African dance as cultural memory in African American women's writing
Dismukes, Ondra K.
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This project analyzes the role of African dance as it functions as a site of cultural memory in African American women’s literature by Nella Larsen, Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, and Toni Morrison. Although a tremendous amount of scholarship exists on the African American women writers who comprise this study, my dissertation is the first to examine their creation of scenes of African dance as a site of cultural memory. I seek to answer the following questions: 1) How does dance function as a site of cultural memory, what the French historian Pierre Nora refers to as “those persons, places and/or things in whom memory is crystallized”? 2) How do African American writers use scenes of African dance to consolidate knowledge? 3) How does African American women writers’ use of African dance as affect the body of African American literature? 4) How does African American women writers’ uses of dance differ from that of African American male writers? and 5) How does the construction of dance as a part of the African American vernacular tradition remap the cultural landscape of American literature? I assert that African American women, unlike their African American male or white female counterparts, share what Kimberle' Crenshaw calls intersectionality – being at least doubly marginalized by virtue of their status both as African American and as woman (209). As such, their bodies are at least twice marked as “Other,” and they must locate, as Virginia Woolf states, “a room of [their] own” (4) in order to weave their narratives into the traditionally white, male-dominated American literary canon. I offer representations of African dance as the space or room, if you will, in which African American women writers assert their voices. By recreating these sites, they claim a certain place of power in locales, such as “traditional” dances of West Africa, many of which employ dance as a means of communal bonding; they demonstrate the continuity of African cultural practices across the transatlantic slave trade into the New World; and they assert their own voices within the traditionally hegemonic American literary canon.