens disappointing. I recognized that these stories being told were necessary to our literary canon, as they are a part of the black experience, but I hungered for narratives of that existed outside the continuum of suffering. I wanted novels about black teens being black teens. In my time as a young adult, I maybe came across two books that had main characters of color doing “normal” teen things or were in fantasy worlds. So, with no solution in sight I continued to read fantastical novels.

But when I look back I wonder to myself was that really it? Was it because I couldn’t find black fantasy or was it because my environment was predominately white? I wanted to be able to relate with my friends in school and read what they read, and they weren’t reading Octavia Butler, Junot Diaz, Sharon Draper, Walter Dean Myers, or even Sister Souljah. My mom was the one who introduced The Coldest Winter Ever, the novel that spawned street literature, as we know it and rocked almost every black girl’s world but mine, to me. My church friends and Del-Teens group[1] (read: my black girl friends) loved the novel, yet I couldn’t even finish it. I hated it and I felt defective for it. I wondered why I could relate or at least sympathize with characters who time traveled, started revolutions, or saw ghosts, but couldn’t find it in myself to even like the main character Winter Santiaga. So this served as a driving force for my project. “How does predominately white environments (in academia) effect black female readership?”

Together with Professor Manigault-Bryant, I formulated the idea of a book club that would be primarily comprised of underclassmen at Williams to read The Coldest Winter Ever and The Hunger Games to see how black women are reading blackness and alternatively whiteness in these novels.

This work is ultimately important to the field of Africana studies because young adult literature is a site of latent race and gender theory that, for the betterment or detriment of the genre, is highly accessible. Books, falling into two categories which I affectionately call mirrors of life experience or windows out to alternate realities, carry our imbedded racial, sexual, gender, and class politics no matter the genre. Under the guise of entertainment, inclusive spaces, and literary worlds that allow for a reimagined self, these books, often unconscientiously, and sometimes insidiously, color young adults’ worldview with the biases of the author and publishers. Uncovering and deconstructing the ways these biases are interjected into YA novels in a way that is considerate to teens, and not academically alienating, we can sooner dismantle the literary politic of hegemony. The power to name, to define with the pen can be wielded in a healthier manner, by first understanding how these novels are actually being received amongst teens. We need to go beyond mere ‘representation’ and make the young adult novel radical again for marginalized people, not just another site of oppression. Ultimately the Africana Studies field is about analyzing the nexus of history, academics, and the political and the personal for African diasporic peoples; what can possibly be more personal the imagined world we create for ourselves when we read novels? The YA novel is a significant fixture of childhood that should be analyzed as a text of theory, because after all theory is an abstracted ideal, a guide to understanding the world around us that is constantly disrupted by our realities. [2]

Research Site

 

Bound by my inability to operate a vehicle and the subjectivity of my research, my work will be conducted on Williams College campus. To be specific, the observational period will take place over the course of four weeks, November 1-23, for an hour each week in Paresky 112; a space perfect for small gatherings. Simultaneously the other field of study will occur in online spaces.

Provided that my analysis cannot solely persist on the testimonials and dialogues of five young women, I will look to various blogs, articles, books, and interviews detailing the challenge of diversity in young adult literature. This issue is not novel by any means, but as the young adult genre becomes increasingly visualized via televisions shows and cinematic films, the culture and nature of discourse is in a state of constant flux. In order to provide the most accurate picture of black female readership at Williams and the racial/sexual/gender/class/ climate of young adult novels, authors, and publishers, a current snapshot of the field is necessary.

 

Theoretical Interlocutors

“For them, as for me, imagining is not merely looking or looking at; nor is it taking oneself intact into the other. It is, for the purposes of the work, becoming” (Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination).

 

At the heart of this study is the understanding that young adult literature constitutes more than the space of imagination, it is the philosophical creation of relationality, to the self and others. For Morrison and myself, literature encompasses the politic of being. Moving beyond the notion of the bildungsroman, a genre which arguably both texts (The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins) embody, the basis of young adult literature, all of which are imbued with the politics of identity, is about the formation and deformation of self-epistemology. Pairing this notion with the construal of blackness in literature, these books have the potential to serve as either a hegemonic or existential road map of black life.

Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination not only observes this analysis but also details the formation of the American novelistic tradition through the lens of the formation of the black “other”, a notion that speaks directly to my questions of the real ramifications of blackness in the literary imaginary. Morrison deconstructs the ‘Great American Novel’ and its many incarnations (romanticism, the gothic, et.) for the use of black bodies as an amorphous repository for any ‘un-American’/anti-Puritanical sensibility. This could range anywhere from blackness representing an unwholesome desire to the creation of the ‘mad double’ in the gothic literary tradition. Ultimately this simultaneous disavowal of blackness and the black reader intrigues Morrison:

For reasons that should not need explanation here, until very recently, and regardless of the race of the author, the readers of virtually all of American fiction

have been positioned as white. I am interested to know what that assumption has meant to the literary imagination. When does racial “unconsciousness” or awareness of race enrich interpretive language, and when does it impoverish it?[….]In other words how is “literary whiteness” and “literary blackness made, and what is the result of that construction? (Toni Morrison, xii).[3]

Once again Morrison’s analysis has come to the crux of my research: what is blackness (to young black women)? It is the underlying question one must answer in order to construe how they are reading blackness in any given text.

Along side The Coldest Winter Ever and The Hunger Games, I will be using Morrison’s Playing in the Dark as a lens through which to form my scholarship, that ultimately is a question of existence. As Morrison says, “I was interested, as I had been for a long time, in the way black people ignite critical moments of discovery or change or emphasis in literature not written by them” (Morrison, viii). I want to know what lies beneath the slim scope of YA literature for young black women.

 

Methodology

Because my research question is one that requires an in-depth response that cannot be achieved through a cursory survey, and given the brevity of the project, I elected to employ ethnographical research in the form of a focus group, specifically a book club. This format will allow me to interview my participants in a lower stakes atmosphere, an atmosphere that is welcoming, informal, and void of the austerity that tends to plague the process. Furthermore because this ethnographical research is crafted in the book club format, the interviews will be more of a dialogue, in which I will be posited as a participant-observer.

 

Armed with discussion questions pulled from other book clubs[4] to ensure a neutral starting ground, I will slightly guide the conversation eventually allowing the participants to steer the conversation as the session wares on. Each meeting will take place weekly for the duration of an hour for four weeks. Given this time allotment, the roster for the book club must remain small to ensure thorough research.

Having these stipulations in mind, I casted my first call for participants in an email to a group of 16 black female underclassmen in the Williams College. I gathered their names using the networking of Facebook, choosing black underclasswomen. The selected participants were comprised of black underclasswomen under the premise of their youth and assumed availability (seeing as your academic career intensifies with each coming year). In addition to their academic status, this initial focus group was ideal because of their maintained proximity to the texts/subject matter, being teenaged black girls. However once I received only one response regarding the club, I had to rethink my study.

 

I then opened the study up to women I knew in the Williams College community to give new life to my study. While still small with a focus on teen readership, I now focused my attention on the thoughts and analyses of those present within my group. Ranging from ages 18 to 22, the four participants shaped my research in way in which incorporated a timeline into my research. Engaging in both books that are foreign to the subjects and familiar, the current participants offer a multilayered dialogue that converses with the past teenage self, as well as their present. This group has the potential to craft analyses that is the mediation between adolescence and adulthood.

Satisfied with the revival of my project, I held our first session on November 1, 2015. After getting settled in and agreeing to being recorded through audio means via verbal acknowledgement, the group got to work immediately discussing The Coldest Winter Ever. The method of recording proved to be unobtrusive to the discussion process, as participants spoke freely and honestly. So as the club progresses, Apple Voice Memo application will be the primary method of recording research. Overall I hope to collect my research through interpersonal means, relying heavily on verbal analyses primarily as we read the two texts, and in my supplementary findings utilize the analyses of literary critics, authors, and bloggers.

Findings

As I formulated this project I thought of all the ways the composition of my ethnography could be seen as invalid in its failure to provide objectivity and significant breadth. The fact that the subject of my research is centered on black teenagers and the cult of young adult literary canon, yet of my participants there are only two women who may be considered teens unnerved me. I pondered to myself, “Can my findings yield a proper analysis of the teen literary climate with subjects four years removed from the target age group?” “Does their respective removal provide an inaccurate picture of the teenage literary canon and its affects?” “Is this focus group actually indicative of the young adult black female readership?” These critical questions, qualms rather, plagued my mind as I began my research. Questions that could color my research differently, and ultimately tested the legitimacy of my work. I had to keep in mind that though my focus group is not ideal for the intended age-sensitive group study, their age does not necessarily render the rest of my participants’ contribution to my research invalid.

The beauty of my research lies in its subjectivity. My research asks about the personal experience with various texts, past, present, and possibly future. The advantage of having two teenagers and three young adult women is the range of perspectives, the knowledge of YA texts spanning almost 10 years. The interpolation of differing epistemologies will ultimately prove to be not only an unexpected addition to my research but a significant source of analysis.

This hypothesis eventually proved itself to be true from the very first book club meeting. Initially I expected the questions and themes of desiring a mirror vs. window out in literature/reality vs. fantasy, urban vs. suburban environments, and school vs. home in relation to literature to crop up as the ruling subjects of discussion in the book club, but our discussion evolved into much more. These dichotomies were a mere springboard for deeper conversation at our first meeting. After a brief series of introductions for both the members and the novel itself, the members instantly took the dichotomy of mirror/window-out into a conversation of representation. The depth of the conversation did not lie in the topic of representation itself, but in the nuances the members teased out of the ideology of representation. Outside of needing more authors and stories of color, the members asked if we could find value in the representations available to us. Providing that the cult of literature of color does not essentialize the Black/Latino/Asian/Indigenous experience, the women questioned if we reify the very same matrices of oppression on a given representation that allowed for such a small canon of literature to be published. That is if these stereotypical representations do in fact ring true for some of the black experience, is it entirely fair to chastise authors like Sister Souljah for portraying such a gritty narrative in The Coldest Winter Ever?

They then continued to postulate Souljah’s hard-nosed and often egotistical character’s place in the embodiment of female blackness. Winter’s determination to retain her “princess” status even when she had nothing, was worthy of note to the group.[5] Looking beyond the character’s belligerent attitude, the show of unabashed confidence was novel for a black girl character. So many narratives centering on black women deal with a coming of age or coming into the self, because the world we live in posit black women at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. Winter’s unwillingness to compromise is empowering through this lens.

Ultimately the subjectivity of their blackness and womanhood have allowed the members of the book club drive my research in both the right direction and unexpected avenues. Their dialogue has not only revisited and reconfigured notions of the place of the black YA novel, but also forced me to question the figure of the black woman in this world and the next. If our discussions continue on in this fashion, I expect that the results of this project will not only redefine the relationship between blackness and literature but also redefine black girlhood and womanhood for myself.

Bibliography (as of now)

 

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. London: Scholastic, 2010.

Kuficha, R. Dafina. “Emery Book Club.” Emerybookclub. March 7, 2011. Accessed November 1, 2015.< https://emerybookclub.wordpress.com/tag/the-coldest-winter-ever/>.

Kwaymullina, Ambelin. “Whitewashing: The Disappearance of Race and Ethnicity from YA Covers”. June 23, 2013. Accessed November 2, 2015. < https://insideadog.com.au/blog/whitewashing-disappearance-race-and-ethnicity-ya-covers>

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Souljah, Sister. The Coldest Winter Ever: A Novel. New York, New York: Pocket Books, 1999.

 

Steele, Arielle. BCBG Meeting One. Williamstown, Mass: Voice Memo Recording. November 1, 2015.

 

 

[1] Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Albany chapter had a female youth group I was a part of until my senior year in high school. The organization focused on the academic and social empowerment of black girls.

[2] Manigault-Bryant, Rhon. Class Notes on Africana Critical Theory. October 21, 2015.

[3] Morrison. Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. 1992. Print.

[4] I will be using questions from the Emery Book Club’s WordPress site, for the duration of the first novel, The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah. <https://emerybookclub.wordpress.com/tag/the-coldest-winter-ever/>

[5] Steele, Arielle. (2015). BCBG Meeting One. [Voice Memo recording]. Williamstown, MA.

Word Count: 2733

 

 

 

Tags: , ,

12,916 Responses to “Research Project Proposal”

  1. Here are some tips on finding the best stainless steel retailer, supplier, or distributor for a high-quality stainless steel product. With precision, quality, and a faster turnaround time, you can satisfy the needs of your 304 stainless round tube products.

  2. Line Novel says:

    This post is the most-awaited and informative. I am reading your article very enjoying it. Your good choice for the topic. You more articles are written on other topics. I already some articles read but your article is very helpful to me.

  3. I just wanted to say that I love every time visiting your wonderful post! Very powerful and have true and fresh information. Thanks for the post and effort! Please keep sharing more such a blog.

  4. This is a great inspiring article. I am pretty much pleased with your good work. You put really very helpful information…

  5. I read your message, and I thought it was quite insightful and helpful. I appreciate the thoughtful information you include in your publications. You can find out more by visiting my website.

  6. I’m happy by reading your enjoyable article, Keep uploading more interesting articles like this.

  7. Thank you for this brief explanation and very nice information. This post gives truly quality information. Hope to see you again.

  8. this is very informative and intersting for those who are interested in blogging field. visit

  9. information is very nice. Feel free to visit my website; 스포츠토토존

  10. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, 카지노

  11. Wow, amazing blog format! How long have you been blogging for. 한국야동

  12. I think the reason reading is fun is because it is a post related. 사설토토

  13. I must say that I found the post relevant to my subject area. 고스톱

  14. If you looking for good article, this one is your answer ผลบอลสด

  15. Lisa says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your next post thanks once again.eCards UK

  16. A premium package has been made available due to the high demand for the
    Top Follow APK . However, paying for Instagram followers may not be desirable for everyone. Fortunately, there is a solution in the form of the Top Follow Mod App. This application offers a modified version that provides unlimited coins for the year 2023.

  17. 1animedao.ru says:

    I wanted to thank you for this excellent read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it. I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post.

  18. tatta billa says:

    I am very happy when read this blog post because blog post written in good manner and write on good topic. 1animedao.ru

  19. james says:

    I appreciate how you highlighted the various points in the article, such as its benefits, causes and representing its outcome. Thankyou for sharing the topic with a nice presentation. 4animes.ru

  20. SACASINO365 says:

    เสือมังกรsa เครดิตฟรี เสือมังกรsa เครดิตฟรี เสือมังกรฝากถอนไม่มีขั้นต่ำ เสือมังกรเครดิตฟรี

  21. This has been an incredibly wonderful article. Many thanks for supplying this info.

  22. Amazing! Its really remarkable piece of writing, I have got much clear idea regarding from this post.

  23. I think this is among the so much important information for me and I am happy reading your article.

  24. B2B massage says:

    Blog is interesting.

  25. bloger01 says:

    Thanks for the blog article. Much thanks again. Cool. Whoa, amazing article post. Actually thank you! Really Cool. I really enjoy the article. Awesome. Pillow

  26. bellaerik says:

    Capricorn Man and Virgo Woman make the most stable couple of all time. A Capricorn man and a Virgo woman’s stability in their relationship and love life turn everything into gold.

  27. The most informative blog! We are providing law related services if you need any help kindly visit our page.

  28. 張語馨 says:

    購買瞭解更多正品春藥資訊
    請登入台灣&香港春藥總匯:AV媚藥網臺灣總代理,或直接點擊網路連接登入網站(https://avmyw.com/)
    或加在線客服藥師的LINE:av669或飛機:@avmyw99歡迎隨時咨詢與訂購,24h竭誠為您服務,祝生活愉快!

  29. I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts.

  30. Wardha James says:

    I am satisfied with your post. Well done!

  31. Blue World City is a rapidly emerging residential project located near Rawalpindi and Islamabad, Pakistan. Developed by the Blue Group of Companies in collaboration with Shan Jian Municipal Engineering, China, the city aims to provide a modern and luxurious living experience to its residents. Boasting a strategic location near the new Islamabad International Airport, Blue World City offers a range of residential plots, apartments, and commercial spaces. With its aesthetically pleasing architecture, state-of-the-art infrastructure, and a host of amenities including parks, schools, hospitals, and a grand mosque, Blue World City is set to become a vibrant community that combines comfort, convenience, and style.

  32. Thank you very much for this amazing post i like it, so keep sharing more like this. you can also visit on my site here to know more about

  33. Thank you for sharing excellent informations.Your site is so cool.I am impressed by the details that you’ve on this blog.for more information You can check my website. You can Get more new latest updates about my sites. So follow and click on the link.

  34. This post is the most-awaited and informative. I am reading your article very enjoying it. Your good choice for the topic. You more articles are written on other topics. I already some articles read but your article is very helpful to me.

  35. The great thing about this post is quality information. I always like to read amazingly useful and quality content.

  36. I truly appreciate this article post.Really thank you! Want more and for more update you can visit on my link.

  37. Thank you for sharing these interesting things.

  38. online5 says:

    Viagra is a drug used to improve male function. But abnormal symptoms may occur when taking it. 비아그라 먹으면 나타나는 증상 This is necessary information for a healthy sexual life and how to respond.

  39. 루비게임 says:

    UFC President Dana White Playing 루비게임 on Ultimate Casino

  40. hysteriavalor77 says:

    Love cannot be found where it doesn’t exist, nor can it be hidden where it truly does. เว็บผลบอลสด

  41. I went to this website, and I believe that you have a plenty of excellent information, I have saved your site to my bookmarks.

  42. godforyou says:

    Gratitude for sharing great informations. Your site is exceptionally cool. I’m dazzled by the subtleties that you have on this site. It uncovers how pleasantly you see this subject. Bookmarked this page, will return for additional articles. You, my buddy, ROCK! I found essentially the data I previously looked through out of control and basically couldn’t run over. What an ideal site.

  43. If it’s not too much trouble, let me know as to whether you’re searching for an article essayist for your site. You have a few truly extraordinary posts and I believe I would be a decent resource. To take a portion of the heap off, I’d totally very much want to think of some material for your blog in return for a connection back to mine. Kindly send me an email whenever intrigued. Much obliged to you!

  44. 語馨 says:

    購買瞭解更多正品春藥資訊
    請登入台灣&香港春藥總匯:AV媚藥網臺灣總代理,或直接點擊網路連接登入網站(https://avmyw.com/)
    或加在線客服藥師的LINE:av669或飛機:@avmyw99歡迎隨時咨詢與訂購,24h竭誠為您服務,祝生活愉快!

  45. It seems like a great article that is easy for people to read. Thank you for the information 🙂 토토사이트

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.