ReWrite Mississippi: Narratives of Harmony and Hate

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Course Description

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi goddamn." These lines, from Nina Simone's 1964 protest song ""Mississippi Goddamn,"" articulate Simone's frustration over a state mired in racial hatred and violence. Though one may argue that this is only Simone's perception of the state, this class will illustrate that Mississippi's identity remains shaped by and aligned with this particular narrative. This narrative is evinced in films like The Help; in the state's ""refusal"" to remove the confederate emblem from its state flag; and most recently, its election of a state senator who would gladly ""sit in the front row of a public hanging."" This unsavory and fraught representation of the state has stifled opportunities to highlight the state's rich cultural heritage. This course will bring forth recessive counter narratives that challenge these dominant and myopic representations of the State and the tragic elements of its past.

The course is interdisciplinary. It will examine constructions of masculinity through the blues and the short stories of Richard Wright and William Faulkner; it will explore the complicated bonds of sisterhood between black women and white women in Kathryn Stockett's The Help and the photography of Eudora Welty's A pageant of birds; and it will highlight sharecropping's enduring legacy on the impoverished in LaLee's Kin: The Legacy of Cotton while showcasing the state's culinary prowess in Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. All of the texts will serve to expand what is thought to be Mississippi.

The primary objective of this course is to examine the identity of Mississippi in the dominant narrative and to encourage the reconstruction of a more honest and equitable illustration of the State through the study of artists, authors, agriculture, movements, and moments in Mississippi's history and present-day. The secondary objective is to consider how the constructed and maintained narrative of Mississippi contributes to the dominant national narrative of the United States and how these identities shape the way America sees itself; the way America sees Mississippi, and the way Mississippians see themselves. The third objective is to illustrate to students "the danger of a single story" and equip them with the necessary tools to interrogate and then "rewrite" other falsely constructed narratives.

Finally, as Faulkner wrote, “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.”

Prerequisites: None


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEEL0990
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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