UPDATE: Negotiating Belongings and Longing to Belong in African American Women's Writings, SSAWW 2012

full name / name of organization: 
Miranda Green-Barteet, Society for the Study of American Women Writers
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UPDATE: Negotiating Belongings and Longing to Belong: in African American Women's Writings of the 19th & 20th Centuries

In her 1861 slave narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs juxtaposes her experience of being a formerly enslaved woman living and working in the Northeast United States against the time she spent in Britain, where she was working for an American family. Jacobs writes that, in the Northeast, she is constantly reminded that her position as an African American woman makes her a second-class citizen in the eyes of most white Americans. From her struggle to find employment, to being forced to ride in segregated railway cars, to her interactions with people in the streets, Jacobs tells her readers that she was constantly subject to racism, something she had naively thought she would escape when she fled the South. In contrast, during her ten months abroad, she reveals that she knows, "for the first time . . . pure, unadulterated freedom." She further tells her readers that "I never saw the slightest symptom of prejudice against color. Indeed, I entirely forgot it, till the time came for [me] to return to America." With this statement, Jacobs implicitly argues that she felt more accepted and, indeed, more welcomed abroad than in the country of her birth. In Britain, perhaps for the first time since realizing she was enslaved, Jacobs experienced a sense of belonging, while she consistently struggled to feel as though she belonged in the United States.

In keeping with the theme of the 2012 SSAWW conference, this proposed panel seeks papers that explore the theme of belonging in works by 19th- and 20th-century African American women writers. By focusing on this time period, we hope to consider how African American women writers came to both see themselves as Americans while struggling to be seen as American citizens by the larger, predominantly white American population. The panel is equally interested in papers that consider belonging in a broad sense—as Elizabeth Keckley seems to consider how she, as an African American woman working in Washington, D.C. before, during, and after the Civil War, belongs to American society—as well as papers that consider belonging in a more intimate sense—as Jarena Lee seemingly does when she examines the ways an African American woman can belong to God in a culture that justified slavery through religion. Works of fiction and non-fiction will be considered. Possible topics may include but are not limited to:
•Marital/familial relationships, i.e., belonging to a family, a spouse, or a parent;
•Independence/individuality/subjectivity, i.e., how can one become a subject when she legally belongs to someone else?;
•National belonging/citizenship;
•Religious belonging;
•Communal relationships, i.e., belonging to a community; and
•Space and place, i.e., can one belong if she doesn't have a space of her own?

Please send abstracts of 300 words along with a brief C.V. by Jan. 25, 2012 to Miranda Green-Barteet (mgreenb6@uwo.ca).

The Society for the Study of American Women Writers Trienniall Conference of 2012 will take place October 10-13, 2012 in Denver, Colorado.