- Seeking Trust and Commitment in Women’s Interracial Collaboration in the Nineteenth Century and Today
We do not need to become each other in order to work together. But we do need to recognize each other, our differences as well as the sameness of our goals.—Audre Lorde (“Commencement” 216)
We were drawn to this special issue of MELUS in part by research we each do on nineteenth-century interracial collaborations, but of equal interest was the opportunity to examine our own experiences with interracial collaboration. Having crafted this essay, we now understand women’s interracial collaborations to signify both social action projects and writing produced through a shared composing process. Notable cases of interracial collaboration by US-affiliated women have often begun with one (either participating in a coalition around a social goal or writing together) and moved to the other. In either case, particular collaborations need not reach an “ideal” status to be productive, but achieving a degree of trust through commitment to identifiable goals (whether visionary or pragmatic) supports women’s interracial collaborative work.
Consistent with our own previous scholarship, the primary focus of this essay is US-based women’s interracial work. However, we also understand that such projects are often situated within an extra-national context, so that, for instance, a mediated anti-slavery text created within the United States could also be in dialogue with a parallel text like that generated by Mary Prince and Susanna Strickland in England.1 So, too, given the circulation of scholarly texts in digital formats today, any account of academic women’s interracial collaborations now could be shaped by and potentially speak to a broader, transnational audience. Therefore, readers will note our efforts to situate US women’s interracial collaborations in an interactive global context.
By generating this essay together, we have affirmed that women’s interracial collaboration merits careful critique, refined our individual research projects, developed approaches to learning about interracial collaboration from examining our own practices, and identified questions for future research. Thus, our essay falls into several sections: an overview of our [End Page 50] engagement with previous scholarship to examine the place of race in women’s collaborative writing in recent decades, descriptions of our individual research projects on nineteenth-century interracial collaborations, and an autoethnographic account of our collaborative process.
Learning from Women’s Collaborative Projects
Reviewing prior scholarship on collaborative writing by women in the academy, we found more sustained cases of intraracial than interracial collaboration. Consistent with recurring tensions around race in women’s studies, black women who addressed the topic often foregrounded race, whereas white women’s reflections on their own collaborative work tended to emphasize their shared gender identities.
Records of longstanding collaboration by two pairs of white women teacher-scholars—Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar, and Lisa Ede and Andrea A. Lunsford—provided generative points of analysis. Our reading about these two dyadic collaborations highlighted ways that the scholars minimized race (whiteness) in written representations of their work, which highlights their shared gender bonds.2
As Lorraine York observes, depictions of collaboration by white women in the North American academy have tended to idealize their process; have often invoked a fusion of writerly and intellectual identities by the participants; and have linked research/writing partners’ collaborations to practices of caring, friendship, nurturing, and maternalism (5–7, 18–19).3 Note, for example, Gilbert and Gubar’s field-shaping The Madwoman in the Attic (1979). Gilbert and Gubar even earned recognition from the iconic Ms. Magazine as Women of the Year in 1986. The coauthors’ foregrounding of their shared gender identity and feminist intellectual agenda reinforced such responses and their book’s impact in those terms.
Marlene Trump argues that the Gilbert and Gubar partnership needs to be valued not only for its field-changing content but also for their “utopian vision of feminist practice—clearly part of what prompted the book,” a pattern Trump sees as “mirrored by feminists working throughout the culture” (34). Mining responses to The Madwoman over several decades, Trump uses testimonials to document its lingering influence. In a section of “Modeling the Madwoman” specifically labeled...