The #LemonadeSyllabus & A Last Minute Switcheroo

The semester starts in less than two weeks, y’all. So what did I do, with my ready-to-go-syllabi, numerous writing deadlines, and paper-/committee-work looming over me, vulture-like?

I posted a proposition on social media that would lead me down the last-minute-abandonment-of-already-developed-syllabus road.

And yet, that is exactly what I ended up doing today.




Of course, the major source of inspiration behind all this was Candice Benbow’s stunning, comprehensive, and wonderfully detailed/designed Lemonade Syllabus. I live in awe of this document.

I also pulled heavily from Jessica Marie Johnson and Janell Hobson’s “#Lemonade: A Black Feminist Resource List” on the African American Intellectual History Society’s blog. This is a great post, especially useful for collecting the critical responses to Beyoncé’s Lemonade. 

In an ideal world, students would read every.single.thing. on these two lists. Since the world is cruel and unjust – and I’m ultimately, you know, teaching composition – I resigned myself to imposing drastic limits on reading, but making students very aware of these lists and their projects overall (which, I hope, becomes clear in their final project, a.k.a. Paper 4 below). All the reading/viewing materials linked below  – and all my reading assignments that are not comp-related generally – were suggested by Benbow, or by Johnson and Hobson (I didn’t find any of the readings on my own, folks – it’s all from the generous sharing of some fantastic scholars!).

Here’s the way I’m scaffolding things at the moment, with links to the prompts as they stand below (N.B. – students are required to generate 5 papers in composition at LaGuardia):

  • Paper 1 will simply ask students to summarize Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s argument in the essay “We Should All Be Feminists.” I really like that there is a TEDx talk to accompany this and further enhance students’ engagement with her work.
  • Paper 2 goes a bit further: here, students will answer the question, “Is Lemonade  a feminist piece?” They will first summarize the critical conversation around this (including the bell hooks piece and responses, natch), and then weigh in and give their own take.
  • Paper 3 is part of my ongoing commitment to make sure that a good part of the writing done in my composition class is not done in a vacuum: students will respond to each other’s  Paper 2s. Students’ work and writing are an extension of an ongoing critical conversation, and I want them to use the thoughts of their colleagues – presented in writing and in-class – as a way of both enhancing and perhaps challenging their own thoughts and opinions. This will be a reflection on the conversation more broadly, the conversation they are having amongst themselves, and their own place within that discussion. And the prompt ain’t even close to ready (and technically it’s an in-class exam, so I guess I should maintain the pretense of exam-shrouded-in-secrecy and not post it here anyways, even though I’m going to tell all my students everything above well in advance).
  • Paper 4 will be the final project, after we’ve considered this conversation around Lemonade , and after students examine Benbow’s syllabus. In keeping with Benbow’s project and the AAIHS post, students will build their own Syllabus/Reading List, to accompany a song, album, or music video of their choosing – any genre, any time period, any language. The work has to have socio-political relevance, and they need to justify all their choices (both of the music/video work and the reading list entries) in an introductory letter to readers. All this will be posted on a public site, and they can choose to work collaboratively on this.
  • Paper 5: Their “final exam.” Another reflective assignment. I dare not reveal more (though letters to future students tends to be a favorite approach of mine – I remove names, hand them out at the top of the next semester, and everyone seems to dig this generally).

The idea is that students will still exercise all those necessary composition skills – organizing their writing; choosing, introducing, and unpacking relevant evidence and research; summarizing the arguments of others; interjecting themselves into a conversation; and responding to colleagues’ work and opinions. But ultimately they will create their own reading lists and draw on their own music interests and political engagement, using the models we’ve encountered (both in the smaller, focused work we did in class, as well as the more comprehensive models presented by Benbow, Johnson, and Hobson).

The syllabus is embedded below, and linked here. Though this idea has been percolating for a while and I’ve been admiring Benbow, Johnson, and Hobson’s work for a goodly amount of time, everything really came together rather quickly (like, today). So things might still be rife with errors, or be unclear, or some thing might be a no-no-bad-idea more generally. Please feel free to comment below, hit me up on social media, or otherwise get in touch if you have any suggestions or feedback.


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