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Journeys and Journals

Women's Mystery Writing and Migration in the African Diaspora


Carol Allen

Using literary criticism, theory, and sociohistoric data, this book brings into conversation black migrations with mystery novels by African American women, novels which explore fully the psychic, economic, and spiritual impact of mass migratory movements. Diaspora travel has been forced and selected and has extended from the Slave Trade through the contemporary moment, causing the black subject to wrestle with motion, the self in motion, the community in motion, the spirit in motion, culture in motion, and especially the past in motion. Reviewing these major migratory patterns of Africans to and within the United States from slavery to the present and defining the primary tropes and traditions in African American female mystery writing, each subsequent chapter looks intensely at specific figurative locations that could become a repository for reconstituted dense space in the new world. Detectives as penned by African American women writers sound out and deliberate over the viability of integrated institutions, the family, Bohemianism, religion, cities, class consciousness, and finally culture. Courses on African American literature, African American history and culture, detective fiction, urban studies, and women’s studies would find the book instructive.
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8: Sensuality: A Reverberating Force


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I needed sanctuary, even if that meant a screaming neon palace of flesh.

—Nanette Hayes (Rhode Island Red 155)

Sensuality is a likely endnote for this study because it courses through this genre so thoroughly that, at times, the reader does not know if she is thumbing through a mystery or a lusty romance novel. Certainly, there are numerous scenes of “bodice ripping,” accompanied by heavy breathing, but sensuality is not limited to play between willing bodies. For black female detective writers, it is a pleasurable, spirit-feeding energy that restores balance within a safe perimeter. Across the tradition, sensuality is the font of creativity, creation that can blossom even in environments with limited raw materials, time and critical feedback. It manifests most often during the practices of preparing and eating food, playing and appreciating music, serving up and laughing over raucousness, and, last but not least, lovemaking. Whether a comic or a gourmet, the primary stars in these novels turn to lush and fleshy corporeal rites to offset the tragedies that they observe and attempt to remedy. Hence, tragedy and recovery are cooperational. Ntozake Shange’s notion of a woman’s landscape/geography is most fitting here.1 According ← 159 | 160 → to Shange, a duality resides in the lives of women of color: the pleasurable and the dangerous occupy the same space. For instance, the greatest power can emanate from a woman who feels sexually nourished, but she must also contend with the possibility of domestic violence...

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