Purdue University Graduate School
ROSmith MA Thesis 2020.pdf (496.04 kB)

Theorizing Black Womanhood in Art: Ntozake Shange, Jamila Woods, and Nitty Scott

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posted on 2020-04-24, 12:07 authored by Rachel O SmithRachel O Smith

Black women are inventing new epistemologies to better fit their own experience, and they are putting these new ways of knowing into action within their communities to generate collective change through art. Black women’s theories of their own lived experience publicly have been consistently limited by narrow definitions of what it means to create a “Theory.” In this thesis, I will analyze the work of three contemporary Black woman performance artists, Ntozake Shange, Jamila Woods, and Nitty Scott, to identify the ways in which Black women do indeed theorize within these public spaces in ways that are innovative and complex. I focus on these artists insights on three critical sites: home, school, and community. I read Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, Woods’ Legacy!Legacy!, and Scott’s Creature! alongside Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought and bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress to explore the innovative theoretical spaces Black women have created in their art. Ultimately, I argue that acknowledging this process of using popular culture as a space for theoretical discourse can provide innovative tools for expression for Black women who do not, cannot, or do not wish to participate in academic discourses. Understanding these tools can empower Black women to explore their humanity and to understand the contexts, which Collins refers to as “domains,” in which Black women can claim and expand their power.


Degree Type

  • Master of Arts


  • English

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Marlo David

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Aparajita Sagar

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Paul Ryan Schneider