Printer Friendly

The rhetoric of quilts: creating identity in African-American children's literature.

Learning to read and write are two of the greatest accomplishments in the life of a child. The ability to create language, make meaning, and transform reality by the use of symbols provides children creative opportunities to engage the world. Language becomes the vehicle for children to locate their place in the world and to understand the social and political implications of their society. Literacy is not simply learning how to read words but, more importantly, how to "read the world" (Freire and Macedo 7). Providing children a space to locate themselves in history makes them present as agents in the struggle for self-definition and cultural identity. Their learning, then, becomes a pedagogy of empowerment and liberation.

African-American literary works have been inspired by quilt-making (Benberry 79), and several African-American women authors of children's literature have embraced this notion of reading the world by employing the quilt tradition in their stories. The implication that quilting reveals a continuum of African-American women's experience and creative expression is a recurrent theme in such works as Deborah Hopkinson's Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, Faith Ringgold's Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky, Courtni C. Wright's Journey to Freedom, Valerie Flournoy's The Patchwork Quilt, Patricia McKissack's Mirandy and Brother Wind, and Bettye Stroud's Down Home at Miss Dessa's. These authors present the quilt in ways which conceptualize identity and redefine history, setting in place a dialectical tension between traditional learning and critical literacy.

While traditional learning encourages the dominant discourse of cultural hegemony, critical literacy redefines the parameters of knowledge and power by making a space for oppressed voices to name their experience, reclaim their history, and transform their future. The stories of Hopkinson, Ringgold, Wright, Flournoy, McKissack, and Stroud contribute to literacy by advancing the tradition of the quilt as a form of resistance to structures of dominance and control. Working within the historical context of Black culture, these six authors provide a space for teaching children the history of struggle and the importance of family relationships. Houston Baker and Charlotte Pierce-Baker point out that "the patchwork quilt ... opens a fascinating interpretive window on vernacular dimensions of lived, creative experience in the United States. Quilts, in their patched and many-colored glory offer not a counter to tradition, but, in fact, an instance of the only legitimate tradition of 'the people' that exists" (714). Baker and Pierce-Baker underscore the transformative role of the quilt. Its symbolic nature transforms children into a community of readers of the world and of culture by illuminating Black experience in America through rhetorical art.

It is therefore not only useful but insightful to examine how African-American women writers incorporate the quilt tradition in children's stories and reveal the rhetorical nature of Black women's ability to transcend adversity. Rhetoric points to the legacy of a people struggling for symbols of expression through pieces of cloth and a myriad of colors. The quilt uncovers the choice of symbols Black women used within their community to create a shared, common meaning of self and the world. Thus, the quilt serves as a vehicle for re-inventing the symbolic expression of identity and freedom.

The heritage of motherhood of African-American women is illuminated by the cultural artifact of the quilt (Benberry 19; hooks 116; Wahlman and Scully 80). The quilt represents, on one hand, the African tradition of folk art and embroidery and, on the other, a political symbol of resistance by Black women to the oppression in America of being both Black and female. The Negro spiritual "I Ain't No Ways Tired" suggests one of the major characteristics of Black women's history - survival. Despite the dualities of racism and sexism, field and domestic labor, and the double duty of motherhood for both white and black children, African-American women developed methods for surviving. Hurled into slavery and oppression they, because of "brutal circumstances[,] were forced to promote the consciousness and practice of resistance" (Angela Davis 5). Black women weaved resistance into their daily lives of motherhood in the slave community.

I contend that Black women maintained their centrality to the African-American community by creating a cultural form of resistance that would transcend experience, reshape their world, and re-invent the form throughout generations. The quilt became a covert manifestation of resistance within the context of storytelling. Upon first impression, the quilt represented skill, aesthetic beauty, and charm (Benberry 23). However, upon deeper viewing, the weaving of stories into quilts became a way for Black women to defy the system of slavery. Quilts often served in the antebellum period as "codes" for escape to freedom. The stories of Hopkinson, Ringgold, and Wright underscore the defiance of Black women to slavery by means of the quilt as a code. Their stories create a culture of the quilt which names experience and reclaims the history of the struggles and triumphs of freedom.

Central to each author's work is a woman-centered ethic of motherhood. Woven within this ethic are motifs of struggle, survival, and family relationships. Barbara Christian acknowledges the theme of motherhood as central to the philosophy of both African and African-American peoples as well as its function as a symbol of creativity and continuity (214). Of motherhood and its relationship to freedom she states, "... it is related to the historical process within which these people have been engaged, a process that is an intertwining of tradition, enslavement, and the struggle for their people's freedom" (213).

In Deborah Hopkinson's Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (1993), Afrocentric motherhood borders the quilt motif through means of empowerment and liberation. An enslaved girl torn from her mother at the age of twelve, Clara is sent to work in the fields on another plantation. Pained by the separation from her natural mother, Clara is brought up by an "other-mother" in the community of slaves (Hill-Collins 129). Aunt Rachel represents the tradition of extended-family networks of black women who nurture and take personal accountability for all the Black community's children. Learning from Aunt Rachel, Clara is rescued from field work and develops the skill of sewing. She is characterized as a young girl who transforms herself and her community through the representation of the quilt. Attempting to assist her community to reach the Underground Railroad, Clara pieces together scraps of cloth with scraps of information gathered from other slaves to create a quilt "map" that provides the codes of escape and, ultimately, freedom.

Situating motherhood in its historic and cultural space, Hopkinson centers Clara in the exigencies of slavery and oppression, thereby providing an exploration into the quilt as a symbol of the political struggle of African Americans for freedom. The rhetoric of the quilt in Hopkinson's story illustrates the ways in which othermothers in the slave community taught their young women essential elements of resistance and liberation through symbols of expression and narrativity. For Hopkinson's readers, Clara's quilt provides cultural insight into the meaning of slavery from young children's perspectives. Clara represents the way in which youth of the African-American enslaved resisted with self-definition, self-valuation, and empowerment.

Upon escaping to freedom through the memory of her stitched quilt, Clara states,

We went north, following the trail of the freedom quilt. All the things people told me about, all the tiny stitches I took, now I could see real things.... It was like being in a dream you already dreamed. (23)

Each stitch represents Clara's determination to keep the dream of freedom alive while making certain she "works" toward that freedom. An implicit message for readers is that children, too, are agents of change. Taking responsibility for one's own education is to stitch today's skills for tomorrow's successes. Clara's stitches reveal to young readers that they, too, may locate themselves in the history of America and learn that, even in oppression, there are ways of resistance and liberation. Through her quilted map, Clara reunites with her mother and reaches freedom. The quilt remains at the plantation in the slave quarters to aid in the journey for others. Clara concludes, "Sometimes I wish I could sew a quilt that would spread over the whole land, and the people just follow the stitches to freedom, as easy as taking a Sunday walk" (28). This statement signifies a child's willingness to make, and faith in making, all things right with her artistic expression of goodness and freedom. But the road to freedom is unlike the "yellow brick road" that leads to the Land of Oz. Freedom is a long and arduous journey, a fabric pieced together from a legacy of survival.

Author Faith Ringgold also captures the place of quilts in African-American history when she employs the symbol of the North Star motif in her story quilts and presents its rhetoric as a message of protection. Ringgold's characters in Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky (1992), along with her celebrated artistic work, examine the legacy of African-American women's history. Her story quilts in the form of children's books re-claim Black women's lives of remembering, celebrating, and giving praise (hooks 115) while also revealing a desire so often expressed by African Americans - to fly away from oppression to freedom.

The rhetoric of the quilt in this story frames Afrocentric motherhood in its ethic of care. With Harriet Tubman as her guide, Cassie retraces the steps escaping slaves took on the Underground Railroad in order to reunite with her younger brother Be Be. The story chronicles the siblings' attempt to escape slavery and, with the help of Aunt Harriet, reach Canada. The role of Aunt Harriet provides young readers an understanding of the quilt as a code of solidarity, shelter, and safety for slaves in the ante-bellum period. Not only does Ringgold's story locate young readers in history, but it also challenges them to learn of the quilt as a guiding force when danger is near. The quilt symbolizes the struggle to claim self and freedom:

Aunt Harriet's whispering voice said, "Go on to a weather-beaten frame house with a star quilt flung on the roof. If you don't see the quilt, hide in the woods until it appears. Then it is safe to go in. The next night, follow the road to the bridge, several miles away." (15)

Be Be and Cassie reunite in the sky with a circle of Black women dressed in white flying around them. That they are Black women surrounding the children in the sky reveals another theme of African-American culture. The women provide a physical and psychological base for shielding Cassie and Be Be while transforming their future with the success of flying to freedom. Ringgold's illustration of women in white signifies the spirituality of motherhood - the circle of love, peace, and the powerful symbol it represents for the community's well-being. Ringgold employs the rhetoric of the quilt in unique ways by placing "othermothers" in the center of safety for the young. While claiming the narrative as a way of engaging young readers to enter into the sociopolitical reality of the nineteenth century, she transforms their future through literacy for the twenty-first. In addition, young readers locate the importance of their lives interwoven with the lives of their grand-ancestors. As the sister-brother team embrace, they reflect upon their journey, the pain of separation, and the loss of the family bond - all central issues in the experiences of their ancestors. Cassie and Be Be respond to their world of newfound freedom thus:

I kissed Be Be over and over, and I made him promise he'd never, ever leave me again. "I love you, Cassie, but I had to go," Be Be said. "Freedom is more important than just staying together, and what's more, I got to ride on the Underground Railroad with Harriet Tubman. Now I know what our great-great-grandparents survived when they were children." (20)

Young readers are invited to enter the family bond between sisters and brothers who, despite the vicissitudes of life, maintain the heritage of the ancestors. Surviving and maintaining kinship, in spite of all adversity, are of the utmost importance.

Courtni C. Wright's Journey to Freedom (1994) also emphasizes the role of the quilt on the Underground Railroad to freedom. Within the rhetoric of the enslaved, the language of freedom is rich with metaphor, simile, and spiritual symbolism of faith and trust, coupled with the struggles and fears associated with escape. Harriet Tubman, the "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, is portrayed in simile as both a type of Moses leading her people out of bondage to freedom and a political activist who, when necessary, reveals her pistol as a weapon to protect her passengers.

The Underground Railroad was a network of safe houses, and enslaved African Americans were passengers who slept and ate in barns, cellars, and secret rooms during the day. At night, the passengers continued northward until they reached "station masters" who hid them until it was safe to continue their escape. Station masters were abolitionists, supporters of the antislavery movement, and people with a consciousness to assist African Americans with shelter, food, and clothing on their journey.

Wright employs the quilt as a turning point in the story of the last few days of one family's journey to reach freedom in Ontario, Canada. While leading escaped slaves out of bondage, Harriet Tubman waits for the code of safety represented by the quilt. As the family approaches the station master's house, a quilt awaits them on the porch. The narrator of the story, young Joshua, explains:

Each morning at dawn, we stop at the edge of the forest until we see the station master hang a quilt on the porch railing. If it has the color black in its pattern, we walk into the yard. It is the "Ali's clear" sign known only by the conductors and station masters on the Railroad. (10)

Here the tradition of the quilt is a rhetorical artifact of conscience. That is, the patterns and colors symbolize the political exigencies of slavery and express the concern of White Americans about the importance of moral, social, and ethical issues of the time. The quilt functions to alter reality by providing information about a hiding place for weary fugitive slaves. For the dominant culture, a quilt hung on a porch gave it freshness, while the enslaved saw the quilt as a symbol of hope for life in freedom's land. Freedom was within reach when the quilt was within sight.

As the Negro spiritual "I Shall Not Be Moved" reflects a tree planted by the water, the quilt shall not be moved as a tradition of defiance and dialectical response to social and political circumstances. The rhetoric of the quilt exposes systems of domination and illuminates the ways in which marginalized groups contest their lived experiences and express their meanings of the world. Furthermore, the quilt represents a ritualized practice of connection-making, unification, and harmonizing (Hillard 116).

Wright illustrates the quilt as an icon of a working community. Not only is the community a subversive element, but the story teaches young readers that engaging in a unity of purpose between Black and White Americans is possible when ethical and moral principles seek innovative methods to engender equitable rights and privileges. The rhetorical purpose of the quilt, then, is to invite young readers into the meaning-making process of history, while providing a public space for naming their experience and renaming the world.

The works of Flournoy, McKissack, and Stroud point to cultural identity in a rhetorical motif of Black family traditions. In The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Flournoy (1985), cultural identity is created by the rhetoric of Black family experience. Flournoy provides the story of three generations of African-American women by presenting a motif of the daily task of women creating a quilt. She explores the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter Tanya who, when her grandmother falls ill, takes up the quilt and completes it, illustrating the circle of the African-American family tradition that will not be broken. Flournoy symbolically joins diverse pieces of experience, trust, and sharing into a coherent pattern that is both a history of African-American mothers as well as the transformational experience of young Tanya by way of the quilt.

Tanya's grandmother is introduced as a symbol of power, not as a white-male-created matriarchal figure (Hill-Collins 117); she is a recorder of family history. She teaches Tanya the language of respect for the quilt, raising her consciousness to appreciate the scraps and pieces of cloth that are symbolic of the day-to-dayness of life and its experiences:

"Whatcha gonna do with all that stuff?" Tanya asked.

"Stuff? These ain't stuff. These little pieces gonna make me a quilt, a patchwork quilt."

"I know what a quilt is, Grandma. There's one on your bed, but it's old and dirty and Mama can never get in clean."

"It ain't dirty, honey. It's worn, the way it's supposed to be.... My mother made me a quilt when I wasn't any older than you. But sometimes the old ways are forgotten." (3)

The transformative power of relationships between Black women and children is not intended to control or dominate, according to Patricia Hill-Collins. Rather, the child's knowing of her or his place in tradition transforms and binds the family, uplifts the race, and provides members of the family and community self-reliance and independence essential for resistance (132).

Flournoy employs the quilt as a symbol of transformation because it recalls and speaks to the past. Grandmother reminds Tanya that "'... a quilt won't forget. It can tell your life story'" (9). Tanya reaffirms this notion by reminding her mother of the power of the quilt. That grandmother is not alone inside the house as family members frolic in the snow is the basis for Tanya's explanation:

"I don't like leaving Grandma in that house by herself," Mama said. "I know she's lonely."

"Grandma isn't lonely," Tanya said happily. "She and the quilt are telling each other stories."

Mama glanced questioningly at Tanya, "Telling each other stories?"

"Yes, Grandma says a quilt never forgets!" (12)

Tanya's mother, Mama, appears detached from the symbolic power of Afrocentric motherhood. A product of the black middle class, she has become alienated from the cultural heritage symbolized by the quilt. Her embrace of Western culture causes her to value the commodification and mass production of the quilt rather than its African threads rooted in the transforming power of family experience. Mama exclaims to Grandma:

"You don't need these scraps. I can get you a quilt."

Grandma looked at her daughter and then turned to her grandchild. "Yes, your mama can get you a quilt from any department store. But it won't be like my patchwork quilt, and it won't last as long either." (5)

It is not until she has a personal experience with Tanya's grandmother in the presence of the quilt that Mama returns to her identity stitched within the values of traditional African culture:

Mama sat at the old woman's feet. Tanya ... knew Grandma was telling Mama all about quilts and how this quilt would be very special.... then she saw Mama pick up a piece of fabric, rub it with her fingers, and smile. From that moment on both women spent their winter evenings working on the quilt. (13-14)

Motherhood woven with the rhetoric of the quilt tradition offers Mama a way of transforming her self-identity and cultural identity. She locates herself in the realm of an intergenerational continuum, connecting her to mother, daughter, and African female ancestors. In so doing, Mama reclaims the tradition of Afrocentric motherhood and becomes a "bridge," as it were, between Grandma and Tanya. Her transformation becomes more evident when Grandma falls ill and cannot complete the quilt she calls "her masterpiece." Mama demonstrates the ethics of caring and personal accountability by looking after her mother, on the one hand, and continuing the daily task of the quilt with Tanya, on the other:

[Tanya] knew how to cut the scraps, but she wasn't certain of the rest. Just then Tanya felt a hand resting on her shoulder. She looked up and saw Mama. "... You cut more squares, Tanya, while I stitch some patches together," Mama said. (21)

The mother-child relationship is often submitted in literature from the perspective of mothers' influences on their children. However, the rhetoric of the quilt informs how Black children affirm their mothers and how important that affirmation is in a society which denigrates Blackness and Afrocentric motherhood. In her essay "A Child of One's Own," Alice Walker offers this vision: "We are together, my child and I. Mother and child, yes, but sisters really, against whatever denies us all that we are" (75). Flournoy connects the mother-daughter team as spiritual sisters, symbolic of the defiance against the illness which has denied Grandma a place in her family's quilting tradition. In their defiance, Mama and Tanya realize each patch is symbolic of experiences of the entire family, with the exception of Grandma. Removing a few patches from Grandma's old quilt, Tanya stitches her grandmother's experience of transcending illness into the family narrative, which illustrates the power of the child to imbue the Afrocentric tradition and avoid the circle from being broken. Flournoy persuades her readers to see how the quilt in its rhetorical dimension provides a source of renewal, ancestral traditions, and cultural connections to intergenerational relations. With delicate stitches, the quilt offers African-American readers a catalyst for self-definition and empowerment through the folkways of creativity and Afrocentric motherhood.

Patricia McKissack's Mirandy and Brother Wind (1988) weaves the quilt in multiple patterns of symbolic representation. Celebrating small, Black town life, McKissack presents the quilt as a preservation of the social fabric of African-American culture. Integrating nature with dance and the desire of a young girl to win first prize in the Junior Cakewalk provides an insightful look into the quilt as a symbol of the connectedness of a people imbedded in nature and in their community. By her efforts to capture the wind, Mirandy attempts to make Brother Wind her partner for the cakewalk celebration.

The cakewalk is a dance rooted in the tradition of enslaved Africans who used the dance as an expression of life and a celebration of grace and pride. For one to win the yearly cakewalk dance contest was an honor. The cakewalk becomes the binding thread to preserve the community's socio-cultural sense of shaping public representation of young people. In the cakewalk, dancers parade in couples while the elders of the community judge them on kicks and swirls, style and precision. At the conclusion of the dance, the winning couple was given a cake to take home. Oftentimes the cakewalk foreshadowed budding relationships developing between the young in the community.

Mirandy seeks the wind for special talents to provide a winning partnership. Grandmama Beasley tries to warn Mirandy of the effervescence and imperceptibility of Brother Wind and confides, "'Can't nobody put shackles on Brother Wind, chile. He be special. He be free'" (5). Mirandy goes throughout the community asking neighbors the ways in which to catch Brother Wind until she is told an old African-American myth:

... put black pepper in Brother Wind's footprints. That would make him sneeze. While he's busy sneezing, slip up behind and throw a quilt over him.... (9)

Believing in the mythology of the community, Mirandy tries to conjure Brother Wind:

Mirandy rushed home and got the black-pepper mill and one of Ma Dear's quilts.... Sneaking up behind him, Mirandy commenced to grinding pepper. Then she threw the quilt. But - whoosh! Brother Wind was gone. (9-10)

Mirandy is incapable of capturing Brother Wind with the quilt because its symbolic purpose is violated by her action. The rhetorical distinction of the quilt is to liberate rather than confine. As an oppressive force, Mirandy's use of the quilt is antithetical to the symbolic representation of freedom. Young readers are invited into a dialectic of the struggle to be free, on the one hand, and the dynamics between oppressed and oppressor, on the other. More importantly, readers of this story see the quilt used as a contradiction to its sociopolitical intent. Thus, McKissack employs the quilt to engage readers into a meaning-making dialogue about the political nature of culture. Mirandy realizes that, in order to "have Brother Wind do [her] bidding" (4), she must return the quilt to its traditional "code of safety" and locate other means of persuasion. Later in the story the quilt hangs over the clothesline in the backyard of Mirandy's house, reifying the cultural tradition of the quilt as a symbol of liberation and empowerment.

In The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook, produced by Dorothy I. Height and the National Council of Negro Women, the notion of the quilt as a symbol of resistance and of inter-generational relationships is underscored:

Quilts containing black fabric or made in the Rob Peter to Pay Paul patchwork pattern were hung on clothes lines as a way to signal a refuge for escaping bondsmen. Southern burial traditions also figure into quilting since enslaved African-Americans used quilts to wrap the bodies of their loved ones for their "final journey." (138)

The idea of the quilt as a storytelling device for resistance illuminates the brilliance of slave women to preserve the quilt tradition, and to shape the future through rhetorical means of naming, locating experience, and recalling the past. Like the oral tradition of West Africa, African-American quilts reclaim the values of the ancestors. The communal effort toward safety, security, love, and comfort are pieced together by the old Black folks of Mirandy's community.

In Bettye Stroud's Down Home at Miss Dessa's (1996), young readers are transported into the world of African-American sisters who spend the day caring for an elderly neighbor. The quilt becomes the connecting force between young and old. It symbolizes the passing of an era where companionship of neighbors proved vital to the network and fabric which held together the African-American community. At Miss Dessa's farmhouse on a country dirt road in the South, young girls could learn the tradition of quilting while honoring the elderly who had so much love, knowledge, and experience to share.

The African-American cultural tradition teaches that all children are the responsibility of the community because they are the future of that community. Miss Dessa was an "othermother" who embraced this ethic: "Miss Dessa was an old woman ... and kept an eye on us - mending each skinned knee or bruised elbow we came crying about. Miss Dessa always knew how to make us feel better" (2). The importance of identifying the role of children in the continuum of community and cultural history is exemplified when Miss Dessa becomes incapacitated. Falling from her porch when her glasses slip from her face, Miss Dessa relies on the love and care of her young neighbors. The sisters run home to call Mama and the doctor. Interested in helping Miss Dessa, they mend her glasses with blue yarn found in the yam bag she uses in making quilts. Confined to her rocker while recovering from the fall, Miss Dessa maintains her quilting work. She teaches the tradition of quiltmaking to the girls while simultaneously securing their bond of friendship, respect, and love, which grows ever stronger:

Miss Dessa sat in her rocker and sewed quilt pieces together "Sit beside me, Girl, and I'll show you." ... Miss Dessa made quilts on a frame that hung from the ceiling. Together we worked on a special quilt for her daughter who lived in New York City. (8)

The quilt provides a connection to the cultural tradition of the South and a bond between generations. Stroud also establishes Miss Dessa as a "keeper of the culture" of Afrocentric sisterhood in constructing a quilt which binds the generations of women in a culture of rural life, homegrown love, and cultural identity. Miss Dessa's daughter may have chosen urban American life in the North, but Miss Dessa keeps her centered in cultural identity by way of the quilt.

The story concludes with the sisters expressing their love for Miss Dessa by reading to her while she sleeps under a patchwork quilt:

"Let's read Miss Dessa a bedtime story," Baby Sister said. I found an old book of fairy tales and read aloud Miss Dessa snuggled under the patchwork coverlet, her eyelids drooping and her breathing soft. I carefully laid Miss Dessa's glasses on the dresser and Baby Sister tucked her in. (25)

Understanding the quilt as a product of rhetorical invention provides a new perspective on the relationship between narrative and cultural identity. As stories are told and retold from generation to generation, the narrative genre provides a format for a person to understand who he or she is to become and what role the person is to play in society. Walter R. Fisher contends that the stories humans select to tell and to believe demonstrate a "universal logic" of values and common sense (66). This suggests that narration lay at the incipience of understanding all of human communication. In African-American women's communication, the quilt is an expression of the rhetorical nature of art and a representation of Black women's culture:

Story quilts are narrative rather than abstract. They flow directly out of the oral tradition which used story telling as a way to impart the culture and preserve the history of a people. Story telling and the story quilt impart moral and spiritual lessons as well as personal family genealogy for future generations. To view a story quilt is to learn about the quilters, their families, values and life experiences. One has only to review West African history to understand the role of using narrative in the creation of textile pieces. (Benberry 114)

The rhetoric or narrative of the quilt, then, reveals life in America through the experience of Black women and their ability to transcend adversity. By relaying their experiences in narrative form, Black women have defined and re-defined the parameters of American life for themselves and their communities. Similar to the slave narrative as a cultural artifact, quilts are distinctly rhetorical documents because they "reveal a dimension of language that serves as a means toward an end, with hopes of agreeing upon a distinct vision of society. That vision is free dom" (Olga I. Davis 38). Speaking of the slave narrative Charles Davis and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., state, "... in that lettered utterance is assertion of identity and in identity is freedom - freedom from slavery, freedom from ignorance, freedom from non-being, freedom from even time" (157). The nature of rhetoric viewed from the perspective of the narrative illuminates the works by Flournoy, Hopkinson, Ringgold, McKissack, Stroud, and Wright. In each of their works cultural identity is created by the symbolic tradition of the quilt and its representation of Afrocentric motherhood.

The Negro spiritual "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" provides a rhetorical focus that uncovers the underlying query of Margaret Burroughs's poem concerning African-American existence in the culture of White America: "What shall I tell my children who are Black?" (qtd. in Bell-Scott, et al., xiii). Transforming literacy through the process of reading the world, I submit, is a viable answer. Paulo Freire suggests that education is an act of knowing. He contends to know reality and how it is created is to develop in readers a kind of critical reading or critical understanding of society which allows transformation of self and society (Shor and Freire 45).

Flournoy, Hopkinson, Ringgold, McKissack, Stroud, and Wright speak in their stories with ideologically infused voices. They create a world in which children readers are implored to "hear, believe, and understand" that world (Lanser 291-93). Transforming literacy through the piecing of history, experience, and resistance in their stories suggests that African-American women authors of children's literature continue to make sure the circle of cultural identity is never broken.

Works Cited

Baker, Houston A., Jr., and Charlotte Pierce-Baker. "Patches: Quilts and Community in Alice Walker's 'Everyday Use.'" Southern Review ns 21 (1985): 706-20.

Bell-Scott, Patricia, et al. Double Stitch. New York: Harper, 1991.

Benberry, Cuesta. Always There: The African-American Presence in American Quilts. Louisville: Kentucky Quilt Project, 1992.

Christian, Barbara. Black Feminist Criticism. New York: Pergamon P, 1985.

Davis, Angela. "Reflections on the Black Woman's Role in the Community of Slaves." Black Scholar 3 (Dec. 1971): 3-15.

Davis, Charles, and Henry L. Gates, Jr. The Slave's Narrative. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.

Davis, Olga I. "It Be's Hard Sometimes: The Rhetorical Invention of Black Female Persona in Pre-Emancipatory Slave Narratives." Diss. U of Nebraska, 1994.

Fisher, Walter R. Human Communication as Narration: Toward A Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1987.

Flournoy, Valerie. The Patchwork Quilt. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Freire, Paulo, and Donald Macedo. Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. Boston: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.

Height, Dorothy I., and The National Council of Negro Women, Inc. The Black Family Dinner Quilt Cookbook. New York: Fireside, 1993.

Hill-Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Hillard, Van E. "Census, Consensus, and the Commodification of Form: The NAMES Quilt Project." Quilt Culture: Tracing the Pattern. Ed. Cheryl B. Tomsey and Judy Elsley. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1994.112-24.

hooks, bell. Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics. Boston: South End P, 1990.

Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Lanser, Susan S. The Narrative Act: Point of View in Prose Fiction. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981.

McKissack, Patricia C. Mirandy and Brother Wind. New York: Knopf, 1988.

Ringgold, Faith. Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky. New York: Crown, 1992.

Shor, Ira, and Paulo Freire. A Pedagogy for Liberation. South Hadley: Bergin & Garvey, 1987.

Stroud, Bettye. Down Home at Miss Dessa's. New York: Lee & Low, 1996.

Wahlman, Maude Southwell, and John Scully. "Aesthetic Principles in Afro-American Quilts." Afro-American Folk Arts and Crafts. Ed. William Ferris. Boston: Hall, 1983. 79-97.

Walker, Alice. "A Child of One's Own: A Meaningful Digression Within the Work(s)." Ms. 8 (Aug. 1979): 47-50, 72-75.

Wright, Courtni C. Journey to Freedom. New York: Holiday House, 1994.

Olga Idriss Davis is Assistant Professor of Speech Communication at Kansas State University. Her research interests include the discursive formations of race, gender, identity, and culture with an emphasis on the rhetorical nature of Black women's slave narratives and the rhetorical traditions of Black women in the Diaspora. Her article entitled "A Black Woman As Rhetorical Critic: Validating Self and Violating the Space of Otherness" is forthcoming in Women's Studies Communication, and she is co-editing a book entitled Communication and African American Women: Studies of Rhetoric and Everyday Talk.
COPYRIGHT 1998 African American Review
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Davis, Olga Idriss
Publication:African American Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
Words:5742
Previous Article:"I'm gonna glory in learnin'": academic aspirations of African American characters in children's literature.
Next Article:Tracing the trilogy.
Topics:


Related Articles
Making books available: the role of early libraries, librarians, and booksellers in the promotion of African American children's literature.
Insiders, outsiders, and the question of authenticity: who shall write for African American children?
Reading in color: children's book illustrations and identity formation for black children in the United States.
"Keepin' it real": Walter Dean Myers and the promise of African-American children's literature.
"I double never ever never lie to my chil'ren": inside people in Virginia Hamilton's narratives.
PICTORIAL QUILT.
Constructing childhood: the Christian Recorder and literature for black children, 1854-1865.
Diamonds in the rough: the search for socially responsible, multicultural children's literature.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters