Date

2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Adviser

Dolan, Elizabeth

Other advisers/committee members

Mogren, Seth; Foltz, Mary; Miller, Monica

Abstract

Analyzing the literature of post-Civil Rights African American women writers this dissertation asks, “What does it mean to be well?” I argue that Sherley Anne Williams, Lucille Clifton, Toni Cade Bambara, and Toni Morrison create womb-related, women-centered illness narratives in which black women actively participate in the creation and telling of their self-stories. This literary resistance to imposed definitions of illness and wellness liberates black female bodies from oppressive social frameworks based on race and gender, that are rooted in the commodification of women’s wombs during slavery, but that continues on today in the dismissal of black women’s desire and health. This project employs a reparative reading and writing practice, illness narrative theory, and black feminist and womanist thought to investigate African-American women’s literature that envisions a fuller expression of black women’s humanity, self-actualization, and self-love. These writers employ womb imagery to acknowledge and work through historic exploitation, objectification, and fragmentation of black women’s bodies. Through illness and healing narratives and womb imagery, African-American women writers create literary spaces in which they perform the radical act of re-imagining wellness that dares to prioritize black female bodies.

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