Writing Women's Communities: The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary Multi-Genre Anthologies

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Writing Women's Communities: The Politics and Poetics of Contemporary Multi-Genre Anthologies.

In Writing Women's Communities, Cynthia Franklin addresses and seeks to remedy a prominent deficiency in contemporary critical theory, namely, the absence of a serious scholarly examination of the political and pedagogical function of anthologies. As she observes, "Anthologies serve in English departments to shape bodies of literature and the definition of literature itself. They often dictate not only the material a literature course will include, but also how this material will be Taught" (6).

While she identifies some of the ideological implications of canonical anthologies [in particular, their editors' tendency to present such works as "natural and neutral objects" (6)], Franklin's study focuses primarily on mixed-genre, "identity-based" anthologies by women that explicitly foreground their political and ideological agendas. Thus, she engages in comparative close readings of This Bridge Called My Back, Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras, Nice Jewish Girls, Home Girls, Making Waves, The Forbidden Stitch, Calling Home, and The Common Thread, among others, with a view to "prob[ing] the defining characteristics and differences among those women's anthologies that are organized around a consciously deployed and critically articulated politics of identity" (14).

Franklin does an excellent job of tracing the evolution of multi-genre anthologies by women in the 1980s, and her treatment of each anthology is always carefully contextualized; indeed, one of the most appealing qualities of Franklin's book is its constant self-scrutiny and its refreshing honesty in the face of the dilemmas posed by an approach premised on identity-politics. For example, at the end of her discussion of This Bridge Called My Back and Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras, Franklin addresses the fact that the academic climate has changed since she first developed the ideas presented in the chapter from an atmosphere of resistance to one of not only acceptance, but even (in her opinion, premature) dismissal. Nevertheless, Franklin argues:

If, however, academics can find the topic of identity politics passe in professional journals, we are afforded no such luxury in the halls and classrooms of our workplaces, where the issues these anthologies raise about identity politics, specifically as they pertain to relations among white women and women of color, are still very much alive, and continue to be difficult and painful (55).

Ultimately, Franklin sees the shift as potentially productive, however, and situates if the climate in the academy is now such that calling for such dialogue no longer proves inflammatory, and if we refuse to consign identity politics to already-spent academic currency, perhaps a space opens up where some work can get done (55).

At times, however, Franklin is perhaps a little too candid: she repeatedly calls attention to what she believes some might consider "dated" ideas in her work. Although she is always careful to defend her own position, such statements (born of her conviction that scholarship is itself a contextualized, evolutionary process) sometimes detract from the force of her conclusions. …