Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



This dissertation offers a rhetorical analysis of the formation of women’s memory, history, and communities in intersections of musical and literary expression in the American South, a region graced with a vital but underexamined tradition of female musicianship. Recent scholars have deconstructed the imagined narrative of southern culture as static, patriarchal, and white to uncover alternative stories and cultures that exist outside of canonical literature. This project significantly expands current understandings of these conflicting narratives by investigating how women writers recall, reclaim, and re-envision women’s roles in southern music to challenge, comply, and/or identify with women’s prescribed place in the South. I examine novels by Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Dorothy Allison, and Lee Smith to explore the many ways these women employ blues, gospel, and country music through tropes of female musician characters, song lyrics, or musical structures in order to re-imagine a South less constrained by paternalist ideas about sexuality, race, class, and religion. In its unique combination of music history, literary analysis, and cultural theory, “I Will Learn You Something” models a productive interdisciplinary approach to understanding diverse women writers’ rhetorical strategies for “learning” readers about female voices often neglected in American literary and musical history.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Katherine Henninger