Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Lucy Terry Prince: The Cultural and Literary Legacy of Africana Womanism

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Lucy Terry Prince: The Cultural and Literary Legacy of Africana Womanism

Article excerpt

Rearticulating the authentic agenda of her theory of Africana Womanism, Clenora Hudson-Weems validates Africana women's activism as a part of a cultural inheritance "dating back to the rich legacy of African womanhood" which predates Western gender-based structures (Out of the Revolution, 210). Countering the delimiting and dysfunctional assumptions embedded in cultural misreadings of Africana gender within feminist contexts, Hudson-Weems points to the significance of, and the need to, utilize models of resistance against oppression that already exist within African ways of knowing.

Neither an outgrowth nor an addendum to feminism, Africana Womanism is not Black feminism, African feminism, or Walker's womanism that some Africana women have come to embrace. Africana Womanism is an ideology created and designed for all women of African descent. It is grounded in African culture, and therefore, it necessarily focuses on the unique experiences, struggles, needs, and desires of Africana women (Africana Womanism, 24).

Significantly, the cultural legacy of Africana womanism admits a space-perhaps the only authentic place-within which to consider the complexity of the life of eighteenth-century griot Lucy Terry Prince, and the inextricable relationship between her personal narrative and poetic (rhetorical) voice. Of equal importance are the metatheoretical conceptualizations that the literary legacy of Africana womanism enables. Integral to this Africana literary theory is an understanding that "African art is never l'art pour l'art; it is always functional.... Thus the African [artist] sees [his or her] discourse [or rhetoric] as the creative manifestation of what is called to be. That which is called to be ... becomes the created thing; and the artist, or speaker, satisfies the demands of society by calling into being that which is functional" (Asante, 75). Necessarily, the aesthetics of existence as process and product--the relationship between being and a calling into being--are fundamental to this critical vehicle which enables analyses of the interrelatedness of early Africana women's lived experiences and their literature. Indeed, the African principle of nommo--and its underlying implications-are at the very origin of "Africana womanism, a term [Hudson-Weems] coined and defined in 1987 after nearly two years of publicly debating the importance of self-naming for Africana women" (Africana Womanism, 22). Our response to the sense of urgency invoked in this call for black women's self-identification is as critical to the recovery of early black women's writing, such as Terry's, as it is to the political agenda of her twentieth-century descendants and fellow Africana womanists. This essay demonstrates the value of Africana womanism as a critical paradigm for analyzing early African American literature. Based on an analysis of Terry's personal and poetic narrative, my reading resituates her life and poem within the context of key characteristics as outlined in the structure of Africana Womanism.

Therefore, before turning to the writing of the first-named African American poet, Lucy Terry, I will briefly examine the complex counternarrative that is her life. Like her cultural and literary descendants Phillis Wheatley and Olaudah Equiano, Terry was born in Africa and brought to America as a child. A displaced African transported across the Middle Passage in infancy and "brought `from Rhode Island to Enfield, Ct. when 5 years old'" (Field qtd. in Proper, 9), Terry's estimable roles as Christian, praise-singer, historian, griot, mother, wife, and activist, have contributed as much to her reputation as one of Deerfield's most prominent citizens as has her equally laudable poem "Bars Fight." In fact, her talent as a great orator and storyteller is legendary among whites and blacks from Massachusetts to Vermont, especially in the Deerfield (Massachusetts) community. Moreover, some of the facts of her life suggest that she was something of an activist who insisted upon equal treatment with regard to education, property, civil and human rights. …

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