Claiming the Heritage
African-American Women Novelists and History
A compelling study of how the search for black family identity ignited a rich and complex tradition in the African-American novel
Nearly all black female novelists of twentieth-century America have found the essential substance of their art in one source---the history of black women in America.
With great range and in many voices their works convey a search for identity in the modern world. Their novels have been shaped as women, cut off psychically and physically from family and community, finding this identity through the perspectives of historical experience.
In Claiming the Heritage, Missy Dehn Kubitschek writes the first full-length book on the subject of black women novelists and the heritage they discovered in the shaping of their art. From the examples of works by such acclaimed authors as Toni Morrison, Sherley Anne Williams, Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, Jessie Fauset, Gayl Jones, and Octavia Butler, she represents the communal black experience from 1600 to the present as a great call to which these novelists have responded.
Her book demonstrates that coming to terms with history of slavery and oppression is the fundamental necessity for the construction of a tenable black female identity.
The concern with history characterizes not only contemporary fiction such as Sherely Anne Williams's slave narrative Dessa Rose and Toni Morrison's Beloved but also earlier novels such as Nella Larsen's Quicksand and Zora Neal Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. It is a unifying theme which defines the tradition of the African-American woman's novel. This tradition consistently reasserts the necessity of knowing both intellectually and emotionally the history of blacks in America in order for one to become a fully black woman.
This book is not about conformity but about a continuing theme of great range. The author likens the subject of this study to a jazz chorale of black women improvising individually on the theme of black history and female identity.
Building on the insights of Mary Helen Washington, Barbara Christian, and Hazel Carby, Kubitschek's careful readings of twentieth-century literature by African-American women synthesizes feminist and Afro-centric perspectives.