A Different “Syllabus?”

The full Hidden Figures Syllabus document will be available on Friday, September 15th, in celebration of what would have been Elma Lewis’ 96th birthday.


Over the past few years, the hashtag syllabus has become a way to organize and distribute information beyond the walls of academic institutions and platforms that require an affiliation to such institutions in order to gain access.

Black women and femmes have been at the forefront of many of these efforts.

In 2014, Dr. Marcia Chatelain, Assistant Professor of History at Georgetown University, launched the #FergusonSyllabus to provide resources for students, educators and readers grieving and organizing in the wake of the murder of Mike Brown, one of many instances in which the United States demonstrates its nature as a machine requiring the lives of the most marginalized people as sacrifice and fuel for its continued operation.

The #LemonadeSyllabus is another example that served as a guide for our own work at the Elma Lewis Center. While working towards her doctorate at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Candice Benbow, with the help of over 70 contributors, curated an extensive reading list that firmly placed Beyoncé’s Lemonade visual album within the context of Black feminist and womanist literature, film, critical theory and theology.

Even with this such a wealth of inspiration, completing this project was fraught with endless questions, many of which remain unanswered in any conclusive way. Without the typical scaffolding and dated tasks and assignments that follow a particular line of logic and build on top of each other, our project doesn’t fully resemble a syllabus in its conventional form. One purpose the label “syllabus” serves is to align our work with the aforementioned project, and to invite readers to see Hidden Figures Syllabus as a guide to help in their exploration of Black diasporic creative productions.

Another question that emerged had to do with which writers and artists to include in the document. It wouldn’t be very useful to select texts solely based on their creators identifying as Black women or femmes. Elma Lewis’ fierce spirit served as a means of navigating this dilemma. With Miss Lewis in mind, we tried to bring together works that are in conversation with each other, in the ways they project radical ways of thinking about liberation, joy, the body, sexuality, grief, and “post” colonial dispossession among many other themes.

It is our hope that the Hidden Figures Syllabus reflects these ideas and lines of inquiry, with this blog as a space to continue questioning, dreaming and curating submissions from the public with more “Hidden Figures” who deserve celebration.


Zoë Gadegbeku is the Communications Manager for the Elma Lewis Center. She blogs at shewhowritesreality.com.



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