- Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita González, and the Poetics of Culture, and: Cultural Sites of Critical Insight: Philosophy, Aesthetics, and African American and Native American Women's Writings, and: Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction's Newest New-Wave Trajectory
When some women of color perform intellectual and cultural work, the borders between the creative and the critical overlap, the temporal space between past and present blurs, ancestors engage in conversations with their descendants, [End Page 197] and future descendants alter the production and politics of knowledge about colonized women. Such is the case for many of the female cultural producers under investigation by María Eugenia Cotera, Angela L. Cotten, Christa D. Acampora, and Marleen S. Barr. Throughout their studies, the authors and editors argue that the intellectual and cultural work done by women of color can be better comprehended and appreciated when we uncover the epistemologies they utilize.
María Cotera delivers a brilliant comparative assessment of three women-of-color intellectuals in her book Native Speakers: Ella Deloria, Zora Neale Hurston, Jovita González, and the Poetics of Culture. Cotera's previous work includes editing Life Along the Border: A Landmark Tejana Thesis by Jovita González, as well as co-editing Caballero, a novel by Jovita González. With Native Speakers, Cotera, an associate professor of American culture at the University of Michigan, further establishes that she can be as critical, passionate, and innovative as the figures she analyzes in her own work: Ella Deloria, a Sioux ethnologist from South Dakota, Zora Neale Hurston, an African American folklorist and writer from Florida, and Jovita González, a Tejana folklorist. In constructing her cross-cultural study, Cotera engages a broad number of disciplines and perspectives. Her masterful command of feminist studies scholarship, literary and cultural theory, and folklore traditions and scholarship from Native American, African American, and Mexican American cultural communities is further enhanced by her careful attention to archival matter.
Cotera begins Native Speakers with a noteworthy statement that states that she means to bring the three women "into conversation with one another in order to illuminate a multicultural feminist imaginary" (2). Fortunately, Cotera does this without erasing the differing ethnic, linguistic, and cultural traditions of each woman and by posing four main questions to the reader:
How do we elaborate a mode of comparative analysis across race, nation, and historical context that does not assimilate the experiences of "others" to our own? How might we respect the particularities of different historical experiences for key points of connection that reveal the systemic workings of patriarchical, heteronormative, colonialist, racist, and classist networks of power? How do we strike a balance between a respect for difference and a search for meaningful similarity that allows for a coherent account of the historical experiences of women of color? … [M]ore importantly, what knowledges and perspectives do we need to mobilize to do such work?(11)
Cotera's questions are answered in her single-authored text, and, as I discuss below, the two edited collections under review in this essay as well. Cotera's inquiries ensure that she and her readers will avoid obscuring significant variations throughout her study.
Native Speakers is divided into two parts. In part 1, "Ethnographic Meaning Making and the Politics of Difference," Cotera uses one chapter per woman to [End Page 198] explore each woman's scholarly contributions to anthropology, folklore, and ethnology. Cotera takes great care to construct her reading of a poetics of culture and compelling biographical narratives, but she also remains critical about...