Introduction: Claudia Tate and the Protocols of Black Literature and Scholarship

By Painter, Nell Irvin | The Journal of African American History, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Introduction: Claudia Tate and the Protocols of Black Literature and Scholarship


Painter, Nell Irvin, The Journal of African American History


A brilliant scholar of American, women's, and African American literature, Claudia Tate (1946-2002) succumbed to small cell lung cancer in Fair Haven, New Jersey, on 29 July 2002. She was fifty-five years old and in the midst of a new research project. Claudia Tate always exceeded the normative "protocols," as she termed them, of literature, scholarship, and race. Against prevailing assumptions that prized only writing in the political protest vein, she insisted that the work of nineteenth- and twentieth-century black women writers was important and fully worthy of the sustained, thoughtful, Freudian criticism she provided. Tate's iconoclasm immeasurably enriched criticism of African American authors, especially, but not exclusively women. Tate's legacies are several: to her scholarly field, a far more capacious literary criticism; to her students and colleagues, friendship and professional advancement; to her family and friends, an unforgettable personality and the warmth of permanent commitment.

Claudia Tate was born in Long Branch, on the New Jersey shore, on 14 December 1946. Her parents, an engineer and a mathematician, had received their degrees from North Carolina Central University in Durham. They came to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, during World War II, where Harold Tate served as an engineer in the Army and Mary Austin Tate was a mathematician at the U.S. Department of Defense. Harold and Mary Austin Tate endowed their children with a love of higher learning as well as a tie to the South. Throughout Claudia's life, her mother continued in mathematics, and her parents maintained homes in both New Jersey and North Carolina. Claudia Tate pre-deceased her parents.

Harold and Mary Austin Tate's intellectual self-assurance surely encouraged Claudia's original, fearless thought and scholarly excellence, which showed from the very beginning. Claudia was an honor student at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School and went directly to college. In 1968 she received her bachelor's degree in English and American Literature from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. As one of a small handful of black women entering the graduate program in the Harvard English Department in 1969, she joined a pioneering cohort of scholars at Harvard who laid the groundwork for the field of African American studies. In English they included Nellie Y. McKay, Amold Rampersad, Cheryl Wall. Tate received a Ph.D. in English and American literature and language from Harvard University in 1977. She taught in Howard University's English Department for twelve years before joining George Washington University in 1989. She had been a professor at Princeton since January 1997.

Claudia Tate realized early on that her class background surprised many Americans, who assumed that all African Americans come from poor families lacking formal education. Her middle-class origins may well have influenced her scholarly interest in black cultural production beyond the predictable. She was known for the power of her unexpected approaches to black literature. Venturing off beaten paths of scholarship, she turned a piercing gaze on non-canonical writers and themes. The persuasive employment of a methodology rarely encountered in African American literary criticism became the hallmark of her thought.

From the very beginning of her scholarly career, Claudia Tate thought in innovative ways. Her first book took seriously the work of black women writers at a time when such writers had not yet received sustained scholarly attention. Her mid-career work specialized in psychoanalytic literary criticism and cultural studies. In addition, she had retrained herself in visual criticism and film studies for the book she was working on at the time of her death. At every point, she questioned the verities of American and African American literary criticism. She transcended what she called the "racial protocols" that made black women's thought invisible and decreed political struggle against whiteness the only theme worth investigation. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Introduction: Claudia Tate and the Protocols of Black Literature and Scholarship
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.