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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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← 156 | 157 →Karla Kovalova


In the Preface to her collection of essays Not Just Race, Not Just Gender (1998), Valerie Smith declares that she “resist[s] attempts to map black feminism along a linear trajectory” because she “understand[s] it to be a series of overlapping, discontinuous, and multiply interpretable discursive sites.”1 The essays in this volume testify to that understanding, revealing that black feminist criticism has never been monolithic. However, what emerges from the essays is not just the variety of black feminist theoretical positions and multiple trajectories along which they can be traced; whether expressed explicitly or implicitly, there is a shared social commitment, or as Wahneema Lubiano defines it, “a concern with the relations of power and with social and economic history.”2 Indeed, ever since Barbara Smith outlined the project of black feminist criticism in 1977, black feminist critics have been conscious of the ethical/political responsibility their work entails, and have made it clear that black aesthetics and politics will be inseparable as long as power relations and the U.S. white hegemony continue to affect black communities.

While Smith’s original tenets of the project might have been challenged in that black feminists have pushed the boundaries beyond the realm of black women’s literature and the territory of the U.S. (Chapter V) and have mined the possibilities of a subversive use of Western theories/methodologies (Chapter II), it is evident from the present volume they have retained a focus on gender, an insistence on intersectionality and the inextricability of...

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