The Womanist Reader: The First Quarter Century of Womanist Thought

By Butler, Deidre Hill | Journal of Pan African Studies, November 15, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Womanist Reader: The First Quarter Century of Womanist Thought


Butler, Deidre Hill, Journal of Pan African Studies


The Womanist Reader: The First Quarter Century of Womanist Thought by Layli Phillips Routledge, 2006. Paperback $39.95; ISBN: 9780415954112

This text puts Womanism in its rightful place by incorporating both theory and practice into global feminist discourse. Womanist theory and practice is already accepted in black religious circles as an expression of black women's spirituality and an anchor for activism. The collection's editor, Dr. Layli Phillips, refutes the "add and stir" method of inclusion, and instead explores Womanism's in-depth history and contemporary applications by highlighting authors and academic disciplines that utilize this theoretical approach, including literature, history, theater and film studies, psychology, and urban studies. Womanist critiques and praxis are also explored, most notably in an article by Iris Carlton-LaNey, a professor of social work. Carlton-LaNey's piece connects a classic example of how Womanism is enacted in the daily lives of black women with its manifestation in personal career choices and public consciousness. She highlights the marriage between personal and political activism, not only for the sake of self, but for the sake of culture and community.

The term "Womanism" was adapted from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. In her book In Search of Our Mother's Garden: Womanist Prose, Walker used this term to describe the perspective and experiences of "women of color." Phillips excerpts three of Walker's writings: "Coming Apart," "Gifts of Power: The Writing of Rebecca Jackson," and "Womanist." The inclusion of all three essays provides a grounded definition of the concept, specifically that Womanism breaks the class barriers of feminism, creating a discourse that involves women of various classes. A need for the term arose from the early feminist movement, which was led by middle-class white women advocating social changes, such as woman's suffrage. The movement focused primarily on gender-based oppression, but ignored oppression based on racism and classism. To counter this trend, Womanists pointed out those black women experienced a different kind of oppression.

In the Reader's introduction, Phillips stresses that although most Womanist scholarship centers on the African American woman's experience, other non-white women also identify with its concepts. Her collection includes non-white voices and articles by men employing Womanist expression, namely Michael Awkward's previously published "A Black Man's Place in Black Feminist Criticism" and Gary Lemons's "To Be Black, Male, and 'Feminist': Making Womanist Space for Black Men." These articles offer a sense of Womanism's role within black gender discourse. …

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