Sisters in the Spirit: Transnational Constructions of Diaspora in Late Twentieth-Century Black Women's Literature of the Americas

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2007-04-24

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This dissertation is an interdisciplinary project that draws upon literary theory, diaspora and transnational studies, black feminism, and anthropology. It argues that, in contrast to their male counterparts who produce "high theory" about the African diaspora in the Americas -- a theory that tends to exclude or marginalize women and remains tethered to nationalist constructions -- black women writers use their literary works to unsettle the dominant gendered racial hierarchy, to critique national discourses, and to offer a vision of a transnational Americas. This study invokes an 1891 conception of the Americas advanced by the Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti, and it explores how the vision of these women writers rearticulates Marti's early concept of "Nuestra America" (Our America), transcending geographic, temporal, and linguistic boundaries. Organized around issues of historiography, black cultural formation, gender and sexual politics, and racial spacialization, this project cuts across the North/Central/South/Caribbean division of the Americas, topples the primacy of "America" (read as the United States of America) in diasporic discourses, and engages the writing of black women of the Americas in terms of their literary characterization of the transnational exchanges that have produced and continue to re-articulate diaspora in the region. Furthermore, this study engages and enlarges a notion of a "Dutch pot diaspora," as presented in Maxine Bailey and Sharon Mareeka Lewis's play Sistahs. This transnational conception of diaspora recognizes the persistence of nation and the ways in which black subjects across the Americas negotiate limiting national constructions through transnational identifications. Using poetry, drama, and novels by authors from Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America, such as Toni Morrison, Erna Brodber, Luz Argentina Chiriboga, and Tessa McWatt, this dissertation reveals a transnational, diasporic poetics of the Americas.

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