Academic journal article Childhood Education

Black Girls Write! Literary Benefits of a Summer Writing Collaborative Grounded in History

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Black Girls Write! Literary Benefits of a Summer Writing Collaborative Grounded in History

Article excerpt

I liked how we have to carry on what African American women did for us, you know? They gave us a path to follow. They didn't just leave us here all alone in this big ole circle of what is society. They gave us a path to follow and made it like, "You don't have to be 'this or that way' or let society say who you are. You can go out and follow this path that we lit up for you and be yourself. " And then we have to let that path out for fellow Sister Authors to come.


Nearly five years ago, I began developing summer writing collaboratives for Black adolescent girls reflective of Black women's writing groups (literary societies) of the early to late 19th century. A study of these historical literary societies offers great pedagogical implications about how to craft writing spaces aimed at improving writing instruction for adolescents today (Muhammad, 2012a; Tatum & Muhammad, 2012). These same pedagogical implications were used to develop a summer writing collaborative for Black adolescent girls--whom we referred to as "sister authors." One of the participants in the summer writing collaborative, Jasmine, explained that writing in a space influenced by Black women writers of the past provided a roadmap for her to understand self-identity among dominant narratives that attempt to "write" Black girls' realities. She also spoke of her own charge to create a similar pathway for Black girls in future generations.

During the summer of 2012, Jasmine and seven other adolescent girls, ranging in age from 12-17, gathered together for four weeks to write. We met three days per week for three hours a day, writing uninterruptedly for two hours each day. We engaged in literacy instruction designed to integrate literacy enactments of reading, writing, and thinking. Our literary mentors were Black women from the antebellum period to the 21st century, using textual modes of print, image, and video in the genres of personal narrative, poetry, short story, nonfiction, and open letters. The larger study with the eight girls focused on representation and how they wrote about their lives across these genres.

The need for this work was grounded in literature that situates text as a hybrid space in which Black adolescent girls negotiate, mediate, and construct their identities (Brooks, Browne, & Hampton, 2008; Brooks, Sekayi, Savage, Waller, & Picot, 2010; Muhammad, 2012a; Richardson, 2007; Sutherland, 2005; Winn, 2010; Wissman, 2008, 2011). I found that their writings told complex stories of their community, ethnic, gender, individual, intellectual, kinship, and sexual selves. Several contextual variables contributed to their self-representations, including writing with girls across ages / grades, using mentor texts, writing openly without censorship, and engaging in discussions about the texts. In addition to this, I found that Black girls write--and in powerful ways, even the girls who did not self-identify as writers. They displayed an urgency to express themselves without reservation or apology. They used their pens to "fight" back against false narratives previously told or written about them, similar to how Black women have written throughout history (Peterson, 1995; Royster, 2000).

Through this summer course, these girls became part of a literary lineage of writers. In Tatum's (2009) concept of textual lineages, he refers to texts read throughout one's personal history--texts found to be meaningful. Such texts cause youth to "feel differently about themselves, affect their views of themselves, or move them toward some action of their current time and space" (Tatum, 2008, p. 10). I found that the texts (read and written) during the collaborative strengthened a reading-thinking-writing relationship for the girls. They read text from Black women's literature, thought through and discussed ideas found in the text, and then wrote across their own ideas. I share the benefits gleaned through this reading-thinking-writing relationship in a case study about four of the middle school girls. …

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