Weaving wisps of narrative: Intersections in African American and Native American literary traditions from 1965--2000

LaRose Davis
Dept. of English, Emory University
July, 2006


This dissertation argues that there are notable intersections between African American and Native American literary traditions. These intersections are part of a mutually constitutive dialogue that represents a deliberate venture on the part of African American and Native American authors to invoke a long buried understanding of the cultural exchange that created and continues to fashion both the American literary tradition and American identity.

The dissertation begins with an exploration of moments of intertextuality between African American and Native American literary traditions, both in the literature and---where applicable---in the criticism in order to theorize these intersections as creating an alternative historical record to the one articulated in Eurocentric histories. One of the primary pairs of texts that I examine in Chapter One is Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux (1932), a collaborative text dictated by Black Elk to John G. Neihardt, and Meridian (1976) by Alice Walker.

"Real Africans, Real Natives: Whoever They Might Be: Refiguring the 'Mixed Race' Concept," argues that the mixed race concept must be redefined. Though the notion of race as biological is a difficult construct to escape, a more complicated understanding of race, one that is more reflective of the ways that race is constructed in the literature, is necessary. The second part of my argument in this chapter is that redefining "mixed race" broadens the canon of "mixed race literature" and allows for more holistic understandings of mixed race identities and experiences. Specifically, I contemplate Pauline Hopkins' Winona (1902) as a text that would become a part of the mixed race canon within the new parameters.

Chapter Three suggests ways that emancipation and sovereignty, the two central paradigms for reading African American and Native American literature respectively, are not disparate discourses---as most critical models construct them---but related to and, indeed, reliant upon each other. Linking both emancipation and sovereignty to voice, I demonstrate that linguistic emancipation and linguistic sovereign, rather than being entirely disparate goals with divergent paths, are different points on the same journey. Paradise, by Toni Morrison, and Solar Storms, by Linda Hogan, are the primary focus of this chapter.

To conclude, "This Isn't My Guitar...but I Am Going to Change the World With It:" Restructuring the Discourse on American Literary Production', demonstrates that comparative readings of the literatures of these perpetually marginalized groups can motivate American scholars to reevaluate existing narratives about American literary history and American literary production.