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Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma - Confronting Race, Gender, and Violence in American Literature

Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma

Confronting Race, Gender, and Violence in American Literature

By Eden Wales Freedman
Hardcover : 9781496827333, 244 pages, 2 diagrams, February 2020
Paperback : 9781496827340, 244 pages, 2 diagrams, February 2020

An extraordinary engagement with trauma and its witness across American literature


Winner of the 2020 Eudora Welty Prize

Theorists emphasize the necessity of writing about—or witnessing—trauma in order to overcome it. To this critical conversation, Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma: Confronting Race, Gender, and Violence in American Literature treats reader response to traumatic and testimonial literature written by and about African American women and adds insight into the engagement of testimonial literature. Eden Wales Freedman articulates a theory of reading (or dual-witnessing) that explores how narrators and readers can witness trauma together. She places these original theories of traumatic reception in conversation with the African American literary tradition to speak to the histories, cultures, and traumas of African Americans, particularly the repercussions of slavery, as witnessed in African American literature. The volume also considers intersections of race and gender and how narrators and readers can cross such constructs to witness collectively.

Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma’s innovative examinations of raced-gendered intersections open and speak with those works that promote dual-witnessing through the fraught (literary) histories of race and gender relations in America. To explicate how dual-witnessing converses with American literature, race theory, and gender criticism, the book analyzes emancipatory narratives by Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs, and Elizabeth Keckley and novels by William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, Toni Morrison, and Jesmyn Ward.


"The strength of Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma lies in Freedman’s attention to how literature can speak to issues of social justice. Her work attends to the urgent struggles of our present moment while also reminding us that these difficulties are not new."

- Lisa Hinrichsen, Legacy

"Eden Wales Freedman provides a significant analysis of the complexities of witnessing traumatic experience on the part of narrators, characters, authors, and readers. She instructs readers on the many ways we can fail as witnesses and the resulting damage if survivors are not believed, and what we need to consider to be more effective at it."

- Keith Byerman, author of Remembering the Past in Contemporary African American Fiction

"Reading Testimony, Witnessing Trauma is a major contribution to both African American literary studies and trauma studies. Its engagement with reader response theory can reframe how readers view the effect of texts, especially ones that narrate individual or communal horrific events, and the focus on the experiences of black women gives this set of subjects attention that is much needed. Wales Freedman provides an original way of thinking about literature and focuses on a body of material in a new and creative way."

- Laurie Vickroy, author of Reading Trauma Narratives: The Contemporary Novel and the Psychology of Oppression