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LSU Libraries’ Special Exhibition Explores Black Women’s Narratives

Asha Winfield
Asha Winfield, assistant professor in LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication

This spring, LSU Libraries hosted “Black Women's Biopics & Black Living Room Pedagogy” in collaboration with The Storytellers Lab at LSU, whose mission is to amplify the voices of the storytellers in the academy and community, and LSU NAACP. The Storytellers Lab was founded by Asha Winfield, an assistant professor in LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication, and this exhibition was based on her award-winning dissertation, “I Don’t See Myself: Exploring Reception to Hollywood’s Construction of Memory through Black Women’s Biopics.”  

In her dissertation, Winfield used “sista circles” to interview groups of women around the U.S. about their engagement with Black women’s biopics and other historical dramas. She found that Black women engage with media and other Black women, like their mothers, elders, friends, and themselves, in search of the truths of the past. She coined this phenomenon as “Black Living Room Pedagogy.” 

Narcissa Haskins and Lauren Lay, LSU Libraries’ African and African American Studies Librarian and Mass Communication Librarian, respectively, planned and executed the series of events.  

According to Haskins, “Because Dr. Winfield’s work bridges LSU’s Mass Communications and African and African American Studies, Lauren and I joined forces with her to create what I think was a highly impactful series of events. This special exhibition is an excellent example of the amazing interdisciplinary work that we conduct at LSU Libraries every day.” 

During March, they exhibited a reconstruction of a Black living room, similar to ones depicted on television during the 1970s, that was open for patrons to use and explore as their own on the second floor of the main library. It included bookshelves featuring Black women’s books and other works and posters of related books and films that patrons could check out of the library.  

two women in a Black living room display
From left to right: Lauren Lay, LSU Mass Communication Librarian, and Narcissa Haskins, LSU African and African American Studies Librarian

“It reminds me of my grandma’s rental house out in West Tulsa,” Lay said. “She had wood paneling just like this, and we would play funk music really loud and play board games together all night long. And that’s exactly what it reminds me of. To be so far away from home, but for her to also be here in that space, is really special. When I see that, that’s what I think of—my grandma.”  

Additionally, LSU Special Collections hosted viewings of two Black women's biopics in Hill Memorial Library: “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” featuring the life of Whitney Houston, and “Respect,” featuring the life of Aretha Franklin. At both events, Special Collections Outreach and Instruction Librarian Alia Kempton aided in coordinating the screenings and selected related items from Special Collections for display.  

Apart from these events, this project will leave a lasting impact on the library and its patrons through a collection development initiative. LSU Libraries acquired more than 20 movies and 30 titles for the permanent library collection as part of this process. 

On opening night, Winfield said, “I love that we get to create spaces where people get to engage with Black women stories, Black women storytellers, and our lived experiences, right here at LSU.” 

The LSU Libraries includes the LSU Library and the adjacent Hill Memorial Library. Together, the libraries contain more than 4 million volumes and provide additional resources such as expert staff, technology, services, electronic resources, and facilities that advance research, teaching, and learning across every discipline.
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