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New Black Feminist Criticism, 1985-2000

Barbara Christian

Publication Year: 2007

New Black Feminist Criticism, 1985-2000 collects a selection of essays and reviews from Barbara Christian, one of the founding voices in black feminist literary criticism. Published between the release of her second landmark book Black Feminist Criticism and her death, these writings include eloquent reviews, evaluations of black feminist criticism as a discipline, reflections on black feminism in the academy, and essays on Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Paule Marshall, and others.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

The editors would like to thank Najuma Henderson, Barbara Christian’s daughter, for her support of this project and for her afterword. We would also like to thank Najuma Henderson and Marvina White for their establishment of a Barbara...

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pp. ix

Among the founding mothers of contemporary African American and black feminist criticism, Barbara Christian holds a central place. From the publication of her groundbreaking Black Women Novelists in 1980, to her untimely death...


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pp. 1-4

The essays in this section highlight the metacritical dimension of Barbara Christian’s analytical writing. In spite of the range and abundance of Christian’s writing on African American literature and culture, she has...

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1. But What Do We Think We're Doing Anyway: The State of Black Feminist Criticism(s) or My Version of a Little Bit of History (1989)

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pp. 5-19

In August 1974, a rather unique event occurred. Black World, probably the most widely read publication of Afro-American literature, culture, and political thought at that time, used on its cover a picture of the then practically unknown writer...

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2. What Celie Knows That You Should Know (1990)

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pp. 20-30

I begin my discussion about ways in which the study of Afro-American women’s literature might enrich and extend knowledge with that excerpt from The Color Purple because it so succinctly articulates two worldviews. Mister’s assessment of Celie’s worth emphasizes her nothingness because she exists in realms of powerlessness...

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3. Fixing Methodologies: Beloved (1993)

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pp. 31-39

Toni Morrison’s Beloved has, since its publication in 1987, received much acclaim from academic critics as well as more commercially included commentators. Reviewers almost unanimously proclaimed it a masterpiece. In just six years the...

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4. The Race for Theory (1987)

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pp. 40-50

I have seized this occasion to break the silence among those of us, critics, as we are now called, who have been intimidated, devalued by what I call the race for theory. I have become convinced that there has been a takeover in the literary world by Western philosophers from the old literary élite, the neutral humanists...

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5. Does Theory Play Well in the Classroom? (1996)

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pp. 51-68

The title of my presentation that I gave to the organizers of this conference is “Does Theory Play Well in the Classroom?” I’m going to deconstruct that title for a minute so that I can go on and talk about what I really want to talk about. And actually, it does move me into that because, as I looked at the title later on...


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pp. 69-78

It is quite difficult for many of us today to remember or even really imagine a time when African American women’s novels were largely out of print and hard to find, when they were simply and systematically...

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6. Introduction to The Hazelely Family by Mrs. A. E. Johnson (1988)

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pp. 79-85

Mrs. A. E. Johnson’s The Hazeley Family (1894) is somewhat typical of the “angel of the home” romances published by American women during the latter half of the nineteenth century—except that the author is a black woman, and her...

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7. "Somebody Forgot to Tell Somebody Something": African-American Women's Historical Novels (1990)

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pp. 86-98

The title of my essay is taken from a radio interview Ntozake Shange did with Toni Morrison in 1978, just after she had published Song of Solomon.1 Morrison’s comment referred to a generation of Afro-Americans of the post–World...

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8. Gloria Naylor's Geography: Communiity, Class, and Partriarchy in The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills (1990)

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pp. 99-119

Like Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor is intrigued by the effect of place on character. Perhaps Afro-American writers have been particularly interested in setting, because displacement, first from Africa and then through migrations from South...

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9. Being the Subject and the Object: Reading African-American Women's Novels (1993)

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pp. 120-126

If memory serves me right, the first novel by an African-American woman I’d even held in my hand came from a second-hand bookstore in Harlem. It was 1967. I was a graduate student at Columbia, and an English instructor in the SEEK program...

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10. Layered Rhythms: Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison (1994)

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pp. 127-141

I see your face, Toni Morrison, possibly the best novelist in America today, when people ask, “What does it mean that you wrote your M.A. thesis in the early fifties, on suicide in the works of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf?”2 Do such people want...

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11. There It Is: The Poetry of Jayne Cortez (1986)

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pp. 142-146

Last spring, when students at the University of California, Berkeley, asked me to speak at a rally opposing the University’s investments in South Africa, I chose, without hesitation, to read Jayne Cortez’s “For the Brave Young Students in Soweto...

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12. Conversations with the Universe (1989)

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pp. 147-151

By now, Living by the Word has been reviewed in many mainstream journals and newspapers. But many readers may have been misled, as I was, by most reviewers’ characterizations of this book. Almost invariably they have read it as a collection of...

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13. Epic Achievement (1991)

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pp. 152-156

I am dazzled, literally, by the intense light of Carolivia Herron’s Thereafter Johnnie, a lyric poem in its orchestration of image and song, as well as a novel about the decline of a contemporary middle-class African American family. It is an epic...

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14. A Checkered Career (1992)

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pp. 157-163

Last February Houghton Mifflin reissued Ann Petry’s first novel, The Street, which it was fortunate enough to publish to much acclaim in 1946. This work was the first novel by an African American woman to focus on the struggles of a working...

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15. Remembering Audre Lorde (1993)

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pp. 164-166

The phone rings. It is Lisa, one of the graduate students with whom I work: “Barbara, I have bad news.” Silence. “Audre Lorde just died in St. Croix.” I am stunned, unprepared, though I should not be. Audre has had breast cancer for many years...


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pp. 169-172

Barbara Christian wrote these essays a quarter century after her initial years as a teacher and graduate student in New York City. During her distinguished career, she would play a major role in the founding and development of Afro-American studies, ethnic studies, and women’s studies...

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16. Being "The Subjected Subject of Discourse" (1990)

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pp. 173-181

Questions 1, 2, and 5:1 To cast the history of a feminist presence in the academy as a generational one immediately reminds me of my marginal position as a feminist academic of color born outside of the U.S. For much of my academic life, from 1967...

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17. Whose Canon Is It Anyway? (1994)

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pp. 182-186

In the last five years, issues of canonicity, political correctness, and multiculturalism have been hotly debated in the American popular media as well as in intellectual and academic journals. The debate is often presented as two-sided, with the “pure...

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18. A Rough Terrain: The Case of Shaping an Anthology of Caribbean Women Writers (1995)

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pp. 187-203

At present I am engaged along with one of my sisters, Opal Palmer Adisa, in constructing an anthology of English-speaking Caribbean women’s creative and critical writings especially for use in college classrooms. Opal and I have for many...

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19. Diminishing Returns: Can Black Feminism(s) Survive the Academy? (1994)

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pp. 2034-215

When I was asked to speak at this conference on “Feminisms in the Twenty- First Century,” at first I chose a topic that asked the question whether feminism in America is still largely conceived of as a white movement by most American institutions...

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20. Camouflaging Race and Gender (1996)

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pp. 216-224

For as long as I can remember, my daughter has been interested in the law, possibly because my father, uncle, brother, and cousin are impressive lawyers with an intense appreciation for the law. In high school she took courses in law in which...

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pp. 225-226

After my mother, Barbara Christian, died in 2000, I began thinking about how to keep her work, as well as her memory, alive. I wanted the important work she did to remain available to others, and not be forgotten. I agreed to donate her papers to the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and wondered...


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pp. 227-240

Selected Bibliography of Works by Barbara Christian

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pp. 241-244


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pp. 245-251

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090820
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252031809

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • American literature -- African American authors -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
  • Feminist literary criticism -- United States
  • Feminism and literature -- United States.
  • African American women in literature.
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