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Black Feminist Literary Criticism

Past and Present – With an Introduction by Cheryl A. Wall

Karla Kovalova

Since its inception, black feminist literary criticism has produced a number of sophisticated theoretical works that have challenged traditional approaches to (black) literature. This collection of essays explores past and current productions of black feminist theorizing, attempting to trace the trajectories in black feminist criticism that have emerged in American scholarship since the 1990s. Taking black feminist literary criticism as the subject of inquiry, the book focuses on the field’s recent theoretical contributions to literary productions and their impact on other fields. The volume contains an introduction by Cheryl A. Wall, and essays by Karla Kovalova, Heike Raphael-Hernandez, and Nagueyalti Warren.
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New Directions and Contradictory Impulses: The Development of Black Feminist Literary Theory

← 56 | 57 →Karla Kovalova

Extract

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. (Lorde)1

When Hazel V. Carby wrote in the introduction to her book Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist (1987) that “black feminist criticism be regarded critically as a problem, not a solution, as a sign that should be interrogated, a locus of contradictions,”2 she could not possibly have foreseen that the year 1987 would expose those contradictions in their full complexity. Retrospectively, it is possible to say that 1987 was in some ways a watershed year for black feminist literary criticism, witnessing the publication of three important essays. Barbara Christian’s “The Race for Theory” and Joyce A. Joyce’s “The Black Canon: Reconstructing Black American Literary Criticism,” whose content generated an outpouring of critical responses, clearly defined the ground for one of the most significant debates about what constitutes appropriate black critical models that has ever taken place in the field. Hortense J. Spillers’s “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” —which, being conceived as an attempt at finding a theoretical vocabulary to offer a contribution to a broader feminist project, was thus seemingly unrelated to the debate—implicitly extended black critics’ conversation, adding a new spin on it, one that would come to mark a fresh trajectory in black feminist literary studies: the application of a racially inflected psychoanalytical...

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