Recovered Writers/Recovered Texts: Race, Class, and Gender in Black Women's Literature.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Recovered Writers/Recovered Texts offers some very interesting and important readings of black women writers' texts that have been buried, marginalized, or heretofore ignored in multiple dominant canons. Virtually every essay places its subject - and the subjects range widely from Mary Prince to Barbara Chase-Riboud, as well as lesser known works by Ann Perry - in the context of prevailing cultural and literary discourses the writers engaged, undermined, or outright parodied in their own writings. As such, the volume contributes to the ongoing reclamation and appreciation of black women writers' texts; furthermore, its inclusion of an essay on the Afro-Caribbean writer Mary Prince and another on the Afro-Uruguayan poet Virginia Brindis de Salas takes part in the increasingly diasporic treatment of black writers generally. Although the volume fails to meet its claim of a "radical reassessment" that "transform[s] the canon" (a claim owing perhaps more to the desires of the world of academic publishing rather than to the scholars involved), the individual essays of the volume should be of interest to students and scholars of black writing both within and beyond American borders.
Several of the essays offer exciting and fresh perspectives on recovered texts. For example, Frances Smith Foster's "Gender, Genre, and Vulgar Secularism: The Case of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and the AME Press" launches a spirited defense of African American middle-class writing in the mid-nineteenth century. Foster argues that we exhibit academic bias when we dismiss the melodrama or sentimentality in the work of writers such as Harper. Likewise, Helena Woodard's fascinating new historicist "The Two Marys (Prince and Shelley) on the Textual Meeting Ground of Race, Gender, and Genre" places Mary Shelley's "ghost-story" Frankenstein next to Mary Prince's "ghost-written" slave narrative to reveal how Shelley's fictional work "functions as an ethnographic reading of Prince's nonfictional work." Debra Walker King boldly reads Our Nig within and against the conventions of the slave narrative and the sentimental novel in "Harriet Wilson's Our Nig: The Demystification of Sentiment," an essay certain to be much discussed and cited as the scholarship on the text develops.
Other essays in the volume help us focus on less prominent texts by black women writers whose "recovery" in the tradition has become somewhat established. Such essays serve the important function of informing scholars about alternative texts for study and broadening our understanding of the writers' "place" in the canon. David W. H. Fellow's "Anna J. Cooper: The International Dimensions" details Cooper's historical Ph.D. dissertation on French racial attitudes near the end of the eighteenth century in the context of her work and travels abroad. Erica L. Griffin's "The 'Invisible Woman' Abroad: Jessie Fauset's New Horizon" explores Fauset's travel writings and their influence on her novels. Trudier Harris's "Before the Stigma of Race: Authority and Witchcraft in Ann Petry's Tituba of Salem Village" and Joyce Pettis's "Reading Ann Petry's The Narrows into Black Literary Tradition" both turn our attention to lesser known or lesser regarded works by Petry, attempting to spark a new understanding of Petry and encourage scholarship beyond The Street. While the critics are forced to spend a fair portion of space describing the recovered texts in these essays, they still succeed in articulating both the importance of these texts to our full recovery of the writers themselves and the ever-so-slight yet significant canonical shiftings such recovered texts will necessitate.
Not all the essays produce readings of recovered texts and authors. Sandra Y. Govan's "A Blend of Voices: Composite Narrative Strategies in Biographical Reconstruction" traces the process of recovery she has experienced in her research into the life and writings of Gwendolyn Bennett; as such, she provides a model of recovery for scholars entering the field.
While several of the essays are theoretically informed, especially King's and Woodard's, most of the essays focus on providing foundational excavatory scholarship. Thus Dolan Hubbard's claim-laden theoretical introduction seems to promote a different volume. I would recommend this collection to scholars and students working on the individual writers represented or to those interested in updating and broadening their understanding of writings by black women.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1999|
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