Black Women Writers and the American Neo-Slave Narrative: Femininity Unfettered

Black Women Writers and the American Neo-Slave Narrative: Femininity Unfettered

Black Women Writers and the American Neo-Slave Narrative: Femininity Unfettered

Black Women Writers and the American Neo-Slave Narrative: Femininity Unfettered

Synopsis

The neo-slave narrative is an important development in American literary history and has serious revisionist intentions at its foundation. This book examines how contemporary African American women writers have shaped the genre. These authors have written neo-slave narratives to reinscribe history from the perspective of the African American woman, most specifically the nineteenth century enslaved mother. The writers considered in this study--Sherley Anne Williams, Toni Morrison, J. California Cooper, Gayl Jones, and Octavia Butler--explore American slavery through the lens of gender, both to interrogate the myth that enslaved women, denied the privilege of having a gender identity by the institution of slavery, were in fact genderless, and to celebrate the acts of resistance which enabled enslaved women to mother in the fullest sense of the term.

Excerpt

In 1849 Ephraim Peabody stated, "America has the mournful honor of adding a new department to the literature of civilization,--the autobiographies of escaped slaves" (Davis and Gates 19). Almost one hundred and fifty years later the study of the slave narrative is thriving. As Peabody anticipated, the slave narrative today is considered an essential component of literary history and viewed as a quintessentially American genre. Scholars labor to authenticate enslaved persons' stories in order to enter previously silenced voices into the record of what it means to be an American. The work appeals to many sides of a scholar--it is historical, it is literary, and it is creative.

But it is also finite. While the works we know of may be debated and interpreted endlessly, and while an occasional new work may be discovered, there is a very limited body of work available for study. We will never know how many authentic slave narratives have been lost, nor can we begin to estimate how many enslaved Americans were never able to tell their stories.

The advent of the neo-slave narrative, therefore, inaugurates a new direction in slave narrative studies. Contemporary fictional works which take slavery as their subject matter and usually feature enslaved protagonists, neo-slave narratives depend on the his-

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