All posts by Ravynn K. Stringfield

Ravynn K. Stringfield is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary. Her research focuses on Black women and girls in new media narratives that are fantastic, futuristic and/or digital in nature. She is also a dog mom, new yogi and hazelnut latte enthusiast.

Dissertation Check-In #4: The Council of Superfriends

My usually carefully planned out, weekly grad school blog has fallen woefully to the wayside since March. All things considered, it’s to be expected. Aside from the pandemic and uprisings and the impending election, it’s already difficult to write a dissertation and to sustain other writing projects while doing so.

So Black Girl Does Grad School has taken a backseat this year.

Nevertheless, I’m still here—albeit sporadically.

I’m currently in the editing phase of dissertation writing. I got the bare bones of what I’m trying to do and say down on the page, and now it’s about tweaking and adding and reading more and fleshing out the ideas that I already have.

Sounds simple. Unfortunately, at least for me, it’s not.

Editing is actually the hardest part of writing for me. I think it’s the most valuable part. Much of the diamonds of your thoughts are excavated during editing. The push and pull of working and reworking your writing feels a lot like kneading dough. It’s hard, intense work that requires you to get your hands dirty, and do what looks more or less like destroying your hard work. But if you don’t knead— and importantly, if you don’t let your work sit, or prove, to extend the metaphor— you won’t have much worth showing at the end. It’ll be an underdeveloped bit of mess.

As much as I respect this part of the process, I find it really difficult to do on my own, and with my own writing. Even with feedback from my chair, I still feel rather alone in this journey. The loneliness also stems from writing this particular project about Black girls and fantasy and the digital without having a Black woman on my committee.

Yes, I am aware of how this looks. The truth of it is, when I entered grad school, I knew nothing of the politics of crafting a committee. This was information I learned on the fly. And at that time, a committee didn’t matter much to me, because four or five years ago, when I was applying and starting out, I didn’t know this was the project I wanted. Perhaps a little foresight might have directed me to a different program, with a different set of support systems in place, specifically the hand of Black women scholars.

But I just wasn’t thinking like that yet.

Now I am thinking about these things as I write this creative and genre defying manuscript, knowing in my heart of hearts, that in all likelihood my committee’s not going to get it.

And having to defend my project, and by extension, myself in the process, was enough to paralyze me going forward into edits. I needed to talk to people who would understand, with little to no explanation the why of what I was trying to do as well as the what and how.

So I called a meeting of the Council of Superfriends.

My Council of Superfriends is a collection of Black women I love and who love me from different parts of my life, who all think about Black girls and girlhood in various ways: there’s Dr. Autumn, Black girl literacy scholar and one of my dearest internet friends; Chardé, an anthropology Ph.D. student at my university; Taylor, a theatre artist I met doing Black Monologues at the University of Virginia; and, of course, my filmmaking soul sister, Micah.

I asked them for an hour of their time, to just listen to me try to articulate my project as it exists so far, and offer feedback, suggestions and questions. And as soon as we started, I knew calling this particular group of thinkers together was just what my project needed. More than I needed to be pushed and prodded in my thinking, I needed community. I needed Black women who could show me where the bounds of my own mind were with love and care. They were able to ask the hard questions, and the ones that matter most: if this is a project about the freest manifestation(s) of Black girls’ selfhood, why are you limiting yourself to what you think a dissertation has to look like? Would you even be writing a dissertation to answer this question? Can a dissertation, the way you imagine it, answer this question to your satisfaction? Why did you choose this form? If you’re not planning to stay in academia, why does it matter so much to do this in such a constricting way?

For a project about the potential of limitlessness, I realized I was trapped on every side by everyone else’s expectations. The reason I was feeling so paralyzed by the project was because I couldn’t even imagine what true intellectual freedom would mean and look like for myself under the system that currently exists. And that was the trap. I was trying to fly in a cage. Just because I made the cage bigger so I couldn’t always see the bars, didn’t mean they weren’t still there.

Over the years, I have gotten so good at doing what I want to do inside the lines, inside the cage, that I haven’t truly dared let myself imagine what exploding the lines completely would look like for me. Sure, it’s impressive to be able to do this sort of alchemy within, but that’s not the truest form of my self-expression.

I can’t lie to myself and also do this project.

What a waste. Of time, of energy.

If I’m doing this for who I say I’m doing this for, and if I’m truly doing what I want to do, there is no more trying to fly in the cage.

And in conversation with the Superfriends, Chardé brought up a good point: this is a Hurstonian project. I am a student of Zora Neale Hurston. I am not, nor have I ever been, the only Black woman to find the constraints of the academy and the way things have “always been done,” completely misaligned with my personal mission. I have people I can return to, whose work I can think through and build on, to craft something to ultimately matters to me.

We began the meeting sort of discussing the long standing irritation I have at having to “justify” my dissertation work. I shouldn’t have to explain why my work about Black girls matters: to question that is to question the essential importance of Black girls. And though I didn’t necessarily come to this conclusion in that hour, I did begin to realize that the first step in freeing myself to do this project justice is to stop answering that question. Stop wasting breath on people who need to be taught that Black girls’ lives matter.

It’s time to focus on the questions that do matter, and the people who are asking them.

The Superfriends reminded me who I’m doing this for, and why I’m doing it.

They reminded me that I still have a lot to learn and unlearn and relearn, and that this process is for me. Perhaps this isn’t why other people pursue Ph.D.s, but my project is a labor of love and care.

And it always will be.

The Teachability of Legendborn

I’d already rearranged the syllabus for my spring 2021 Magical Black Girls class once– back in June when Bethany C. Morrow released A Song Below Water. It was too good not to teach, especially when it specifically spoke to themes of the violence and silencing Black girls too often endure, the matrilineal nature of our power, and the strength of sisterfriends.

I told myself that I would not be readjusting again, no matter what new thing I discovered.

And then I was able to get my hands on an ARC of Legendborn.

Tracy Deonn pens a modern take on Arthurian legend reimagined as a secret society at a Southern Predominately White Institution (PWI). The protagonist, Bree Matthews, falls head first into this world, and it’s made abundantly clear to her by the others in the reimagined “Order” that Bree does not fit.

Any Black person at a PWI, particularly a Southern one, knows the experiences Bree endures intimately. We know the malevolent administrator who sneers at our presence. We have met the parents who are quick to label us as “Affirmative Action” and believe that us occupying a space on those campuses has somehow stolen something from their children. We have befriended the seemingly innocuous white person, who says something racist and when you call them on it they’re quick to dismiss your retort, saying, “You know what I mean.”

All of that would be enough to make anyone’s blood boil just below the surface, but add to it the depths of Bree’s grief and being thrown into an unknown magical world, where the same essence may have a different name to different people. Where the intersections of experience and history collide in unexpected ways. Deonn seamlessly weaves a tale based in uncomfortable truths about the relationship between Black and white people in the South that span centuries. Though born from those uncomfortable truths, it takes up the strength and power generated by Black individuals and families and shows how we have risen and continue to rise.

For all of that, Legendborn is the rare kind of book that satisfies the appetite of all the various portions of my personality and interests. Most times, it’s a pick and choose type of situation: perhaps you get high fantasy but lack depictions of Black girlhood, or you get Black girlhood but not as the heroine of the story.

With Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, I didn’t have to choose. I got to bring all the sides of my magic-loving, history-seeking, smart-mouthed Black girl self to the table when I settled down to read a chapter or two. As a Black girl who has spent a significant amount of time at two Southern Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) with big reputations for both my bachelors and masters/Ph.D. programs, the difficult, conflictual feelings Bree has about Carolina didn’t need to be explained. I understood the instinctual pull Bree felt to a campus that was not built with her in mind, and yet needing to know it intimately because it would bring her closer to a parent.

Reading Legendborn pulled to the surface all the things I didn’t know about my undergraduate institution, but that I learned in great detail at my graduate institution. I spent two years as a graduate assistant for The Lemon Project: A Journey of Reconciliation, my campus’ attempt at making the history of Black people readily available, to bring forth that which the institution would rather hide. In that time, I learned not only about the enslaved people who built my university, but met the Black folks who would much later integrate our Southern PWI, and build with the Black students who still work to make it a better place.

I know the high fantasy is the draw of Legendborn, but it is the richness with which Deonn weaves so much of what is important to me as the backdrop of this narrative. It’s the vibrancy with which Deonn allows Bree to be a Black girl and revel in all the complexity of what that means. Yes, I love the way she has reimagined Arthuriana, I love the strong characters, the elements of the magic that underlies this whole world, but it is the way Bree is simply in this world, whether she fits or not, that makes it near and dear to my heart and what makes it perfectly teachable.

Bree is the result of centuries of racial conflict and the deep love Black women have for each other. She is both softness and hard edges; strength and fragility. She is deliciously human and wondrously exceptional.

That she is all of these things and stunningly magical is a revolution.

It’s legendary.

Requiem For The King

Chadwick Boseman joined the ancestors on the evening of August 28th. It was revealed that he had been diagnosed with stage three colon cancer four years ago, which progressed to stage four, and eventually took him.

Boseman rightfully deserves the most beautiful of elegies, ones that paint a stunning portrait of how impactful his corpus of work has been. As my good friend Kelsey said as we mourned together, Boseman’s artistry bridged past, present and future in a way that was impossible and necessary. He deserves words that reflect this. I, most certainly, am not the one to give it. I didn’t know him.

But I knew Black Panther.


Professor Claudrena Harold introduced me to Black Panther, in a circuitous way. We were having lunch together early in my last year of college, plotting my journey to graduate school, when she asked, “Did you know Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing the new Black Panther comics?”

Professor Harold is not the kind of person from whom you can hide your ignorance; so I owned up to being unaware, and the side eye I received was enough to send me home ready to do a thorough Google search. Fast forward a few months and I had read (and fallen in love with) Between the World and Me, become a Coates stan and was reading old Atlantic articles in my spare time, and was eagerly awaiting the first issue of the new Black Panther.

When the first issue landed in my Comixology account in late spring 2016, I turned the lights off in my dorm room and read the issue under my covers. I wanted as few distractions as possible as I drank in this comic. I emerged with a new obsession, which was only intensified by the announcement of the forthcoming movie that summer.

The film connected the work I was doing at the time as a comics scholar with the work my good friend, Micah, was doing as a film scholar, both of us interested in stories where Black people were centered in the ways we saw ourselves but that white media could not imagine. We both had questions, some answers, a lot of thoughts about what this film could mean, could do, could represent, and we both brought a particular expertise to the conversation. We founded King of the Black Millennials, a short lived blog where we worked out those early thoughts that summer, an endeavor that solidified our relationship as writing collaborators as well as friends.

I entered graduate school in fall 2016 with no sense of what I was doing or wanted to do; in some ways, I came armed with only my love of comics, and specifically, in that moment, Black Panther. So I clung to that. My first graduate level research paper for my Popular Culture class was rather mediocre, but I saw the beginnings of a real project forming. That paper led to my first conference presentation at the Southeastern American Studies Association conference in spring 2017; my first archival trip to work with Black Panther comics at VCU that summer, which became the basis of my Master’s portfolio that I defended that fall.

All that said, it must come as no surprise that the closer the film came, my eagerness grew. I planned out my outfits for opening night months before and secured my ticket for opening night the day they were available. To most of my friends’ surprise, I was firm in my resolve to see the film just once by myself before I saw it with anyone else. They thought it was because I feared I might have criticism; I knew it was because I would sob through the entire film.

When Wakanda unfurled before my eyes for the very first time on screen, I wept.

Perhaps white men had created Wakanda, but Black people had reclaimed it and cultivated this.

In the months after I defended my Master’s thesis, I regularly told my people I was going to take the Master’s and leave. I was uninspired and burnt out. I felt harassed and often patronized in my classes. I didn’t have another plan, but a few days after I had decided I was going to leave my program, a classmate sent me an email. Attached as an article about a Black man who had illustrated Black Panther comics in the 1970s: Billy Graham. Interested, but still unenthused and unwilling to do more research, I clicked it away.

By the grace of God, that classmate brought up the email again in class and directed my attention to the granddaughter mentioned in the article, Shawnna, who currently had Graham’s archives at her home in Williamsburg.

Meeting Shawnna and getting to work in the archives with her for a short while was enough to sustain me for another few months. I never did anything with that research other than write a seminar paper, but I realized after a while, that perhaps that work was simply meant to pull me through. It sustained me. It was what I needed to be okay.


When I first stumbled across the Associated Press article announcing Boseman’s death, I, like most people, thought it was a cruel hoax. It took less than a minute for me to confirm, and moments after that to completely break down. I cried for an hour straight, my heart broken over someone I had never met.

I woke today with a deep sadness settling over me like a weighted blanket. It took most of the day, and mourning with friends, to come close to articulating what losing Chadwick Boseman meant in this moment.

He was our joy. Our superhero. Our king.

Criticisms of the film still stand, but the way Black Panther became a cultural phenomena is unmatched. I had never seen such collective Black joy until the week of the release of Black Panther. It was a reason to celebrate, whether you liked superhero movies or not.

And, boy, did we celebrate.


The specter of Death looms over Black people in a particular way. Our health worries do not only include Coronavirus in this moment, but police violence, domestic abuse, assault, inadequate health care as a result of so many interconnected factors.

Tragedy has come to call again and again and again; its presence is unwelcome, yet it lingers.

We started the year with the loss of a legend, Kobe Bryant, and every day since has been another crisis, another loss, yet another moment that calls for mourning.

But this hit different.

Days after the Jacob Blake shooting, we lost a man who we came to associate with the purest form of Black joy.

It seemed pointed and cruel to lose a King of Joy in a moment that desperately called for any bit of hope.


Chadwick Boseman deserves the most peaceful rest.

To the King.