"Custodians of history": (re)construction of black women as historical and literary subjects in Afro-American and Afro-Cuban women's writing

Access full-text files




Sanmartín, Paula

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Set within a feminist and revisionist context, my dissertation examines literary representations of the historic roots of black women’s resistance in Cuba and the United States, by studying texts by both Afro-American and Afro-Cuban women from four different literary genres: Harriet Jacobs’s autobiographical slave narrative, a neo-slave narrative by Sherley Ann Williams, the testimonio of María de los Reyes Castillo (“Reyita”), and the poetry of Nancy Morejón and Georgina Herrera. Conscious of the differences between the texts, I nevertheless demonstrate how the writers participate in black women’s self-inscription in the historical process by positioning themselves as subjects of their history and seizing discursive control of their (hi)stories. Although the texts form part of separate discourses, I explore the commonalities of the rhetorical devices and narrative strategies employed by the authors as they disassemble racist and sexist stereotypes, (re)constructing black female subjectivity through an image of active resistance against oppression, one that authorizes unconventional definitions of womanhood and motherhood. My project argues that in their revisions of national history, these writings also demonstrate the pervasive role of racial and gender categories in the creation of a discourse of national identity, while promoting a historiography constructed within flexible borders that need to be constantly negotiated. Putting these texts in dialogue with one another both within and across geopolitical boundaries, my project is characterized by a tension between positions, from close textual readings to historical commentaries, as I develop multilayered readings drawing on sources that range from cultural history and genre studies to psychoanalytical theory and black feminist criticism. The authors’ literary representations of their culture of resistance constitute an essential contribution to literary and historical studies, suggesting a dialectic model for “reading dialogically” such concepts as “subjectivity,” “discourse,” “tradition,” and “history,” by simultaneously exploring multiple, contradictory, or complementary discursive spaces. This dialectic of identification and difference, continuity and change, serves to describe the intertextual relationships within Afro-American and Afro-Cuban literary traditions. Simultaneously, drawing on dialogic relationships can open up new lines of enquiry and redress the historical imbalance of Western historiography by presenting black women’s history and subjectivity as multiple and discontinuous.