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Writing through Jane Crow

Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature

Ayesha K. Hardison

Publication Year: 2014

In Writing through Jane Crow, Ayesha Hardison examines African American literature and its representation of black women during the pivotal but frequently overlooked decades of the 1940s and 1950s. At the height of Jim Crow racial segregation—a time of transition between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts movement and between World War II and the modern civil rights movement—black writers also addressed the effects of "Jane Crow," the interconnected racial, gender, and sexual oppression that black women experienced. Hardison maps the contours of this literary moment with the understudied works of well-known writers like Gwendolyn Brooks, Zora Neale Hurston, Ann Petry, and Richard Wright as well as the writings of neglected figures like Curtis Lucas, Pauli Murray, and Era Bell Thompson.

By shifting her focus from the canonical works of male writers who dominated the period, the author recovers the work of black women writers. Hardison shows how their texts anticipated the renaissance of black women’s writing in later decades and initiates new conversations on the representation of women in texts by black male writers. She draws on a rich collection of memoirs, music, etiquette guides, and comics to further reveal the texture and tensions of the era.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

In an effort to remember those who helped me develop a question into a monograph, I begin my acknowledgments with this project’s genesis. My doctoral exam committee sagely encouraged me to “go back earlier” when I discussed only post-1970s literary representations in...

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Introduction: Defining Jane Crow

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pp. 1-24

The shadow of Jim Crow loomed over African Americans’ bodies and imaginations throughout the first half of the twentieth century. As the personification of racial discrimination, Jim Crow was a mocking nineteenth-century stereotype performed by blackface minstrels and a...

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1: At the Point of No Return: A Native Son and His Gorgon Muse

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pp. 25-53

In the essay “How Bigger Was Born” (1940), Richard Wright first discusses the impetus behind his best-selling first novel, Native Son (1940), then divulges his intentions to complete a new, unnamed work theorizing the distinct grievances of black women. Wright credits his northern...

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2: Gender Conscriptions, Class Conciliations, and the Bourgeois Blues Aesthetic

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pp. 54-116

In The Correct Thing to Do—to Say—to Wear (1940), educator Charlotte Hawkins Brown offers the etiquette advice in the first epigraph as an early twentieth-century script for African American women’s performance of middle-class respectability. The list of twenty-four do’s and implied don’ts...

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4: “I’ll See How Crazy They Think I Am”:Pulping Sexual Violence, Racial Melancholia, and Healthy Citizenship

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pp. 117-143

Before Daisy Bates promised her dying father that she would not allow whites’ racism to debilitate her, she nurtured a secret enmity against them. Bates became president of the Arkansas Conference of the NAACP in 1952, and she was an advisor to the Little Rock Nine during the integration...

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5: Rereading the Construction of Womanhood in Popular Narratives of Domesticity

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pp. 144-173

Signifying on the Bible’s Twenty-third Psalm, Johnny Dirthrower’s impassioned 1950 letter to the editors of Negro Digest criticizes Johnson Publishing Company’s exploitation of black readers. The letter translates biblical piety into a condemnation of print discourses produced by,...

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6: The Audacity of Hope: An American Daughter and Her Dream of Cultural Hybridity

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pp. 174-202

Before semiretiring as the international editor of Ebony magazine in 1970 and receiving the prestigious Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 1976, Era Bell Thompson recounted her coming of age as a black woman and a writer in her autobiography, American Daughter (1946). The memoir...

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Epilogue: Refashioning Jane Crowand the Black Female Body

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pp. 203-220

While the previous chapters favor portraits of black female subjectivity in mid-twentieth-century African American novels, I round off my discussion with Jackie Ormes’s contemporaneous illustrations of black womanhood. This epilogue ends Writing through Jane Crow in the manner in which the...


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pp. 221-248

Works Cited

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pp. 249-270


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pp. 271-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780813935942
E-ISBN-10: 0813935946
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813935928
Print-ISBN-10: 081393592x

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 14 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 874963257
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Writing through Jane Crow

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • African American women in literature.
  • Racism in literature.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • Sex discrimination in literature.
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