Thursday, October 23, 2008

Books that Rock

Because, like Lex, I like to share reading lists...

Ralph Ellison, Shadow and Act (1953, 1964)
  As an African and African American Studies major, I skimmed Ellison's work when I should have read deeply.  I am making up some of that time now with Shadow and Act, a collection of essays and speeches published (mostly) in the 1950s.  Through his prose I am rediscovering the kind of writer and historian I want to be:
"The real question seems to be: How does the Negro writer participate as a writer in the struggle for human freedom? To whom does he address his work? What values emerging from Negro experience does he try to affirm?"
You could easily replace "as a writer" with "as a historian."  You could even replace "Negro" with an Afrodescendiente "Negra" and change the pronouns to "she."  Which is exactly what I did in my personal journal when I rewrote the quote. 

In prose as direct and intricate as his fiction, Ellison manages to capture how I feel about the academic profession.  And my place in it.  For Ellison, literature is a discipline, and is only one piece of a multi-layered, multi-focal quilt of activity meant to move all of us toward a more equitable society.  Art is inherently social and is meant to create some kind of change in the world not by standing on some political ideology but by revealing us to ourselves.  For me, Kismet the Radical Woman of Color Educator, history is the same.  It is a discipline, it is inherently social, and it is only one piece.  Moreover, for me, Kismet the Radical Woman of Color Writer, history is also an art, a creative unrolling of narrative based upon primary sources, personal experience, and investment in the society we live in. 

If this is the case, as a historian what is my role?  Who is my audience?  What are the values of Afro-diasporic experience I am trying to affirm?  Where do I draw my inspiration?  Whose story am I telling? 

Ellison emphasizes the individual as an artist, the individual as a person (man) of color growing and creating in this world.  As a woman of color that doesn't apply to me.  (I would argue it doesn't apply to men either.  Mr.'s favorite argument with me is that I haven't influenced him because he's gotten to where he's gotten to on his own.  Word?  If I had a dollar for every late night phone call of moral support I could pay my own tuition.  Privilege works in the silences, but male privilege is still amazing to me.)  It doesn't apply to the women I am researching, women who survived slavery not by standing alone in their unique experience but because they drew on networks and knowledge of their mothers, aunts, and sisters (and fathers, brothers, and lovers) before them.  And alongside them.  And passed those resources on, which were worth more than money, because a wealth in people* replenishes itself. 

But how do my particular experiences play a role in the kind of history I want to tell? 

*sigh.  I'll let you know if I come up with any profound answers to that question.

Other goodies....

Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mother's Gardens (1983)  Intensely womanist (of course) and inspires me to read Zora Neale Hurston over and over and over.  Again. 

Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back:  Writings by Radical Women of Color (1983).  This work still leaves me speechless.  One day I will write a fabulous blog post on it.  Until then my love will have to rest in the silence.

Related stuff (I am taking after elle in adding asterisks to my posts!):
*Guyer, Jane I., and Samuel M. Eno Belinga. “Wealth in People as Wealth in Knowledge: Accumulation and Composition in Equatorial Africa.” Journal of African History 36 (1995): 91-120.


elle said...

girl, i love me some asterisks, dot dot dots (...) (ellipsis is too boring a word), pound signs, and colons.

Thought said...

you just gave me my next book to read.