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Ugly Step Sisters: Black Popular Fiction on the Margins of African American Literary History

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Abstract:

This paper examines how black female protagonists in black popular fiction negotiate heterosexual love and social mobility. As the field of popular culture grows and the idea of the canon is continually contested, it is surprising that very few scholars give attention to popular fiction writers like Terry McMillan or Diane McKinney-Whetstone. To intervene in this omission, I will undertake an analysis that attends to how these writers play with and disrupt the “Cinderella trope” and the quest for marriage in their texts. In so doing, I reveal how narratives about family formation exists as an important crossroad where black female protagonists must negotiate and prioritize class mobility on the one hand, and a desire for intra racial black love on the other hand. I argue that black popular fiction novels construct black female subjectivity through a politics of the family that is responsive to US social and political phenomena. Often times, the suspense in these works is bound in how the novel’s denouement leads to, or prevents, the development of the “black family.”

This paper is ideally suited for a conference theme on the integration of theory and practice, as I illustrate how these turning points or crossroads in popular fiction where love, social class, and mobility are negotiated presents itself as an important, albeit overlooked response to twentieth century American sociopolitical topography. A critical part of this study is to uncover the relationship between recurrent narrative themes and the Ronald Reagan Era maxims of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, especially the narrative of a return to “family values.” The rhetoric of family values and the national policies associated with it become valuable for understanding how the structure and themes of these novels respond to conservative ideas about family formation. I employ an interdisciplinary methodology that will bring forth the muted dialogue between these texts and the black popular mediums of film and television; I also employ a transnational, theoretical arc by taking interpretive cues from black British cultural studies. This interpretive lens helps to elucidate that at the heart of many of these tales lay a kind of thematic push to understand the complex dynamics of black heterosexual relationships.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244268_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Henderson, Aneeka. "Ugly Step Sisters: Black Popular Fiction on the Margins of African American Literary History" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244268_index.html>

APA Citation:

Henderson, A. "Ugly Step Sisters: Black Popular Fiction on the Margins of African American Literary History" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244268_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: This paper examines how black female protagonists in black popular fiction negotiate heterosexual love and social mobility. As the field of popular culture grows and the idea of the canon is continually contested, it is surprising that very few scholars give attention to popular fiction writers like Terry McMillan or Diane McKinney-Whetstone. To intervene in this omission, I will undertake an analysis that attends to how these writers play with and disrupt the “Cinderella trope” and the quest for marriage in their texts. In so doing, I reveal how narratives about family formation exists as an important crossroad where black female protagonists must negotiate and prioritize class mobility on the one hand, and a desire for intra racial black love on the other hand. I argue that black popular fiction novels construct black female subjectivity through a politics of the family that is responsive to US social and political phenomena. Often times, the suspense in these works is bound in how the novel’s denouement leads to, or prevents, the development of the “black family.”

This paper is ideally suited for a conference theme on the integration of theory and practice, as I illustrate how these turning points or crossroads in popular fiction where love, social class, and mobility are negotiated presents itself as an important, albeit overlooked response to twentieth century American sociopolitical topography. A critical part of this study is to uncover the relationship between recurrent narrative themes and the Ronald Reagan Era maxims of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, especially the narrative of a return to “family values.” The rhetoric of family values and the national policies associated with it become valuable for understanding how the structure and themes of these novels respond to conservative ideas about family formation. I employ an interdisciplinary methodology that will bring forth the muted dialogue between these texts and the black popular mediums of film and television; I also employ a transnational, theoretical arc by taking interpretive cues from black British cultural studies. This interpretive lens helps to elucidate that at the heart of many of these tales lay a kind of thematic push to understand the complex dynamics of black heterosexual relationships.


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