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Black Women and Narratives of Resilience, Revised Edition


Robin Boylorn

Sweetwater: Black Women and Narratives of Resilience is a multi-generational story of growing up black and female in the rural south. At times heartbreaking, at times humorous, Sweetwater captures the artistry, strength, language and creativity shared by first-hand accounts of black women in small-town North Carolina during the twentieth century. The book uncovers the versatility and universality of black women’s experiences and their exceptional capacity to love in the face of adversity, and hope in the midst of calamity. Sweetwater is about the black female experience as it relates to friendship, family, spirituality, poverty, education, addiction, mental illness, romantic relationships, and everyday survival. The merging themes show the resilience and resistance that black women exhibit while negotiating the intersecting oppressions of racism, classism, and sexism.

Written from field notes and memory, the author reveals the complexities of black women’s lived experiences by exposing the communicative and interpersonal choices black women make through storytelling. Narrative inquiry and black feminism are offered as creative educational tools for discussing how and why black women’s singular and interior lives are culturally and globally significant.

This revised edition preserves the original narratives but features new content including re-views, re-visions and re-considerations for re-writing autoethnography.

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Introduction: The Call(ing) of A Rural Black Woman’s Story


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The Call(ing) of A Rural Black Woman’s Story

“The impulse, simply put, is to tell the story […] to tell one’s own story […] as one has known it, and lived it, and even died it.”

—Maya Angelou

Historically, “biases of racism and sexism as well as class elitism lead the American public to feel that black women’s voices are the least compelling when serious issues are at stake” (hooks, 1999, p. 27). This critique has often caused black women to protect and maintain face by remaining silent about their stories; stories that Michele Wallace refers to as struggles (hooks, 1999). If black women’s stories are struggles, they are also strategies, songs, testimonies, prayers, promises, warnings, offerings, poems, prophesies, co-constructions, and callings. Sweetwater calls forth untold and unearthed narratives of rural black women that celebrate and reflect their resilience, without being limited to their resilience. Sweetwater stories are also stories of resistance, stories of survival, and stories of silence(s).

Sweetwater is my effort to say something about the lived realities of rural black women and to talk through testimonies of being poor, black, and female. This project offered me a unique opportunity and responsibility to look at the language that is used about black women’s lives, and the language black women use to tell ← 1 | 2 → about their lives (Smitherman, 2000), and make sense of them. The stories I share are exceptional and...

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