The NPL BeyHive talks Beyoncé and the #LemonadeSyllabus.
The day before Super Bowl 50, Beyoncé dropped her new single “Formation” just in time for her half-time show appearance. The country quickly became immersed in conversation about the message of the song as her dancers donned black berets and leather jackets and put their fists in the air to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers during Black History Month.
Fast forward to April 23, 2016 and the release of Queen Bey’s sixth studio album, Lemonade. Fans praised it as a piece of black feminist empowerment and went to work on interpreting its content, prompting many think pieces and responses including a project headed by Candice Marie Benbow called "Lemonade Syllabus."
The “Lemonade Syllabus” is full of literature, theory, poetry, music, and films to guide audiences in exploring the themes of the new visual album. If you’re looking for something extra to accompany your Lemonade experience, here are some personal recommendations from the NPL BeyHive.
I love science fiction, and make it a point to read works written by women of color. Included in the “Lemonade Syllabus” are two works by my favorite author, Octavia Butler. Kindred and the Parable of the Sower both changed my life. I have read both novels numerous times and each time, I learn something new. I also gasp and shudder and cheer during each reading, again caught up in the story.
The Book of Phoenix will also grab you. And it will not let you go. Like the rest of the syllabus - and like the works of science fiction above - it features a black woman who knows her own mind and makes her own world. An Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist, The Book of Phoenix is a prequel to Okorafor’s 2011 novel Who Fears Death?
In a past life I was a religious studies scholar. I did PhD work at Vanderbilt in the area of Ethics and Society in the Graduate Department of Religion. Consequently, I did a lot of reading and want to highlight the section on Religion and Womanist Theology which includes several texts that were vital to my professional, spiritual, and political formation.
- Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community by Katie Geneva Cannon
- Mining the Motherlode: Methods in Womanist Ethics by Stacey Floyd-Thomas
- Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil by emilie m. townes
- Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores S. Williams
Unfortunately, NPL doesn’t have these volumes in its collection. The theological library game in town is very well covered by the Divinity Library at Vanderbilt University, but not to worry, there is always Interlibrary Loan. Or my bookshelves at home.
Several of my friends also contributed to the project. I was so proud to see Kimberly Russaw, Kimberly Peeler-Ringer, and Keri Day listed on the syllabus. You can check out their work online and in print. I hope to one day see their work in our library (brb, talking to Collection Development).
This collection of stories so beautifully captures the complicated and elusive world of love, loss, and connection that Beyoncé’s Lemonade is steeped in. It’s often difficult for me to remember exact quotes or especially affecting excerpts of books after a little times goes by, but I haven’t been able to forget one quote from this collection for 13 years:
“Do you ever wonder, old lover of mine, where so much love comes from? I wonder this often, because no matter how distressing the world is, wherever I am, there never seems to be a shortage of love…Maybe the love is there because of shared suffering? Maybe it rises up wherever we perceive that another human has survived. As human.”
Walker doesn’t try to sum things up tidily. These stories aren’t prescriptive or moralistic. Instead this blend of autobiography and fiction is more of an empathetic and philosophical investigation into the love, heartbreak, forgiveness, cognitive dissonance, and confusion that we all have to walk through in the course of caring for others. Themes of race and female identity deepen and expand the stories and tone, making this a particularly key selection in the “Lemonade Syllabus.”
If you’ve been inhaling as many think pieces as I have about Lemonade, then I’m sure you are well aware of bell hooks’ critiques of Beyoncé and her new album. As a self-proclaimed fangirl of both women, I encourage you to explore the conversation for yourself.
As Brittany Spanos reminds us in her Lemonade article for Rolling Stone, “the presence of black women in the mainstream performing rock is an act of reclamation.” This book by civil rights activist Angela Davis examines the feminist history of the blues through the works of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Billie Holiday.