Grades 9-12 Summit Learning

Black Women Writers

This inquiry leads students through an investigation of Black women writers and the literary devices they employ to communicate with audiences and “be heard.” The compelling question—What gets Black women heard?—asks students to evaluate the writing of three prominent Black women writers and contemporary Black writers in order to deconstruct the relevance and meaning behind their work. Among many Black women authors of note, this inquiry examines the works of Zora Neal Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou. As pillars of African-American writing, their publications  illuminate the essence of racism, colorism, intellectualism, and authenticity for their audiences and future generations of Black writers. 


Compelling Question:

What Gets Black Women Heard?

Staging the Question:

Read Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” and/or “Equality.” Discuss the ways in which Angelou incorporates gender and race within the poem(s).

Supporting Question How can Black women writers use authenticity and blackness to connect with audiences?

Formative Task Create a mind map diagram demonstrating how Zora Neal Hurston used authenticity and blackness in her writing.

Sources Source A: Excerpt, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Source B: Article, “5 Ways Zora Neale Hurston’s Work Influenced Black Literature and Black Womanhood”
Source C: Article, “A Society of One”


Supporting Question How can Black women writers use social issues to frame a narrative?

Formative Task Write a biographical sketch of Toni Morrison, connecting social issues she experienced to her writings.

Sources Source A: Excerpt, Beloved
Source B: Excerpt, Jazz
Source C: Article, “Toni Morrison, Towering Novelist…”
Source D Article, “Toni Morrison’s ‘The Origin of Others’ Encourages Minorities to Control Their Narrative”


Supporting Question How can Black women writers use intellectualism to propel their writing?

Formative Task Write an explanatory essay that explains how Maya Angelou uses (and redefines) intellectualism.

Sources Source A: Excerpt, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Source B: BBC News, Interview with Maya Angelou
Source C: Book excerpt, explanation of Angelou as a public intellectual.


Supporting Question How have the writers’ literary devices stood the test of time?

Formative Task Create a series of evidence-based claims about how the literary devices are employed.

Sources Source A: Excerpt, Between the World and Me
Source B: Excerpt, Dear Martin
Source C: Excerpt, The Poet X
Source D: Excerpt, Salvage the Bones

Summative Performance Task

Argument: What gets Black women heard? Construct an argument that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from contemporary sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Have a class discussion about the enduring challenges facing Black women writers and Black women public figures.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Review the school/community demographics and different subjects’ reading lists.
Assess: Assess the extent to which marginalized communities are represented or absent within the reading lists.
Act: Create a proposal of changes to the reading list to make it representative of the community.