[UPDATE] Contributors: Black Women's Writing as Spiritual and Ritual Experiment (essay collection) 4/4/11 (abstracts); 6/13/11

full name / name of organization: 
Brenda Smith
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The editors of a collection of essays tentatively titled _Working the Book: Black Women's Writing as Spiritual and Ritual Experiment_ have extended the deadline for contributors to submit abstracts for essays exploring and analyzing the use and nature of imagery, symbolism, and cognitive and/or cosmic structures derived from African diasporic religions (e.g., Vodoun, Hoodoo, Santeria, Yoruba, and Candomblé) in the literature of black women writers.

In the imaginative construction of subjectivity for their respective female protagonists (as authentic, self-actualized, and autonomous, in and out of love and/or marriage), broader communities, and fictional and otherwise figurative worlds, black women writers have been challenged with socio-cultural limitations and constraints that can proscribe representation. In search of a 'usable' cultural past that will facilitate such representation of the new world black experience, especially the quest for authentic selfhood, many writers have discovered that the symbols, rituals and language associated with African-rooted religions can open up spaces in their respective narratives within which to create more actualized protagonists. Employing African diasporic religions as intertext, these writers have at hand a system of beliefs and practices replete with powerful black female deities, leaders and adherents. Indeed, as religions which reflect the experiences and aspirations of their followers, these sacred cosmologies often prove effective vehicles through which black women writers can more appropriately represent their protagonists' historical and cultural experiences with transgressive narrative strategies. Further, such writers may revise representations of whole communities, ritual practices, reader/author rhetorical relations, and more by calling on African-rooted traditions to enrich their literary experiments in English.

However, along with this rich cultural legacy, black women writers also inherit the stereotypes and biases of a Western culture that labels these religions 'primitive magic,' 'witchcraft,' and 'sophisticated con games.' Consequently, a significant aspect of appropriating these religious elements becomes experimenting with narrative strategies that will allow these elements to be integrated in ways that challenge, subvert, and/or transcend the prevailing stereotypes and that legitimate what the writers believe to be relevant and viable spiritual paths.

The essays accepted for inclusion in this collection will explore ways in which African American women writers appropriate and employ imagery, symbolism, rituals and language specific to African-rooted religions as a corrective to what the writers perceive as Western spiritual and cultural obsolescence in order to offer alternate and more empowering paths to representation of identity, community, and cosmos. The essays will also explore innovative and transgressive narrative strategies used by the writers to integrate these elements without compromising or jeopardizing the legitimacy and credibility of the particular narrative and their respective protagonists. Some questions that will be important to the essays in the collection are as follows:

• In what ways do the writers' literary/spiritual 'experiments' inform and influence the construction of subjectivity in the writers' respective works?
• Are there common imagery, symbolism, rituals and/or language that connect the narratives? What are the appeal and the benefits to the writers of employing these particular elements?
• What strategies are employed by the writers to integrate these cultural and spiritual elements and to legitimate them within the Western literary tradition?

Please send an abstract—no more than two pages—to Brenda Smith (bsmith30@kent.edu) on or before April 4, 2011. Along with your abstract, please send a brief biographical statement and your contact information (email address, postal address and phone number).

Completed Papers: June 13, 2011

Each manuscript must be accompanied by a statement that it has not been published elsewhere and that it has not been submitted simultaneously for publication elsewhere. All manuscripts must be formatted according to MLA guidelines. Essays should be between 15-25 pages in length.