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Activism and the American Novel

Activism and the American Novel: Religion and Resistance in Fiction by Women of Color

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Activism and the American Novel
    Book Description:

    Since the 1980s, many activists and writers have turned from identity politics toward ethnic religious traditions to rediscover and reinvigorate their historic role in resistance to colonialism and oppression. In her examination of contemporary fiction by women of color-including Toni Morrison, Ana Castillo, Toni Cade Bambara, Louise Erdrich, and Leslie Marmon Silko-Channette Romero considers the way these novels newly engage with Vodun, Santería, Candomblé, and American Indian traditions. Critical of a widespread disengagement from civic participation and of the contemporary novel's disconnection from politics, this fiction attempts to transform the novel and the practice of reading into a means of political engagement and an inspiration for social change.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3330-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Searching for Relations
    (pp. 1-24)

    In Wendy Rose’s poem “Notes on a Conspiracy” (1993), an American Indian spirit expresses outrage when her skeleton is disturbed and excavated for museum display. She begins “searching for relations beneath each rock, / praying that I will not go to war alone” (86). Writing by women of color since the 1980s has increasingly utilized spirits and other beliefs held by people of color to envision spiritually inspired “relations,” political alliances that collectively resist injustice. It is important to note that the “war” these alliances engage in Rose’s poem and related writing does not involve armed struggle, but conflicts among...

  5. 1 Reconstituting the Public Sphere
    (pp. 25-52)

    Contemporary fiction by women of color proceeds on the assumption that literature contains political promise; it can influence public discourse, shape communal relations, and change readers’ consciousness. In seeking this political promise, contemporary women writers of color have begun to look to the past, specifically to literature’s relationship to the early public sphere, a historically powerful space of public debate and dialogue that led to the creation of early civil rights legislation. The attempt to re-create political relations between readers and texts also reclaims a dynamic that has largely been lost to the novel. Drawing upon the early relationship between...

  6. 2 Spiritual Temporalities and Histories: Cristina García and LeAnne Howe
    (pp. 53-83)

    If a democratic public sphere is to be reconstituted, it must be infused with a complex understanding of history. Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge assert that since capitalism “has consistently excluded history,” “a fully developed historical awareness is necessary for the constitution of a proletarian public sphere” (82, 81). A common characteristic of fiction by contemporary women of color is its appropriation and active reconstruction of a past that has largely been suppressed in dominant historical narratives. This fiction seeks to expand readers’ “historical awareness” in the hope that a fuller knowledge of the past will provide useful models for...

  7. 3 Rewriting America’s Exceptionalism: Toni Morrison
    (pp. 84-111)

    Unfortunately, the promise of multiracial public spheres in the colonial Americas and early United States was broken in the nineteenth century. At that time, the United States’ national identity was consolidated around a more repressive model of community and nationhood. Michael Warner asserts that “although the nation-state was a product of the eighteenth century, the national imaginary was a product of the nineteenth” (120). This nineteenth-century national identity was opposed to the notion of the public sphere. Warner claims that “to be American, one had to have a new kind of national imaginary. One had to have a meaning for...

  8. 4 Post–Civil Rights Community: Alice Walker, Toni Cade Bambara, and Ana Castillo
    (pp. 112-141)

    We have examined the formal, thematic, and political characteristics of a new literary development that envisions spiritually inspired, multiracial public spheres. I turn in the second half of this book to investigating in greater detail how this literary trend emerged as a response to nationalism in the Americas, particularly the ethnic nationalist movements of the 1970s. Drawing on narratives by women of color activists and writers, I show how the exclusiveness associated with Euro-American nationalism was unfortunately repeated in 1970s ethnic nationalist activism. Contemporary women of color writers and activists argue that though these movements sought to increase civil rights...

  9. 5 Indigenous Sovereignties: Leslie Marmon Silko and Louise Erdrich
    (pp. 142-172)

    When we examine recent novels by two of the most well-known American Indian writers, Leslie Marmon Silko and Louise Erdrich, we discover further evidence of the ongoing connection between the literature and political activism of contemporary women writers of color. However, unlike novels by Walker, Bambara, and Castillo, Silko’s and Erdrich’s novels demonstrate a commitment to contemporary Indigenous nationalist movements and a desire to broaden the concept of nationalism as a whole. The difference is noteworthy, and it should discourage us from perceiving as monolithic the relationship between the fiction of contemporary women of color and nationalism. The nationalist stance...

  10. Conclusion: Toward a Literary Activism
    (pp. 173-180)

    To position their own writing as enacting a form of activism, contemporary writing by women of color often alludes or directly refers to historic interracial rebellions inspired by the religions and spiritualities of people of color. For example, in her foreword toThis Bridge Called My Back, Toni Cade Bambara claims that writing by women of color “can coax us into the habit of listening to each other and learning each other’s ways of seeing and being,” much like when “New Orleans African women and Yamassee and Yamacrow women went into the swamps to meet with Filipino wives of ‘draftees’...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 181-194)
  12. References
    (pp. 195-210)
  13. Index
    (pp. 211-217)