Thursday, March 22, 2012

My literary Quest to Find Me

Who am I as a black woman? Wow, this is a question that I could and may ponder for the remained of my life and still not be able to answer with certainty. I believe that defining who I am or want to be as a “woman” is fairly easy in today’s world. As a woman, I am smart, independent, nurturing, and assertive—and not intimidated by definitions of who society thinks I should be to hide any of these qualities. Ok, so I am confident with that. But now, here comes the challenge. Who am I as a black woman? While most people would not consider this to be much different than the question of a woman—it really is. Compared to other women, I can see my physical differences. I have dark skin, coarse hair, thick hips and thighs—but besides that who am I intellectually, socially, and soulfully.

Something I have always adored about literature is that it gives us the opportunity beginning at a young age to build our own character based on the heroines we read about, while empathizing with the tragic experiences that most closely relate to our own. At the age of 27, I have begun making my final transitions into adulthood. I spend a lot of time reflecting on characters from past novels that I have read, and relating their experiences to my own. A novel that really helped to kick start my journey of self-discovery is, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. If you have read it, you are aware it is not an uplifting tale of triumph in the face of adversity. The Bluest Eye was written in 1970, and was Toni Morrison’s first novel. The story is about a year in the life of a young black girl, named Pecola, in Lorain, Ohio, set in the Midwest as well as in the years following the Great Depression. Pecola Breedlove prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in. Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. The book addresses powerful issues about race, class, and gender.

When I finished reading this book, I gazed in the mirror for a long time. Reflecting back I thought of instances where I had manipulated my features to conform to what beauty I believed it was suppose to be. I recall relaxers burning my scalp, wearing long sleeve shirts in the summer to beat the suns tanning rays, and even scheming as to how I could buy color contacts when they first came out. This conundrum of thoughts made me feel ashamed. Ashamed that I was so blinded by what I perceived as beauty to not recognize that it was staring right at me in the mirror. Comedian Chris Rock said that the one thing he learned from creating his documentary, Good Hair, is that women want so badly to be beautiful. I would be a liar if I said that he was not 100% correct. But as a black woman, my ideals and standards of beauty must run further than the color of my eyes or texture of my hair. My beauty must be about embracing and celebrating my Afro centricity intellectually, socially, and soulfully.

~Jaiden Williams
African American Center Intern-
Library School Student
{The African American Center would like to know what literary works has helped you define your identity or has moved you to remember it's message long after the book was done and closed? Leave a comment and share your literary journey with others.}


African American women have for hundreds of years shouldered the brunt of being a double minority, having to overcome the prejudice against both their sex and their race. That they have attained the level of achievement that they have today is both a wonder and a miracle.

Black women writers have been the authors of some of the earliest African American writings. Phillis Wheatley was the first published African American woman poet having published her book Poems on Various Subjects in 1773. Lucy Terry is the author of the oldest known piece of African-American literature: "Bars Fight". Although the poem was initially written in 1746, it was not published until 1855. Writers such as Angela Weld Grimke, Zora Neal Hurston and Nella Larsen all of the Harlem Renaissance followed the tradition of strong African American women writers, leading the way for the Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Octavia Butler, Toni Cade Bambara, Mari Evans and others that came after.

Below find a list of women authors that carry on the tradition of African American letters-

Angelou, Maya

Bambara, Toni Cade

Brand, Dionne

Parker, Pat,

Lorde, Audre

Davis, Angela

Walker, Alice

Morrison, Toni

Naylor, Gloria

Guy, Rosa

McMillan, Terry

Golden, Marita

Dungy, Camille

Rankine, Claudia

Foster, Sharon Ewell

Berry, Deidre

Wesley, Valerie Wilson

Ray, Francis

McClain-Watson, Teresa

Cleage, Pearl