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Making Black Girlhood Visible in Late Twentieth-Century African American Women's Prose

Kathleen Naita Lacey, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation focuses on narratives of Black girlhood in late twentieth-century African American women’s prose. Situated within the disciplines of literary studies, American girls’ studies, and African American cultural studies, I analyze the representation of Black girls and Black girlhood in texts by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Sapphire. Each chapter pairs two texts, a novel and a memoir, published in the same decade, to draw parallels between fictional and real representations of Black girls and girlhood. Working within a Black feminist epistemological framework, I examine how Black girls, as represented in these works, engage in resistant critical thought, produce knowledge, and act as agents of change based on their life experiences. It is my intent, in examining Black girlhood within well-known texts, to begin the work of establishing a common thread not heretofore examined across African American women’s literature. After providing an overview addressing the image of the child in American culture and the figure of the girl within American literary studies, I pair Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye to investigate how the main characters in each text navigate and makes sense of their lives amidst the unbearable “weight of whiteness”. Next, I examine Walker’s The Color Purple and Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name to analyze Black girls’ corporeal knowledge and how they apply it to their lives. The pairing of these two texts offers a rich examination of how Black female bodies, despite often being the site of abuse, can serve as a place of intimate and important knowledge. Finally, I study hooks’ Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood and Sapphire’s Push to argue for the inclusion of Black girls in the Black female intellectual tradition.

Subject Area

African American Studies|Black studies|Womens studies|American literature

Recommended Citation

Lacey, Kathleen Naita, "Making Black Girlhood Visible in Late Twentieth-Century African American Women's Prose" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10682862.