Napier Scholar 2023

By Mia Davis

Pictured: Mia Davis ’24.

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to pursue more in-depth engagement with the representations of Black womanhood and motherhood in texts. I was curious about what the depictions of Black women by Black women writers said about the experiences of Black women. Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a particularly powerful text that initially sparked my interest when I was first introduced to it in Dr. Lisa Kasmer’s course “ENG 199 – The Text, the World, and the Critic”.

During the summer, Beloved became a text I revisited with Dean Jones as part of my mentorship as a Napier Scholar. When I first read Toni Morrison’s Beloved in Professor Kasmer’s class, I admittedly didn’t fully digest it, which can often happen when you’re tasked with having to complete a novel in the span of a week or two. It is a novel I always wanted to come back to, to think more about Morrison’s depiction of Black motherhood and how complicated of a character Sethe is. I kept thinking about the way she was cast out by her community and in a way, villainized as a mother and how she felt this need to internalize her trauma, continue to be “strong,” and provide for her family. I could recognize that same mentality in many Black women in my life, those who are mothers and those who aren’t. These unanswered questions and wonderings made this novel worthy for me to return to.

Reading this text for a second time this summer from the lens of Black women’s mental health and in conversation with other types of texts by Black women authors, I found motherhood to be a huge factor on the state of Black women’s mental health. Due to institutionalized racism and sexism, Black women are fearing for their lives, their children’s lives, and are also expected to do all the emotional, physical, and mental labor for their families. There’s also the impact of sexual and domestic violence that impact Black women’s lives as well.

This led to conversations about how mothers’ relationships to their children are impacted, considering the tense mother-daughter/child dynamic that many of the other texts we read touched upon. Additionally, we considered the ways in which Black women are taught to care for themselves; many texts pointed to the act of “self-care” and “self-love” as a means of improving one’s mental health, as well as building sisterhood/siblinghood with those in your community and, more generally, consider what it even means to heal.

Coming out of this summer, I have been grateful to gain some experience on what initial research stages for a book looks like and engage in insightful conversations on mine and Dean Jones’s explorations of what Black women are experiencing and how that connects to their mental and physical well-being. As I continue my mentorship with Dean Jones, Morrison’s Beloved continues to be the text on my mind. From our summer conversations, I’ve become interested in deeply thinking about who the Black mother is and how she is represented in this text. Additionally, I’ve become curious about the role of Beloved herself as a ghost/spirit and exploring her relationship to Sethe. As I work on my Capstone this fall semester, I’ve become interested in considering how spiritual influences shape one’s understanding of self, particularly in the context of being a Black woman and mother in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.


The Napier Scholars Award is a prestigious honor established to support the rigorous pursuit of intellectual inquiry and scholarly achievement made possible by close professional scholarly mentorship between a faculty member and a student.

The Napier Scholars Award is supported by the Winston Napier Endowed Memorial Fund, established by the family of Winston Napier to celebrate and further his legacy of scholarship, teaching, and mentorship in the English Department at Clark University. Napier joined Clark as the inaugural holder of the E. Franklin Frazier Chair of African American Literature, Theory, and Culture in 1995, and passed away in 2008. He is best remembered for his foundational scholarship in African American literary theory, his innovative curation of Clark’s African American Intellectual Culture Series, and his meaningful contribution to the intellectual lives of his students. The Napier Scholar for 2023 is Mia Davis ‘24. 

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