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Writing From A Profound Edge: The Construction Of (Radical) Black Western Identities, 1856-1997

Holt, Sarah (2021) Writing From A Profound Edge: The Construction Of (Radical) Black Western Identities, 1856-1997. Doctoral thesis, Staffordshire University.

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Abstract or description

This study examines African American Western narratives by James P. Beckwourth, Nat Love, Oscar Micheaux, Robert Greer, Walter Mosley, Toni Morrison, and Octavia E. Butler. Spanning 1856-1997, I locate their texts within what bell hooks would describe as the ‘profound edge’ of Western historical, literary, cultural and mythic discourses. I identify a shared concern of creating literary spaces in which these writers can insert blackness into the white spaces and discourses of the West. I employ an intersecting conceptual and structural framework of the Frontier Myth, the Western literary form, and the racial project to critically interrogate the extent to which a textual engagement with the historic and contemporary formulations of Frontier and the conventions and structure of the Western form complicate and problematise literary representations of alternative and potentially radical black identities.

In critically examining the relationships between these concepts and the consequences for identity construction, I demonstrate that those texts which are unable to resist the gravitational pull of the Western form struggle to realise self-determining and self-defined black Western identities. My conceptual approach utilises Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s notion of the racial project to convey the racial, literary and gendered motivations of the narratives to show a range of racial projects from the conventional to the radical; bell hooks’ ‘spaces of radical openness’ to explore the limits and possibilities that being located on a profound edge has for identity construction; and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s theory of Signifyin(g) which informs an analysis of the critical tensions and complexities of these literary representations.

I argue that the Western form itself is a series of contesting cultural, racial, literary and gendered frontiers or contact zones, and that the porosity of the form enables a transformation of the black Western. Importantly therefore, my argument repositions these African American Western texts as agents in the evolution of the black literary Western.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty: School of Digital, Technologies and Arts > English, Creative Writing and Philosophy
Depositing User: Library STORE team
Date Deposited: 31 May 2022 15:04
Last Modified: 31 May 2022 15:04

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