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Black Feminist Literary Criticism

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

Edited By 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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Blackness and Whiteness Within and Without the U.S. Context: Pushing the (National) Boundaries of Black Feminist Literary Criticism

← 132 | 133 →Karla Kovalova


[I]t would be a pity if […] criticism […] continued to shellac those texts, immobilizing their complexities and power and luminations just below its tight reflecting surface. All of us, readers and writers are bereft when criticism remains too polite or too fearful to notice a disrupting darkness before its eyes.1

In 1992, Toni Morrison published her groundbreaking work of literary criticism Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.2 Praised for “mapping a new critical geography for American literary study,” and “expand[ing] the vocabulary of literary criticism,”3 the book marked a shift in American literary scholarship, offering a provocative commentary on the American literary tradition. Arguing that American literature has been shaped by an “Africanist presence,” Morrison called for an exploration of the ways in which this presence has been ← 133 | 134 →constructed and put to use by white canonical authors, enabling them to define white Americanness. Cha(lle)nging the way we read American literature and think about race and American identity, the book propelled interest in exploring literary whiteness, stimulating scholarship in critical whiteness studies.4 Opening up a space for further critical inquiry with respect to gender, it attracted the attention of black feminist critics who have seized the opportunity to develop Morrison’s line of thinking, extending her arguments while pushing the boundaries of black feminist literary criticism beyond the realm of national literature. This chapter follows this trajectory by examining the work of Valerie Babb, Kim F. Hall, Jennifer DeVere Brody, Ann...

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