Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Kandice Chuh

Committee Members

Cathy N. Davidson

Michelle Fine

Eric Lott

Robert Reid-Pharr

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | American Studies | Education | Ethnic Studies | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Higher Education | Literature in English, North America | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Rhetoric and Composition | Women's Studies


pedagogy, social justice, intersectionality, critical university studies, aesthetics


Insurgent Knowledge analyzes the reciprocal relations between teaching and literature in the work of Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Toni Cade Bambara, and Adrienne Rich, all of whom taught in the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) educational opportunity program at the City University of New York in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Drawing on archival research and analysis of their published work, I show how feminist aesthetics have shaped U.S. education (especially student-centered pedagogical practices) and how classroom encounters with students had a lasting impact on our postwar literary landscape and theories of difference. My project demonstrates how, for these teacher-poets, creative work and teaching were interrelated efforts to galvanize students, readers, and audiences in the production of a more just, equitable, and pleasurable world. In doing so, I illuminate the centrality of aesthetic education to processes of social change: how encounters with art and artmaking (poiesis) can help us interrogate common sense, unlearn dominant pedagogies, retrain our viscera, and think beyond the status quo.

The materials analyzed in this project include unpublished archival teaching materials—syllabi, lesson plans, assignments, lecture notes—housed at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe and Spelman College and published literature and essays from the period 1965-2002. Through close examination of these texts, I show how these teacher-poets developed pedagogies of social justice deeply influenced by their experiences teaching in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with particular attentiveness to the longstanding influence of educational opportunity programs and Open Admissions in their work.

These materials and questions necessitated an interdisciplinary approach that draws on the methods of women of color feminism, urban education studies, critical pedagogy, cultural studies, and literary analysis. Building upon recent research in critical university studies, this project constructs a genealogy of feminist poet-teachers as leaders of pedagogical, institutional, and social change.

Each chapter analyzes the pedagogies that emerge from one author’s literary and educational texts. I show how aesthetic education can contribute to ongoing struggles for social justice and material redistribution: by denaturalizing common sense and altering our social consciousness; through place-based local research assignments that help students locate their seemingly idiosyncratic experiences in relation to collective histories and institutional structures; by challenging students to participate in the formal construction of their learning environments including the content, methods, and means by which their learning will be assessed; by teaching collaboration; and by having students write for audiences beyond the classroom (including publishing their work in anthologies). These pedagogies, I argue, demonstrate ways to navigate and contest the privatization of knowledge and power that has come to dominate educational practice.