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Backwoods and Bloodlines: The Novels of Jesmyn Ward - Spring 2024

Mississippi native and award-winning author Jesmyn Ward has woven her deep love and knowledge of the Mississippi coast into the pages of her acclaimed Bois Sauvage trilogy of novels: Where the Line BleedsSalvage the Bones; and Sing, Unburied, Sing. The novels explore the resilience and endurance of African American families whose lives are "pinioned beneath history, poverty, and racism.”

In this Reader Series, we will read Ward’s trilogy, as well as her most recent and first historical novel, Let Us Descend. We will reflect on how Ward’s depictions of landscape, lineage, liminality, and love provide readers insight into the South’s legacy of Jim Crow and the lives of families dispossessed by America’s history of racism and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. And we will discuss Ward’s distinctive writing style and her contribution to the African American literary canon.

Instructor: Dr. Brenda R. Smith is a Kent State University Associate Professor Emerita, English. During her tenure at Kent State University at Stark, she taught American, African American, women’s, and modernist literatures, and freshman composition. Dr. Smith earned both her B.A. in English and her Ph.D. in American and African American literatures from Case Western Reserve University. She earned her M.A. in American literature from Cleveland State University. Her dissertation, The Construction of Bi-Cultural Subjectivity in African American Migrant Autobiography, which earned her Case Western Reserve University’s distinguished Neil McIntyre Memorial Essay Award and Kent State University’s Regional Campus Professional Development Award, explored the relationship between African Americans’ involuntary immigration to and voluntary migration within the United States and the formation of American subjectivity. Her current research includes the trans-ethnic study of autobiography and the construction of American subjectivity, and the evolution of the Bildungsroman literary form in African American women’s writing. Dr. Smith, a native Clevelander, currently resides in Twinsburg, Ohio. She is married and has two daughters.


Details: Backwoods and Bloodlines: The Novels of Jesmyn Ward with Dr. Brenda R. Smith takes place on Saturdays February 3, March 2, April 6, and May 4 from 1-3pm remotely online via Zoom.

Prerequisites: None

Genre: Reader Series

Level: All levels of readers are welcome.

Format: Reader Series classes take you on a deep dive into specific topic or author to gain a more advanced understanding of literature and the world. Experienced instructors will provide history, context, and analysis, and guide in-depth discussion that will help make you an instant expert in a single subject or author's body of work.

Each participant can decide how they choose to engage with the classes. You can read the books ahead of time, read them as the class progresses, or read them after the class has concluded. No matter your level of prior knowledge, you will receive a wealth of materials and insights in a condensed period, like a master class or a great course, only right here in Cleveland.

Location: This class takes place remotely online via Zoom.

Size: Limited to 15 participants (including scholarships).

Suggested Sequence: Follow this class with a craft and/or generative nonfiction workshop, a feedback course, or a publishing course.

Scholarships: Two scholarship spots are available for this class for writers in Northeast Ohio. Apply by December 11.

Cancellations & Refunds: Cancel at least 48 hours in advance of the first class meeting to receive a full refund. Email

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