Category Archives: Readings

Week 13 or How to Write a Comps List

Week 13, or How to Write a Comps List

So, first things first: what are Comps?

Comps, short for Comprehensive Exams, is the next step after you finish coursework, at least in my program. Comprehensive Exams assess your knowledge of your chosen fields of study, whether you know the main arguments, can assess them, weave them together, and explain them effectively. Most people have told me to think about my Comps in terms of fields I would one day like to teach. The number of fields vary, but most people do one major field, and one to two minor fields of study.

Second: How are you tested?

In my program, I create a list of books (the number varies) which you think exemplify the major arguments and discussions of your field and work with a professor or two on each list. Specifically, my major field is African American Literature: as this is a big field, I plan on breaking it up into two lists and working with two different faculty members on each list. My minor fields are Comics and Media Studies and African American Intellectual History Since Reconstruction. When it is time for your exams, each of the professors you worked with on lists will ask you to answer essay questions, to which you will have six hours to respond.

Summary: 3 fields of study, 4 lists, 50-70 books per list, 4 exams, 6 hours each, plus an oral exam.

Third: Wait, so you have to read, like, 200-300 books? How long do you have to do that?

Yeah, pretty much. Technically, I can start reading after I pass my Comps Colloquium which will take place at the end of September of this year, leaving me around eight months to read all 200-300 texts. But I will still be in course work, so reading extra material will be difficult. I’ve been working on my Comps lists all semester in the attempt of getting at least two lists finalized so I can start reading over the summer.

Finally: So, how do you write your lists?

I can’t tell you exactly how do this but what I can give you is a set of advice on how I’ve been going about it thus far:

  • First, think of your lists as a bibliography. Pick a formatting style you like, and list your books in accordance with that style. (I chose to do mine in Chicago. It will also save you time to cite properly the first time when you start putting books on your list. I had to redo mine.)
  • Second, when you first start thinking about comps, the best thing I can suggest to you to do is to open a word document and jot down books that inspire you from class, books that you want to read, books that you think are fascinating and important but didn’t quite grasp the first time through.
  • Third, when it’s time to get serious about writing your lists:
    • Add books from your to-read list
    • Go through your syllabi for books that were particularly relevant to your fields of study
    • Use Amazon! Look through the “People who have selected this book have also liked…” section. I found a lot of great books that way that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
    • Ask to see your peers and All But Dissertation (ABD) students to see their lists if they have similar fields as you.
    • Check online to see if your school (or other schools) posts sample comps lists and check those out for inspiration.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask professors for book suggestions, even if they aren’t working with you on your fields, specifically.
    • Most important of all, when you start working seriously, don’t forget to put on some music! Putting together what is essentially a bibliography can be long, tedious and thankless work. It takes time and bumpin’ music always helps me get pumped up to work on my lists. (I’ve been listening to Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy while working on my lists.)
  • Fourth, be prepared to go several drafts of your lists. You will work with your advisor to represent your field, which may take more than one try.

So, there you have it. My not at all comprehensive guide to writing comps lists. My main piece of advice is to just keep plugging away at it. It won’t come together all at once. 50 books is a lot, and the texts you chose are important. Set aside a little time every week to update your lists. If you add to your lists little by little each week, your lists will come together in no time.

Week 8, Ravynn’s Spring Break Reads

I needed Spring Break more than I even realized. What I thought would be an uneventful week turned into a deep dive into texts I’ve been dying to read for the last few months. Before I knew it, I had devoured four books, plus a graphic novel, the 6 episode Black Panther television show, and all of my usual CW shows.

I realized I needed to give my mind a break and consume things I wanted to read for me when I was developing my blog post for Week 7 (which you’ll notice does not exist). It was supposed to be a “mixtape” of all the best things I’d read for classes since the last time I did a mixtape, which was during Fall Break. I quickly realized that I was having trouble gathering up a list of the things I’d loved, but the list of things I wanted to read but hadn’t was nice and long. I scoured my apartment for unread books and made a quick trip to Barnes and Noble to amass a nice stack of things to read on my week off.

So, here’s a mixtape of what I read (and loved) this Spring Break:

This Will Be My Undoing by Morgan Jerkins

How I found it: I follow Morgan Jerkins on Twitter because she’s an editor at a literary journal I’ve yet to work up the nerve to submit to. But I’ve been following her work and was excited to find out that she had a book coming out. I bought it impulsively at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago but hadn’t had an opportunity to read until now as I’m on Spring Break.

2 second summary: Essays on being a Black girl/woman in white America.

What I loved about it: Jerkins’s essays really resonated with me, from topics as sacred as Black hair, Michelle Obama and why finding a man is so difficult. She’s raw and honest, brutal and yet touching. I cried twice from the sheer pain of seeing on the page what I’ve felt a million times but never dared to say. She’s a literary role model for me– I can only hope that one day I can decide to be equally as fearless and write my truth, too.

Rating: 12/10 would absolutely recommend


Electric Arches by Eve L. Ewing

How I found it: I actually rediscovered this after I bought it during a Haymarket Books sale last semester. I bought it because I also follow Eve L. Ewing on Twitter. In addition to being a dope poet, she’s also a scholar and I try to follow as many Black women doing the things I aspire to do as possible.

2 second summary: Poems (and accompanying visuals) set in 1990s Chicago that explore Black womanhood with an afrofuturist twist.

What I loved about it: In lieu of an exhaustive list of all the poems that I loved from this work, let me simply quote my favorite lines for you:

Love is like a comic book. It’s fragile

And the best we can do is protect it

In whatever clumsy ways we can…

“Origin Story”

Rating: 10/10 would absolutely recommend


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

How I found it: I was perusing a call for book reviews when I noticed that this novel was tacked to the end of the list of books up for potential review. Always eager to pursue my literary side, I made a note to read it but never got around to it. Until now…

2 second summary: A young boy, Jojo, coming of age in Mississippi deals with manhood, his relationship with both the Black and white sides of his family, and a relationship with the spirit of a story unfinished.

What I loved about it: I have a grotesque fascination with death and I wonder about the departed, in particular my Grandma, whose presence I often feel. Death and spirits are complicated but fixtures of our lives which demand attention. I loved getting to spend some time thinking about the living’s relationship to the dead and why the unburied sometimes sing.

Rating: 9/10 would recommend


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

How I found it: My friend, Micah, put me on to it. Only the best of the best can impress her and so when she raved about just the first fifty pages, I knew I had to pick it up and see for myself.

2 second summary: An 8 generation story which follows the lives of two Ghanian women and their descendants, which lead to a beautiful story about the impact of both slavery and the diaspora.

What I loved about it: Yaa Gyasi is an extremely talented writer. She’s got some beautifully clean sentences in her novel, sentences that make me want to pick up a pen and try to see if I can replicate words with even half the impact. The story that stood out to me the most (SPOILERS) was Willie’s story about her husband who passed for white and then simply slipped out of the Black world. (Not without traumatizing her first, of course, though.) I’ve read a lot of passing stories that take place during the Nadir and then into the Harlem Renaissance, but this particular story hit me where it hurt.

Rating: 11/10 would absolutely recommend.


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

How I found it: I don’t remember the exact first time I heard about this book but I do remember all the hype surrounding it. It was so impactful that I suggested it for review for a potential publication I was working on at the time I found it.

2 second summary: Cora is a enslaved person who decides to escape via the Underground Railroad, which Whitehead has reimagined as a literal railway.

What I loved about it: As I was reading this, I thought back on many of the enslaved histories I’ve read over the last two years in grad school and picked up on many of the details from those histories in Whitehead’s story. Never before had those histories come to life for me more than when I read Whitehead’s novel. Maybe it’s a personal failing, but I simply don’t process informational nearly as well if it isn’t presented in a literary way– if it isn’t a good narrative. It was an extremely informative read, with a strong Black female protagonist (indomitable, is the word used in the novel to describe her.)

Rating: 10/10 would absolutely recommend


There you have it: everything I’ve read– and loved– over Spring Break 2018.

I still have some books on my list that I want to read (including Citizen, An American Marriage, and Invisible Man Got The Whole World Watching) but I’m so grateful for the break and the chance to read some of the novels that have been on my mind for the last few months. I hope this post inspires you to take a look at least one (or 5) new read(s)!

Week 7, or Ravynn’s mid-Semester Check In, ft. Pieces that Stuck With Me

“Definition of womanism: ‘…committed to the survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except occasionally, for health.’ 

Alice Walker from “U.S. Third World Feminism”

I’ve gotten into the habit of doing mid-semester check-ins here on BGDGS. My first semester I reflected on the goals I set for myself before I started this whole crazy journey, my second semester I listed the books and essays that had the greatest impact on me as a person, and now as I’m looking at my third mid-semester check point, I’ve decided to do a riff on my books and essays list.

I think it’s a good exercise for myself to keep track of the things I read that truly move me– and why. It’s also potentially important to think about when I encounter certain things along my journey, as it impacts how I move through the world. So, for my third mid-semester check-in, I’ve decided to do a list of texts that I mulled over this semester, even after the class I read them for was over.

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  1. Kimberle Crenshaw’s “Mapping the Margins”

I will never forget when my friend asked a class of predominately white women whether they thought “intersectionality” as Crenshaw imagined it had been appropriated by white women. Until she said it, I had never thought about it. After she said it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

As I’ve moved through various spaces this semester, I’m feeling the liminal space that Crenshaw wrote about every day. She gave a words to the void I feel myself slipping into as I try to maneuver in this world without falling to the wayside, but it also gives me hope that if someone can give this feeling a name, then something can be done about it.

chela_sandoval_md2. Chela Sandoval’s “U.S. Third World Feminism”

I didn’t know how much I liked it until I got into class and had to give my presentation on it. I could vibe with the basic premise that Third World Feminism (a broad category that essentially doesn’t include hegemonic [white Western] feminism) as a methodology was a combination of a ton of different tactics. It was both invested in equal rights but also revolutionary, sometimes supremacist, sometimes separatist, but always “differential,” as Sandoval puts it. The difference is that this Feminism can be and is everything, sometimes all at once, sometimes one a time, and sometimes nothing. I liked the idea that you have a tool kit to pull from, and you use different tactics dependent on each unique situation.

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3. Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

I’m suddenly of the camp that believes with all my heart in new strategies. I think I found myself at the end of my rope these semester, tired of doing things the “right way” and still not quite moving forward. Now that I believe in it, I need to live it.

Still working on how to live my pedagogy.

41hghhlf5ol-_ac_ul320_sr214320_4. Stuart Hall’s “New Ethnicities”

Stuart Hall is always a good read, especially for someone who will probably be classified in some capacity as a cultural historian. He’s difficult, but worth reading, primarily because you’ll definitely have to read his work at least twice. I like the way he works through monolithic identities, deconstructing and reconstructing as he goes.

 

 

 

9780060838676_p0_v6_s192x3005. Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I honestly think that every time I read this book, I fall in love with it even more. I get something new from it. I never get tired of reading it. This time around I was particularly taken with Zora herself. I read an article about her for my Reflections of the African Diaspora class and I couldn’t help but notice her ample descriptions– fun, controversial, outrageous, aggressive, a loner, and impatient, for a short list– and I was astounded. I was astounded that she was described as though it were incredible that she dared be anything short of herself. She was remarkable– truly one of a kind. I love her for daring to be unapologetically herself because it helps me feel brave, and embrace myself for who I am. I want to be Zora Neale Hurston fearless some day.

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6. Antenor Firmin’s The Equality of the Human Races

This was an incredible work of anthropology and I was astounded by its rigor, the francophile in me proud of the Haitian revolutionary, intellectual spirit, and impressed that someone so angry about have to explain common sense could write so eloquently. However, it was also a prime example of how something can be both passionately anti-racist and also supremely sexist. I’m pretty sure this would be my favorite book if I were a Black man.

 

 

narrative-of-the-life-of-frederick-douglass7. The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass

Although my Dad loves to hold up pictures of Frederick Douglass to his face when he hasn’t shaved in a while and say that they’re twins, I never felt moved to read any Douglass. After I did, I found a way to mention Douglass I think once a class. His ingenuity was inspiring to me and I now love reciting stories from the book. Douglass was WILD, honest and fearless.

 

 


So there you have it, a short list of my favorite texts I’ve read this semester so far. Relatedly, I felt inspired to mention that my favorite assignment from the semester was my blog post on Black hair as a medium that I did for my New Media, Old Media class.

I’m going to spend the next few days trying to rest up, then I have a big week ahead of me. Instead of heading back to class on Wednesday, I will be on my way back to my alma mater for a conference on slavery as a representative for the Lemon Project. In between being a professional conference-r, I’ll be running around with my friends and I’ve even got tickets to see this year’s Black Monologues. Then, once I’m back on Saturday, I’ll be off to my very first ComicCon with my friend.  I will be cosplaying as Ororo Monroe, a.k.a Storm, X-Man and former Queen of Wakanda. With so many incredible things to write about, who knows what you’ll get next week.

Stay tuned to find out.