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Changing the Subject

Writing Women across the African Diaspora

K. Merinda Simmons

Publication Year: 2014

In Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora, K. Merinda Simmons argues that, in first-person narratives about women of color, contexts of migration illuminate constructions of gender and labor. These constructions and migrations suggest that the oft-employed notion of “authenticity” is not as useful a classification as many feminist and postcolonial scholars have assumed. Instead of relying on so-called authentic feminist journeys and heroines for her analysis, Simmons calls for a self-reflexive scholarship that takes seriously the scholar’s own role in constructing the subject. The starting point for this study is the nineteenth-century Caribbean narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831). Simmons puts Prince’s narrative in conversation with three twentieth-century novels: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, and Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. She incorporates autobiography theory to shift the critical focus from the object of study—slave histories—to the ways people talk about those histories and to the guiding interests of such discourses. In its reframing of women’s migration narratives, Simmons’s study unsettles theoretical certainties and disturbs the very notion of a cohesive diaspora.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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Title page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

So much of the scholarly writing process is inevitably confined to library stacks, piles of articles, and long hours at a computer screen. I am lucky to have had the kind of support system that drew me out of the library and motivated me back into it at intervals and that kept me bolstered on both...

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Introduction: When Literature and Identity "Get Real"

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pp. 1-22

Just outside the Biology building at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, there is a small freestanding marker with a plaque that reads as follows:
Buried near this place are Jack Rudolph and William...

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1. Sites of Authentication: Migration and Subjectivity in The History of Mary Prince

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pp. 23-48

The History of Mary Prince, As Related by Hersel (1831) gives an account of a West Indian slave who, after being forced to move from place to place in and around the Caribbean, tells her story in England to the Anti-Slavery Society.1 Her story begins in Bermuda, where she is bought...

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2. "Different with Every Shore": Women, Workers, and the Transatlantic South in Their Eyes Were Watching God

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pp. 49-77

Even though Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) is often read as Janie Crawford’s journey of self-discovery and expression, the contingency of her identity is evident early on, as she knows herself only through the descriptions and projections of others...

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3. Familiar Ground: The Rhetoric of "Realness" in Mama Day

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pp. 78-110

Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day (1988) centers around an island community off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, where an old woman named Miranda Day serves as communal caretaker and medicinal conjure woman. The story of her familial ancestry is also the story of the island’s...

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4. "Recuperating" the Subject in I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem

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pp. 111-136

Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem brings the textual framework back to the Caribbean and back to a genre of slave narrative with a revision of the story surrounding Tituba, the slave who was the third person to be accused of witchcraft during the 1692–93 Salem witch...

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Conclusion: Writing Women across the African Diaspora

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pp. 137-144

Gender—and certainly “women” specifically—is a category born out of its being written and performed. And depending on who’s writing or performing, where and for whom and with what interests, the category will bear in its signification a certain set of ideas governed by a certain...


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pp. 145-156

Works Cited

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pp. 157-162


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pp. 163-172

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814273227
E-ISBN-10: 081427322X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212622
Print-ISBN-10: 081421262X

Page Count: 214
Illustrations: 1
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 888316195
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Changing the Subject

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- African American women -- History and criticism.
  • West Indian literature (English) -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • African American women in literature.
  • African Americans in literature.
  • Slave trade in literature.
  • Collective memory in literature.
  • Culture in literature.
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