FEATURE OF THE MONTH
Women and Literature
Each month, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering socially and historically relevant short articles, picture essays, and links that will guide the reader interested in knowing more. This month the feature explores the contributions of women to American literature, highlighting Toni Morrison's life and work.
It would be difficult to overstate the significance of Toni Morrison and her novels—to African American and women's literature, yes, but to the development and advance of world literature, too. Daring, difficult, fractured, fluid, historically ahistorical, Morrison's most important works move through the too-dark channels of our collective past, political and cultural, real and imagined, leaving strange new arrangements and disturbed contemplations in their wake. Shared public history and the various and sometimes contradictory interior histories of individual people collide in Morrison's narratives, and we are asked to reconsider our own shared assumptions. Daniel Donaghy writes about Toni Morrison's engagement with personal and shared history in her work. Read full essay
The late emergence of black women's literature as a focus of study in no way reflects a lack of materials to examine: black women have been writing and publishing their work in America since the late eighteenth century. Such writing has been and remains central to the project of seeking freedom and equality in the United States. At first, writing was the most visible sign of the ability to reason, so literature by Africans in America, slaves like Phillis Wheatley, was used to prove their humanity and demonstrate a capacity for artistic creation and imaginative thought. Later, literature became a way for black women to voice not just their rejection of slavery and racism, but also their desire for freedom and equality. Today, writing by women continues to correct the historical record and counter the absence or distortion of race or gender in historical and literary representation. Hilary Mac Arnold shows us several women who have contributed greatly to American literature from the colonial period to the present. View photo essay
The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about women's contributions to African American literature specifically and to American literature in general. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)