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Women's Work

Nationalism and Contemporary African American Women's Novels

Courtney Thorsson

Publication Year: 2013

In Women’s Work, Courtney Thorsson reconsiders the gender, genre, and geography of African American nationalism as she explores the aesthetic history of African American writing by women. Building on and departing from the Black Arts Movement, the literary fiction of such writers as Toni Cade Bambara, Paule Marshall, Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, and Toni Morrison employs a cultural nationalism—practiced by their characters as "women's work"—that defines a distinct contemporary literary movement, demanding attention to the continued relevance of nation in post–Black Arts writing. Identifying five forms of women's work as organizing, dancing, mapping, cooking, and inscribing, Thorsson shows how these writers reclaimed and revised cultural nationalism to hail African America.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x


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pp. 1-32

1 / Organizing Her Nation: Toni Cade Bambara’sThe Salt Eaters

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pp. 33-64

2 /Cooking Up a Nation: Ntozake Shange’s Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo

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pp. 65-85

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3 / Dancing Up a Nation: Paule Marshall’s Praisesong for the Widow

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pp. 86-111

Bambara’s Velma Henry journeys through time from the very local space of a “backless stool” in an Infirmary to organize herself and her community toward wellness. Shange’s women traverse kitchens and the moon as they cook up a nation. Paule Marshall’s Avey Johnson gets a book-length praisesong because she travels, both literally and figuratively, toward...

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4 / Mapping and Moving Nation: Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day

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pp. 112-139

For Gloria Naylor, cultural nationalism is not Avey Johnson’s diasporic travel in Praisesong for the Widow, nor is it a political movement among black male poets and playwrights in the urban North of the 1960s and 1970s or the Afrocentrism of the 1980s. Naylor’s nationalism is, rather, an ongoing effort to build a distinct African American community in...

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5 / Inscribing Community: Toni Morrison’s Paradise

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pp. 140-172

A letter composed in smeared lipstick, cuts on a woman’s skin, a name scratched into the dirt, a lengthy genealogy burned rather than published, paintings of women’s bodies on a basement floor—women in Toni Morrison’s 1997 novel Paradise inscribe texts and images that struggle to become public or even legible. Created but rarely read, inscriptions...

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pp. 173-182

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, a group of African American women’s novels reclaimed and revised cultural nationalism. Women’s work—organizing, cooking, dancing, mapping, inscribing, archiving, mothering, and writing—constantly produces a cultural...


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pp. 183-204


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pp. 205-218


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pp. 219-227

E-ISBN-13: 9780813934495
E-ISBN-10: 0813934494
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813934488
Print-ISBN-10: 0813934478

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 841810165
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Women's Work

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • American fiction -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • African American women in literature.
  • National characteristics, American, in literature.
  • African American women -- Employment -- In literature.
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