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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Afro-American Studies

Year Degree Awarded

2017

Month Degree Awarded

May

First Advisor

James E. Smethurst

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Comparative Literature | Cultural History | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Intellectual History | Latin American History | Latin American Languages and Societies | Latin American Literature | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority | Poetry | United States History | Women's History

Abstract

This dissertation examines literary representations of the black female body in selected poetry by U.S. African American writer Audre Lorde and Afro-Brazilian writer Miriam Alves, focusing on how their literary projects construct and defy notions of black womanhood and black female sexualities in dialogue with national narratives and contexts. Within an historical, intersectional and transnational theoretical framework, this study analyses how the racial, gender and sexual politics of representation are articulated and negotiated within and outside the political and literary movements in the U.S. and Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s. As a theoretical framework, this research elaborates and uses the concept of “poli(poe)tics of embodiment”: a multi-layered artistic endeavor interwoven with the body politics Afro-diasporic women artists articulate and negotiate vis-à-vis the cultural, historical, and political communities in which they exist. A significant contribution of this study to the field of Afro-diasporic literary studies is, therefore, to historicize black women’s writings, examining their politics/poetics as interlaced threads of their literary production, as well as the writers’ trajectories as artists, intellectuals, and activists. In addition, this research aims at unraveling the socio-historical implications of Lorde’s and Alves’ literary representations in re-configuring essentialist, nationalist, and heteronormative perceptions of the black female body. The close reading of their poetry – supported by a discussion of their theoretical work, archival research, and interviews – pays attention to three dimensions of these artists’ poetic (re)constructions of the black female body: first, the black female “self” in re-imagined configurations against histories of fragmentation and violation; second, alternative iconographies of the black female sexuality against discourses of sexual/racial manipulation; and finally, the black female body as historical agent moving against narratives of objectification. This analysis suggests that Lorde’s and Alves’ writings promote multiple and polyphonic representations of the black female body within a historical continuum of black women artistic production across the diasporic space in the Americas.

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