Female Absence and the Expression of Black Masculinity in African-American Literature (April 7-11, 2010;due 9/30/09)

full name / name of organization: 
41st Anniversary Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA);Montreal, Quebec - Hilton Bonaventure
contact email: 

Expressions of black masculinity in African American literature have evolved significantly over the centuries. For instance, nineteenth-century male-authored slave narratives, such as Frederick Douglass's 1845 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, champions not only physiological strength against one's oppressor as a marker of black male subjectivity, but also the attainment of education that would inevitably clear the path to independence, political leadership, and American citizenry. Twentieth-century African American authors have expanded our considerations of black masculine agency. In Native Son, Richard Wright explores black masculinity in its performative and sexual contexts. Wright's Bigger Thomas gains a sense of agency, in part, when he accidentally murders a white woman and deliberately rapes and murders his girlfriend. Bigger's actions affirm bell hooks' assertion in Reconstructing Black Masculinity: "With the emergence of a fierce phallocentricism a man was no longer a man because he provided for his family; he was a man simply because he had a penis…his ability to use that… in the arena of sexual conquest could bring him as much status as being a wage earner and provider. A sexually defined masculine ideal rooted in physical domination and sexual possession of women could be accessible to all men." This ideal essentially established the foundation of a heteronormative masculine order.

Arguably, examinations of traditional male gender roles—provider, political leader, and sexual conqueror – have consistently marginalized the considerable influence that women have had on expressions of masculinity. Thus, this panel seeks to draw attention to the striking absence of the female subject in such masculinized discourses. In doing so, this panel will examine female absence as a trope, which throughout the African American literary tradition, problematizes the complex constructions and performances of masculinity. Papers will essentially explore the various ways in which female absence (whether through death, abandonment, marginalization, or travel) challenges monolithic characterizations of black masculinity, phallocentricism, and heteronormative masculinity in general. Papers which employ African-centered theoretical frames are highly encouraged. Please send a 250-500 word abstract to Lynn R. Johnson (johnsoly@dickinson.edu) by September 30, 2009. Also include your name, academic affiliation, a brief biography, and contact information.

Travel to Canada now requires a passport for U.S. citizens. Please get your passport application in early.