Challenging monolithic images of the New Woman as white, well-educated, and politically progressive, this study focuses on important regional, ethnic, and sociopolitical differences in the use of the New Woman trope at the turn of the twentieth century. Using Charles Dana Gibson's "Gibson Girls" as a point of departure, Martha H. Patterson explores how writers such as Pauline Hopkins, Margaret Murray Washington, Sui Sin Far, Mary Johnston, Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, and Willa Cather challenged and redeployed the New Woman image in light of other “new” conceptions: the "New Negro Woman," the "New Ethics," the "New South," and the "New China."
As she appears in these writers' works, the New Woman both promises and threatens to effect sociopolitical change as a consumer, an instigator of evolutionary and economic development, and (for writers of color) an icon of successful assimilation into dominant Anglo-American culture. Examining a diverse array of cultural products, Patterson shows how the seemingly celebratory term of the New Woman becomes a trope not only of progressive reform, consumer power, transgressive femininity, modern energy, and modern cure, but also of racial and ethnic taxonomies, social Darwinist struggle, imperialist ambition, assimilationist pressures, and modern decay.
Ever since Bessie Smith’s powerful voice conspired with the “race records” industry to make her a star in the 1920s, African American writers have memorialized the sounds and theorized the politics of black women’s singing. In Black Resonance, Emily J. Lordi analyzes writings by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Gayl Jones, and Nikki Giovanni that engage such iconic singers as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin.
Focusing on two generations of artists from the 1920s to the 1970s, Black Resonance reveals a musical-literary tradition in which singers and writers, faced with similar challenges and harboring similar aims, developed comparable expressive techniques. Drawing together such seemingly disparate works as Bessie Smith’s blues and Richard Wright’s neglected film of Native Son, Mahalia Jackson’s gospel music and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, each chapter pairs one writer with one singer to crystallize the artistic practice they share: lyricism, sincerity, understatement, haunting, and the creation of a signature voice. In the process, Lordi demonstrates that popular female singers are not passive muses with raw, natural, or ineffable talent. Rather, they are experimental artists who innovate black expressive possibilities right alongside their literary peers.
The first study of black music and literature to centralize the music of black women, Black Resonance offers new ways of reading and hearing some of the twentieth century’s most beloved and challenging voices.
In Black Women, Identity, and Cultural Theory, Kevin Everod Quashie explores the metaphor of the “girlfriend” as a new way of understanding three central concepts of cultural studies: self, memory, and language. He considers how the work of writers such as Toni Morrison, Ama Ata Aidoo, Dionne Brand, photographer Lorna Simpson, and many others, inform debates over the concept of identity. Quashie argues that these authors and artists replace the notion of a stable, singular identity with the concept of the self developing in a process both communal and perpetually fluid, a relationship that functions in much the same way that an adult woman negotiates with her girlfriend(s). He suggests that memory itself is corporeal, a literal body that is crucial to the process of becoming. Quashie also explores the problem language poses for the black woman artist and her commitment to a mastery that neither colonizes nor excludes.
The analysis throughout interacts with schools of thought such as psychoanalysis, postmodernism, and post-colonialism, but ultimately moves beyond these to propose a new cultural aesthetic, one that ultimately aims to center black women and their philosophies.
A literary study of three important black women writers, this book examines the "inter-American" characteristics in the work of Marshall, Morrison, and Jones, including detailed discussions of Morrison's Song of Solomon and Tar Baby, Jones's Corregidora and Song of Anninho, and Marshall's The Chose Place, The Timeless People.
Coser defines the inter-American characteristics in these authors' novels as a connection based on a common African heritage and a shared legacy of colonialism and racism. These three authors redefine the boundaries between the Americas, bridging the "extended Caribbean" that stretches from the U.S. Atlantic coast to Brazil. Their work reinterprets ethnic and sexual identity. Issues of race, class, and nationality overlap. History and identity are reinvented.
To explore the collective forms of resistance and cultural processes in Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States, Coser also makes provocative connections between the visibility of black women writers and the popularity of male Latin American novelists like Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel Garcia Marquéz.
Examining works by Toni Morrison, Paule Marshall, Faith Ringgold, and Betye Saar, this innovative book frames black women's aesthetic sensibilities across art forms. Investigating the relationship between vernacular folk culture and formal expression, this study establishes how each of the four artists engaged the identity issues of the 1960s and used folklore as a strategy for crossing borders in the works they created during the following two decades.
As a dynamic, open-ended process, folklore historically has enabled African-descended people to establish differential identity, resist dominance, and affirm group solidarity. This book documents the use of expressive forms of folklore in the fiction of Morrison and Marshall and the use of material forms of folklore in the visual representations of Ringgold and Saar. Offering a conceptual paradigm of a folk aesthetic to designate the practices these women use to revise and reverse meanings—especially meanings imposed on images such as Aunt Jemima and Sambo—Crossing Borders through Folklore explains how these artists locate sites of intervention and reconnection. From these sites, in keeping with the descriptive and prescriptive formulations for art during the sixties, Morrison, Marshall, Ringgold, and Saar articulate new dimensions of consciousness and creatively theorize identity.
Crossing Borders through Folklore is a significant and creative contribution to scholarship in both established and still- emerging fields. This volume also demonstrates how recent theorizing across scholarly disciplines has created elastic metaphors that can be used to clarify a number of issues. Because of its interdisciplinary approach, this study will appeal to students and scholars in many fields, including African American literature, art history, women's studies, diaspora studies, and cultural studies.
The Fiction of Gloria Naylor is one of the very first critical studies of this acclaimed writer. Including an insightful interview with Naylor
and focusing on her first four novels, the book situates various acts of insurgency throughout her work within a larger framework of African American opposition to hegemonic authority. But what truly distinguishes this volume is its engagement with African American vernacular forms and twentieth-century political movements.
In her provocative analysis, Maxine Lavon Montgomery argues that Naylor constantly attempts to reconfigure the home and homespace to be more conducive to black self-actualization, thus providing a stark contrast to a dominant white patriarchy evident in a broader public sphere. Employing a postcolonial and feminist theoretical framework to analyze Naylor’s evolving body of work, Montgomery pays particular attention to black slave historiography, tales of conjure, trickster lore, and oral devices involving masking, word play, and code-switching—the vernacular strategies that have catapulted Naylor to the vanguard of contemporary African American letters.
Montgomery argues for the existence of home as a place that is not exclusively architectural or geographic in nature. She posits that in Naylor’s writings, home exists as an intermediate space embedded in cultural memory and encoded in the vernacular. Home closely resembles a highly symbolic, signifying system bound with vexed issues of racial sovereignty as well as literary authority. Through a reinscription of the subversive, frequently clandestine acts of resistance on the part of the border subject—those outside the dominant
culture—Naylor recasts space in such a way as to undermine reader expectation and destabilize established models of dominance, influence, and control.
Thoroughly researched and sophisticated in its approach, The Fiction of Gloria Naylor will be essential reading for scholars and students of African American, American, and Africana Literary and Cultural studies.
The Freedom to Remember examines contemporary literary revisions of slavery in the United States by black women writers. The narratives at the center of this book include: Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, J. California Cooper’s Family, and Lorene Cary’s The Price of a Child.
Recent studies have investigated these works only from the standpoint of victimization. Angelyn Mitchell changes the conceptualization of these narratives, focusing on the theme of freedom, not slavery, defining these works as “liberatory narratives.” These works create a space to problematize the slavery/freedom dichotomy from which contemporary black women writers have the “safe” vantage point to reveal aspects of enslavement that their ancestors could not examine. The nineteenth-century female emancipatory narrative, by contrast, was written to aid the cause of abolition by revealing the unspeakable realitiesof slavery. Mitchell shows how the liberatory narrative functions to emancipate its readers from the legacies of slavery in American society: by facilitating a deeper discussion of the issues and by making them new through illumination and interrogation.
Koritha Mitchell analyzes canonical texts by and about African American women to lay bare the hostility these women face as they invest in traditional domesticity. Instead of the respectability and safety granted white homemakers, black women endure pejorative labels, racist governmental policies, attacks on their citizenship, and aggression meant to keep them in "their place."
Tracing how African Americans define and redefine success in a nation determined to deprive them of it, Mitchell plumbs the works of Frances Harper, Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, Michelle Obama, and others. These artists honor black homes from slavery and post-emancipation through the Civil Rights era to "post-racial" America. Mitchell follows black families asserting their citizenship in domestic settings while the larger society and culture marginalize and attack them, not because they are deviants or failures but because they meet American standards.
Powerful and provocative, From Slave Cabins to the White House illuminates the links between African American women's homemaking and citizenship in history and across literature.
Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West led a charmed life in many respects. Born into a distinguished Boston family, she appeared in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, then lived in the Soviet Union with a group that included Langston Hughes, to whom she proposed marriage. She later became friends with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who encouraged her to finish her second novel, The Wedding, which became the octogenarian author’s first bestseller.
Literary Sisters reveals a different side of West’s personal and professional lives—her struggles for recognition outside of the traditional literary establishment, and her collaborations with talented African American women writers, artists, and performers who faced these same problems. West and her “literary sisters”—women like Zora Neale Hurston and West’s cousin, poet Helene Johnson—created an emotional support network that also aided in promoting, publishing, and performing their respective works. Integrating rare photos, letters, and archival materials from West’s life, Literary Sisters is not only a groundbreaking biography of an increasingly important author but also a vivid portrait of a pivotal moment for African American women in the arts.
"In this insightful analysis of representations of mammy, Wallace-Sanders skillfully illustrates how this core icon of Black womanhood has figured prominently in upholding hierarchies of race, gender, and class in the United States. Far from being a timeless, natural, benign image of domesticity, the idealized mammy figure was repeatedly reworked to accommodate varying configurations of racial rule. No one reading this book will be able to see Gone with the Wind in the same way ever again."
---Patricia Hill Collins, University of Maryland
"Kimberly Wallace-Sanders' interdisciplinary approach is first-rate. This expansive and engaging book should appeal to students and scholars in American studies, African American studies, and women's studies."
---Thadious Davis, The University of Pennsylvania
Her cheerful smile and bright eyes gaze out from the covers of old cookbooks, song sheets, syrup bottles, salt and pepper shakers, and cookie jars, and she has long been a prominent figure in fiction, film, television, and folk art. She is Mammy, a figure whose provocative hold on the American psyche has persisted since before the Civil War.
But who is Mammy, and where did she come from? Her large, dark body and her round smiling face tower over our imaginations to such an extent that more accurate representations of African American women wither in her shadow. Mammy's stereotypical attributes---a sonorous and soothing voice, raucous laugh, infinite patience, self-deprecating wit, and implicit acceptance of her own inferiority and her devotion to white children---all point to a long-lasting and troubled confluence of racism, sexism, and southern nostalgia.
This groundbreaking book traces the mammy figure and what it has symbolized at various historical moments that are linked to phases in America's racial consciousness. The author shows how representations of Mammy have loomed over the American literary and cultural imagination, an influence so pervasive that only a comprehensive and integrated approach of this kind can do it justice.
The book's many illustrations trace representations of the mammy figure from the nineteenth century to the present, as she has been depicted in advertising, book illustrations, kitchen figurines, and dolls. The author also surveys the rich and previously unmined history of the responses of African American artists to the black mammy stereotype, including contemporary reframings by artists Betye Saar, Michael Ray Charles, and Joyce Scott.
Kimberly Wallace-Sanders is Associate Professor of the Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts and Women's Studies at Emory University. She is editor of Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture.
Focusing on specific texts by Jamaica Kincaid, Maryse Condé, and Paule Marshall, this fascinating study explores the intricate trichotomous relationship between the mother (biological or surrogate), the motherlands Africa and the Caribbean, and the mothercountry represented by England, France, and/or North America. The mother-daughter relationships in the works discussed address the complex, conflicting notions of motherhood that exist within this trichotomy. Although mothering is usually socialized as a welcoming, nurturing notion, Alexander argues that alongside this nurturing notion there exists much conflict. Specifically, she argues that the mother-daughter relationship, plagued with ambivalence, is often further conflicted by colonialism or colonial intervention from the "other," the colonial mothercountry.
Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women offers an overview of Caribbean women's writings from the 1990s, focusing on the personal relationships these three authors have had with their mothers and/or motherlands to highlight links, despite social, cultural, geographical, and political differences, among Afro-Caribbean women and their writings. Alexander traces acts of resistance, which facilitate the (re)writing/righting of the literary canon and the conception of a "newly created genre" and a "womanist" tradition through fictional narratives with autobiographical components.
Exploring the complex and ambiguous mother-daughter relationship, she examines the connection between the mother and the mother's land. In addition, Alexander addresses the ways in which the absence of a mother can send an individual on a desperate quest for selfhood and a home space. This quest forces and forges the creation of an imagined homeland and the re-validation of "old ways and cultures" preserved by the mother. Creating such an imagined homeland enables the individual to acquire "wholeness," which permits a spiritual return to the motherland, Africa via the Caribbean. This spiritual return or homecoming, through the living and practicing of the old culture, makes possible the acceptance and celebration of the mother's land.
Alexander concludes that the mothers created by these authors are the source of diasporic connections and continuities. Writing/righting black women's histories as Kincaid, Condé, and Marshall have done provides a clearing, a space, a mother's land, for black women. Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women will be of great interest to all teachers and students of women's studies, African American studies, Caribbean literature, and diasporic literatures.
A passionate and celebrated pioneer in her own words
New Black Feminist Criticism, 1985-2000 collects a selection of essays and reviews from Barbara Christian, one of the founding voices in black feminist literary criticism. Published between the release of her second landmark book Black Feminist Criticism and her death, these writings include eloquent reviews, evaluations of black feminist criticism as a discipline, reflections on black feminism in the academy, and essays on Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, and others.
Of all the images to arise from the Harlem Renaissance, the most thought-provoking were those of the mulatta. For some writers, artists, and filmmakers, these images provided an alternative to the stereotypes of black womanhood and a challenge to the color line. For others, they represented key aspects of modernity and race coding central to the New Negro Movement. Due to the mulatta’s frequent ability to pass for white, she represented a variety of contradictory meanings that often transcended racial, class, and gender boundaries.
In this engaging narrative, Cherene Sherrard-Johnson uses the writings of Nella Larsen and Jessie Fauset as well as the work of artists like Archibald Motley and William H. Johnson to illuminate the centrality of the mulatta by examining a variety of competing arguments about race in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond.
Despite the recent flood of scholarly work investigating the interrelated issues of race, gender, and representation, little has been written about black women’s depictions of their own bodies. Both past and present-day American cultural discourse has attempted either to hypereroticize the black female body or make it a site of impropriety and crime.
The essays in this volume focus on how African American women, from the nineteenth century to the present, have represented their physical selves in opposition to the distorted vision of others. Contributors attempt to “recover” the black female body in two ways: they explore how dominant historical images have mediated black female identity, and they analyze how black women have resisted often demeaning popular cultural perceptions in favor of more diverse, subtle presentations of self.
The pieces in this book—all of them published here for the first time—address a wide range of topics, from antebellum American poetry to nineteenth-century African American actors, and twentieth-century pulp fiction.
Recovering the Black Female Body recognizes the pressing need to highlight through scholarship the vibrant energy of African American women’s attempts to wrest control of the physical and symbolic construction of their bodies away from the distortions of others.
Contributors are Margaret Bass, Dorri Rabung Beam, Michael Bennett, Jacqueline E. Brady, Daphne A. Brooks, Vanessa D. Dickerson, Meredith Goldsmith, Yvette Louis, Ajuan Maria Mance, Noliwe Rooks, Mark Winokur, and Doris Witt. This book also contains a foreword by Carla L. Peterson and an afterword by Deborah E. McDowell.
Now frequently anthologized, Zora Neale Hurston's short story "Sweat" was first published in Firell, a legendary literary magazine of the Harlem Renaissance, whose sole issue appeared in November 1926. Among contributions by Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Wallace Thurman, "Sweat" stood out both for its artistic accomplishment and its exploration of rural Southern black life. In "Sweat" Hurston claimed the voice that animates her mature fiction, notably the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God; the themes of marital conflict and the development of spiritual consciousness were introduced as well. "Sweat" exemplifies Hurston's lifelong concern with women's relation to language and the literary possibilities of black vernacular.
This casebook for the story includes an introduction by the editor, a chronology of the author's life, the authoritative text of "Sweat," and a second story, "The Gilded Six-Bits." Published in 1932, this second story was written after Hurston had spent years conducting fieldwork in the Southern United States. The volume also includes Hurston's groundbreaking 1934 essay, "Characteristics of Negro Expression," and excerpts from her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. An article by folklorist Roger Abrahams provides additional cultural contexts for the story, as do selected blues and spirituals. Critical commentary comes from Alice Walker, who led the recovery of Hurston's work in the 1970s, Robert Hemenway, Henry Louis Gates, Gayl Jones, John Lowe, Kathryn Seidel, and Mary Helen Washington.
Since its inception, the United States has been intensely preoccupied with interracialism. The concept is embedded everywhere in our social and political fabric, including our sense of national identity. And yet, in both its quantitative and symbolic forms, interracialism remains an extremely elusive phenomenon, causing policy makers and census boards to wrangle over how to delineate it and, on an emblematic level, stirring intense emotions from fear to fascination.
In The “Tragic Mulatta” Revisited, Eve Allegra Raimon focuses on the mixed-race female slave in literature, arguing that this figure became a symbolic vehicle for explorations of race and nation—both of which were in crisis in the mid-nineteenth century. At this time, judicial, statutory, social, and scientific debates about the meaning of racial difference (and intermixture) coincided with disputes over frontier expansion, which were never merely about land acquisition but also literally about the “complexion” of that frontier. Embodying both northern and southern ideologies, the “amalgamated” mulatta, the author argues, can be viewed as quintessentially American, a precursor to contemporary motifs of “hybrid” and “mestizo” identities.
Where others have focused on the gendered and racially abject position of the “tragic mulatta,” Raimonreconsiders texts by such central antislavery writers as Lydia Maria Child, William Wells Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Harriet Wilson to suggest that the figure is more usefully examined as a way of understanding the volatile and shifting interface of race and national identity in the antebellum period.
The work and times of the Black writer, editor, and intellectual
John Cullen Gruesser edits essays that explore the literary and journalistic career of Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins. A Black woman writer at the turn of the twentieth century, Hopkins worked as the unacknowledged editor-in-chief of the Colored American Magazine but also wrote short fiction, novels, nonfiction articles, and a play believed to be the first by a Black woman. Versatile and politically committed, she was fired when her strong editorial stands and non-conciliatory politics offended the new owner of Colored American Magazine.
A rare examination of an overlooked figure in Black letters, The Unruly Voice explores Hopkins’s writing and her significance for contemporary readers.
Contributors: Elizabeth Ammons; Kristina Brooks; Lois Lamphere Brown; C. K. Doreski; John Cullen Gruesser; Jennie A. Kassanoff; Kate McCullough; Nelly Y. McKay; and Cynthia D. Schrager
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