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CLA JOURNAL 129 128 CLA JOURNAL Ayesha K. Hardison. Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014. 296 pp. ISBN: 9780813935935. Paperback $29.50. Ayesha K. Hardison’s Writing through Jane Crow: Race and Gender Politics in African American Literature (2014) is a richly-crafted study of black-authored texts published between the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement. Disrupting the traditional, protest-driven Wright-Ellison-Baldwin triad in scholarship on mid-twentieth century literature, Hardison focuses on works that challenge this lens by situating black women’s experiences with racism, sexism, and classism (particularly expectations of middle-class respectability) at the fore. Hardison’s research analyzes manuscripts that she astutely identifies as “Jane Crow” texts. This handy term—Jane Crow—is credited to scholar-activist Pauli Murray who wrote extensively about the politics of black women’s gendered racial oppression within and beyond the African American community. Hardison describes Jane Crow texts as narratives that “grapple with the burdening black female subjectivity under a specific set of social conditions: mass migration, changing gender relations, class anxiety, and racial strife” (5). She explores the confluence of these conditions as they are imagined in works by Richard Wright, Ann Petry, Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Dorothy West, Curtis Lucas, and Era Bell Thompson. This impressive mix of popular and lesser-studied writers not only sheds important light on the range of authors inspired to engage black women’s lived experiences but also shows the different approaches writers took in addressing black women’s subjectivity. To these ends, each chapter of Writing Jane Crow offers“distinct portraits of black female agency and subjection,”grounds each work in its “specific social and literary contexts,” and highlights “the connections between black women’s lived experiences, the politics of representation in black female-centered texts, and [the] intertextual dialogues between black female and male writers” (Hardison 19). In chapter one, Hardison offers a thoughtful analysis of “Black Hope,” an unpublished manuscript by Richard Wright, that presents a middle-class black female protagonist who chooses to pass for white and resorts to suicide in an attempt to escape “racism, poverty, and the circumscription of domesticity” that threatens her life (27).This character,Hardison argues,is paired with working-class black and elite white female characters who, together, show the intricate, complex connections between racism, sexism, and classism that impact the lives of women writ large. Moreover, Hardison rightly contends that a careful consideration of this manuscript and the gender politics it engages adds an important dimension to familiar readings of Richard Wright’s body of work. Book Reviews The class dynamics between women explored in “Black Hope” are continued in chapter two with a comparative reading of Ann Petry’s The Street (1946) and Dorothy West’s The Living is Easy (1948). Hardison asserts that Petry and West’s novels provide “a cross-class, intergenerational critique” of black women’s experiences in two distinct historical periods: before World War I and during World War II (60). The central female characters in each novel struggle with what Hardison calls “bourgeois blues”: an “irreconcilable conflict between the protagonist’s desire for social mobility and the narrative’s representation of black women’s historically fixed social condition” (56). The characters’ clear struggles to navigate this difficult terrain offer what Hardison claims are “two strategies for black female agency”: black women’s “command over vernacular cultural forms” as a means of debunking myths surrounding true womanhood and their“intimacy with other black women” as an approach to challenging the superiority of white women’s relationships (61). In this way, Petry and West’s novels are not only conversant with one another but also conversant with Wright’s “Black Hope” in decentering male experiences. In keeping with her interest in intertextual dialogue, Hardison presents Zora Neale Hurston’s Seraph on the Suwanee (1948) and Petry’s The Narrows (1953) as focal texts in chapter 3. In Hardison’s estimation, these novels “complicat[e] the boundaries between black and white, middle-class and working-class women” by highlighting the “homosocial complexities” that exist within Jane Crow narratives (87).She contends that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2766-0265
Print ISSN
0007-8549
Pages
pp. 128-130
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-01
Open Access
No
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