• Trudier Harris


Obviously this little scenario did not come from any African American fictional text currently in existence. Its probable appearance is not farfetched, however, when we consider the path on which twentieth-century depictions of African American female character traveled. When I concocted this scenario to introduce my presentation at the “Body Politics” conference hosted by Karla F. C. Holloway at Duke University in November 1996, I had not yet seen anything comparable to what I playfully described. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when three years later I read Paula Woods’s Inner City Blues (1999) and discovered that her protagonist twice makes references to realigning planets as descriptive of the superhuman feats black women routinely perform. The black female detective Charlotte Justice, in introducing herself to her audience and situating herself within a family context, comments: “My youngest sister, Rhodesia, the psychology student, keeps telling me I suffer from the Supersister Syndrome, while my Grandmama Cile says I’m just like every other black woman she knows—trying to keep the solar system in order by juggling the planets herself.”1 A few pages later, in referring to the man we later learn killed her husband and young daughter, Charlotte exclaims: “Getting on with my life meant I rarely discussed Cinque Lewis with anyone or acknowledged the void he’d caused in my life.


Black Woman Female Character Body Politics Probable Appearance Domestic Space 
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  1. 1.
    Paula Woods, Inner City Blues (New York: Norton, 1999), p. 38. Subsequent references to this source appear in parentheses in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Richard Brodhead, ed., The Journals of Charles W. Chesnutt (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), p. 140.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Don L. Lee, “From a Black Perspective,” in Don’t Cry, Scream (Detroit: Broadside Press, 1969), p. 34.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Shay Youngblood, The Big Mama Stories (Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1989). The two elderly women who care for the child in Soul Kiss (1996), Youngblood’s first novel, also exhibit some of these traditional traits.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Michelle Parkerson, “Odds and Ends (A New Amazon Fable),” in Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing, ed. Catherine E. McKinley and L. Joyce DeLaney (New York: Doubleday, 1995), pp. 89–95. Several things are going on in this story, including parodic social, historical, and linguistic references. For example, the men who kill her refer to Sephra as “jemimma” in part because of what they perceive as her audacity in making weapons and in part because of her lesbianism. The fact that Parkerson couches her fable to center upon suprahuman black female characters—with a sexual dimension comparable to Lauren Olamina’s—is nonetheless the important point.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ideal also suffers the mental abuse of Jimson, her lover, who, during one long tirade about black women being “holdovers” from slavery in their “mammy-made” tradition of domination, includes this accusation: “Although you are educated, intelligent, some of you black bitches cannot overcome the stamp of matriarchy.” See Polite, The Flagellants (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987), p. 180.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Jean Wheeler Smith, “Frankie Mae,” in Black-Eyed Susans: Classic Stories by and about Black Women, ed. Mary Helen Washington (New York: Anchor, 1975), pp. 3–18.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Adrienne Kennedy, Funny house of a Negro, in Contemporary Black Drama, ed. Clinton F. Oliver and Stephanie Sills (New York: Scribner’s, 1971), pp. 187–205.Google Scholar

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© Trudier Harris 2001

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  • Trudier Harris

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