“The Job of the Writer is to Make Revolution Irresistible:” Critical Perspectives on Toni Cade Bambara

deadline for submissions: 
April 30, 2019
full name / name of organization: 
Khalilah Ali Clayton State University
contact email: 

Call For Papers: “The Job of the Writer is to Make Revolution Irresistible:” Critical Perspectives on Toni Cade Bambara
Khalilah Ali, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor English

Clayton State University

Dr. Khalilah Ali

Assistant Professor and Director of First-Year Writing

Department of English

Mailing Address:

2000 Clayton State Blvd., G110-E

Morrow, GA 30260

Office Address:

Arts and Sciences Bldg. 110-E





Khalilah Ali is an assistant professor at Clayton State University. She often serves as a clinical supervisor in the pre-service bachelor’s program in secondary English education and teaches composition in the First Year Writing Program. Her research interests include: Contemporary Black women writers, critical race feminism, teaching as performance and teacher identity. She continues to write and perform hip hop and poetry.


After writer Toni Cade Bambara’s (1995) death, her friend and esteemed author Toni Morrison (1996) called Bambara’s writing “absolutely critical to twentieth century literature” (p. 1). Initially recognized for her short fiction, such as the middle school textbook staple “Raymond’s Run,” Bambara was also a novelist, anthologist, essayist, and educator. Bambara’s seminal work, The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970) was the first about Black women by Black women. Before her anthology, mostly men or non-Black women were writing about Black women, and often in pathologizing ways (Bambara, 1970). The Black Woman also set the precedent for other Black female writers to be published with mainstream publishers (Bambara, 1970). Dubbing Bambara a “black feminist foremother,” Guy-Sheftall (2008) distinguished the impact of the anthology from that of Kate Millett’s (1970) Sexual Politics and Gerda Lerner’s (1972) documentary history Black Women in White America. Aligned with Wall (2008) who remarked that Bambara’s The Black Woman “signaled the emergence” (p. 21) of Black women writers, Guy-Sheftall (2008) argued that Bambara’s anthology marked the beginning of Black Women’s Studies and “was significant because of the value it attached to hearing the distinct voices of black women, arguing that our experiences were different from both black men and white women” (p. 74). Therefore, the convergence of the Black Radical and the Women’s movements, for African American women, could be traced to The Black Woman (Cleage, 2008; Guy-Sheftall, 2008; Holmes & Wall, 2008). The collection explored the impact of the Moynihan report and the ways in which it not only shaped policy but reflected and shaped populist ideas about Black women, whom, in many ways coopted those narratives of Black pathology themselves. Insofar as interrogating these dominant narratives of innate Black female pathology, Bambara examines the ways in which Black women can and do counter the hegemonic narrative through their work--cultural work.

Shortly after Bambara’s The Black Woman, Black women intellectuals and activists developed the Combahee River Statement that asserted that Black women must claim their voice in the Black liberation and women’s movements. Such exclusions were not new. Black women had not been heard or given prominent placement in the creative movements as well, despite their intellectual, political and physical labor to propel these movements. When finally accepted as scholarly contributors, Black women intellectuals should, according to men’s and white women’s view, only talk about “Black folk stuff” (Bambara, 1970). As a result, writing by Black women, which can possibly be applied cross culturally and cross disciplines, has been relegated to the culture-fetish academic margins and the nuanced and robust life of Black women has often been subverted beneath the cultural milieu of the larger Black struggle. As feminist scholars argue, such sidelining of the lived experience of Black women and girls, leads one to believe that all the men are Black and women white. This exclusion necessitated the development of Black feminist and/or Womanist theory and pedagogy that challenges the dominant androcentric rational order. Black feminist/Womanist pedagogy then “aims to develop a mindset of intellectual inclusion and expansion that stands in contradiction to the Western intellectual tradition of exclusivity and chauvinism” (Omolade, 1987, p. 32). Black feminists and womanist theorists present the Black woman as a thinking subject, rather than a pathologized object, who is also “wanting to know more and in greater depth . . . thus, interrogating the epistemological exclusions she [the Black woman] endures in intellectual life in general and feminist scholarship in particular” (Walker, 1983, p. 86). However, less research has unearthed the role of Black women, specifically, as individual agents and co-constructors of Black independent thought, action, aesthetics, and pedagogy. Black feminist art has challenged the multiple forms of racialized and gendered oppression in both academia and within the Black Arts and Black Power Movements through ethnographic explorations of Black feminist/Womanist and lesbian identity for some time (Ater, 2007; Bambara, 1980; Clarke, 2005; Collins, 2006; Dubey, 1994; Farrington, 2005; Smith, 1983/2000; Walker, 1983). Scholars have extended the research that acknowledges Black women as artist-intellectuals and sought to illumine how Black women have functioned as co-constructors of African-American education through their work, art, and activism. For some of the movements’ adherents, women represented a painful past of racialized conventions that threatened to undo the warrior charge of Gayle’s (1971) aptly dubbed “Black Aesthetic.”

Black women have made vital contributions, but are often underrepresented in the “literary landscapes of either the black or the white west” (Clarke, 2005, p. 1). There are a few criticisms of Bambara’s writings, essays, interviews and a biography, (Alwes, 1996; Barrett, 1998; Bone, 2003; Butler-Evans, 1989; Collins, 1996; Franko, 2001; Griffin, 2002; Hull, 2000; Lewis, 2017; Morton, 1999; Muther, 2002; Perkins, 2000; Taylor, 2000; Wall, 2005), yet a definitive collection of criticism will extend this scholarship. Because Bambara was an esteemed artist-intellectual, producing and editing an impressive body of work including short stories, novels, essays, documentaries, and anthologies, “much more must be done to honor her magnificences” (Holmes, 2008, p. 8). Therefore, the collection is one of few readers, if not only one, to include criticisms of both novels, and will serve to honor her “magnificences.” Specifically, the collection will provide critical analyses of her work including selections from the collection Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions, as well as analyses of her novels Salt Eaters, and These Bones Are Not My Children and the anthology The Black Woman. The collection will be a compilation of these analyses and will include new scholarship and fresh insights into her writing. In a so-called post-Black literary landscape, couched within a social and political moment when Black women and girls are asserting their humanness, despite the best efforts of a structure that seeks to subvert them, a reexamination of Bambara’s work and the work of women like her is necessary.



Submitters should email an abstract to khalilahali@clayton.edu and include an academic email address (.edu email address if possible) the submitter’s full name and institution, as well as a short bio of the submitter by April 30, 2019.