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2020 Clarence W. Sorensen Distinguished Dissertation Award winner

Chereka Dickerson

Chereka Dickerson

The winner of the 2020 Clarence W. Sorensen Distinguished Dissertation Award is Dr. Chereka Dickerson, Ph.D. ’18, who earned her doctorate in the Department of English. Her dissertation, Writing Counternarratives: Authorizing the Black Woman’s Autobiographical Voice by Reading Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls as life narrative, explores the narratives from the perspective of black women.

“My dissertation project, Writing Counternarratives: Authorizing the Black Woman’s Autobiographical Voice by Reading Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls as life narrative, was more than a research project for me,” Dickerson said. “Rather, for me, it was a journey. As a black woman, I have always had to contend with narratives about black women that have long preceded me. These narratives have been told to me, and these narratives have been told about me. So, what I wanted to investigate through my dissertation was the narratives that black women tell for themselves, by themselves, and about themselves.

“Moreover, I wanted to take this opportunity and use my dissertation as a platform to give voice to my life narrative in a unique way. Writing Counternarratives is a hybrid project where I read a literary text, Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls, which was not previously classified as autobiographical, through an autobiographical lens while simultaneously writing my own memoir in a liminal space that I carved out as my own. My narrative exists to highlight nuances between my and Shange’s narratives and to punctuate the similarities between the two. This project is a cathartic representation of what it means to give voice and presence to voices and bodies who have long been silenced and erased. Writing Counternarratives is, all at once, an exploration of self, an exploration of blackness, an exploration of womanhood, and most importantly, an exploration of black womanhood. My hope for anyone who is fortunate enough to read Writing Counternarratives is for them to find themselves, know themselves, and love themselves, as the late Ntozake Shange proclaimed, ‘fiercely!'”

The annual Sorensen Distinguished Dissertation Award is sponsored by the Graduate School of Illinois State University.

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