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Literary Kinship: An Examination of Black Women's Networks of Literary Activity, Community, and Activism as Practices of Restoration and Healing in the 20th and 21st Centuries

posted on 2024-04-28, 21:25 authored by Veronica Lynette Co AhmedVeronica Lynette Co Ahmed

This dissertation is a Black feminist qualitative inquiry of the interconnections between Black women, literary activity, community, activism, and restoration and healing. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Black Women’s Literary Renaissance and the Black feminist movement converged to create one of the richest periods in Black women’s history. Black women came together in community, through the text, and through various literary spaces–often despite or even because of their differences–to build an archive that articulates a multivocal Black women’s standpoint which many believed to be monotonously singular. During this period, for example, Black women writer-activists wrote more novels, plays, and poetry in these two decades than in any period prior while also establishing new literary traditions. These traditions included the recovery of previously published yet out of print Black women writers, the development of the Black Women Anthology era, the creation of Black women writer-activist collectives, the founding of bookstores, as well as the development of Black Women’s Studies and Black feminist literary criticism in the academy. In the dissertation, these traditions are intrinsically tied to the articulation and definition of the theoretical concept of literary kinship. Conceptually, relationally, and materially literary kinship is the connection generated by the intergenerational literary activity between Black women and girls. In the dissertation, I use literary activity in slightly different ways including to denote community-engaged oral practices, publication, relationships defined around literary sites, and the practice of reading. Literary kinship provides access to community based on and derived from a connection to the literary that is often marked by intergenerational activity. I argue that Black women writer-activists during the period of the BWLR articulate and define literary kinship as a practice of communal restoration and healing for individuals and the collective.

Literary kinship is explored in four interrelated, yet distinct ways in the dissertation. In chapter two, literary kinship is located in and operationalized through Black women’s literary kinship “networks” founded during the Black Women’s Literary Renaissance. In chapter three, the focus is on the Black Women’s Anthology era that begins in 1970 and becomes a pipeline for the development of the interdisciplinary field of Black Women’s Studies in the 1980s. The fourth and fifth chapters shift the impact of the Black Women’s Literary Renaissance to the 21st century and examines how literary kinship is rearticulated or re-visioned a generation later. The fourth chapter, in this vein, uses autoethnography and literary analysis to illuminate the interconnections between Black girlhood, geography, and my concept of literary kinship. The chapter explores my experience of literary kinship at the kitchen table, in public libraries, and in secondary and higher education as transformative opportunities that fostered my love for reading, engaging in literary community, and developing reading as a restorative and healing practice. In the final chapter, the rapid reemergence of Black women booksellers and their bookstores in the last five years (2018-2023) become integral to a contemporary rearticulation of literary kinship.

The Black Women’s Literary Renaissance is a significant period of literary output by Black women writer-activists that has had intergenerational impact in the lives of Black women. During the Renaissance, Black women writer-activists were catalysts for critical and necessary literary interventions, strategies, and methods that supported their sociopolitical activism, the development of a rich Black feminist and literary archive, and that manifested community functional practices of restoration and healing. Black women’s articulation, definition, and utilization of literary kinship in the 20th and 21st centuries has supported their literary labors as activists, as intellectuals, and as community members, and is therefore a practice of community restoration and healing.


Chester E. Eisinger Research Award


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • American Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Marlo D. David

Additional Committee Member 2

Kim T. Gallon

Additional Committee Member 3

Candice N. Hargons

Additional Committee Member 4

Cornelius L. Bynum