Date of Award

8-10-2021

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Audrey Goodman

Second Advisor

Elizabeth West

Third Advisor

Tiffany King

Abstract

This dissertation examines fictional and visual texts by Native American and Black American women writers created from 1891 to 2008 that imagine the intersections of Native and Black experience in America. It considers these primary questions: how do Native-authored texts imagine Black experience/identity and intersectional experience? How do Black-authored texts imagine Native experience/identity and intersectional experience? How do these narratives consequently reimagine the settler colonial record and “speak back” to national American mythologies that triangulate Black, Native, and White identities for the purposes of state-building? To what extent do these fictional texts by women challenge, reimagine, and deconstruct this mythic triangulation as intersectional?

I argue that texts created by Sophia Alice Callahan (Muscogee Creek), Pauline Hopkins, Carrie Mae Weems, LeAnne Howe (Oklahoma Choctaw), Wendy RedStar (Crow), and Julie Dash serve to importantly make visible crucial intersectional omissions in the settler map that challenge the historico-racial schema of heteropatriarchal white European settler colonial discourse, creating possibilities for new epistemologies. The visual and written narratives considered here directly confront a state-serving triangulation of Red, Black, and White through an interrogation of multiple grounds: a nineteenth century discourse of racial purity that persists unrelentingly into the present, the methodologies of archival encounter and documentary practices that aim to cast Black and Native creators as ethnographic specimen, the limitations of the Euro-American novel form, and settler-colonial mappings of Black and Native geographies that seek to both enforce a narrative of racial purity and confine Black and Native communities to a space of liminality.

The artists and writers considered here imagine these grounds as defined by Black and Native agency and convergence, but not without a complexity that gestures towards the legacies of U.S-driven narratives of racial purity. To identify this complexity, I argue for a radical and intersectional reading practice centered on examining multiple texts (novels, art installations, archival documents, maps, and photographs) simultaneously and in conversation. This is a practice that aims to posit reading itself as an exercise in symbiosis: a tool capable of sensing, delineating, and recovering moments where languages, geographies, and histories converge. I argue that intersectional reading as methodology highlights the possibilities of decolonial exchange between literary studies, visual analysis, Black studies, and Indigenous studies. At the same time, it points towards the convergence of imaginary spaces and material social justice movements focused on Indigenous sovereignty and land rights, Black/Indigenous retention and celebration of cultural ways, and the collective assertion of dignity and autonomy.

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