Women Writers: Texts and Contexts

Showing 1-6 of 8 items.

"Sweat"

Written by Zora Neale Hurston

Rutgers University Press

Now frequently anthologized, Zora Neale Hurston's short story "Sweat" was first published in Firell, a legendary literary magazine of the Harlem Renaissance, whose sole issue appeared in November 1926. Among contributions by Gwendolyn Bennett, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and Wallace Thurman, "Sweat" stood out both for its artistic accomplishment and its exploration of rural Southern black life. In "Sweat" Hurston claimed the voice that animates her mature fiction, notably the 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God; the themes of marital conflict and the development of spiritual consciousness were introduced as well. "Sweat" exemplifies Hurston's lifelong concern with women's relation to language and the literary possibilities of black vernacular.

This casebook for the story includes an introduction by the editor, a chronology of the author's life, the authoritative text of "Sweat," and a second story, "The Gilded Six-Bits." Published in 1932, this second story was written after Hurston had spent years conducting fieldwork in the Southern United States. The volume also includes Hurston's groundbreaking 1934 essay, "Characteristics of Negro Expression," and excerpts from her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. An article by folklorist Roger Abrahams provides additional cultural contexts for the story, as do selected blues and spirituals. Critical commentary comes from Alice Walker, who led the recovery of Hurston's work in the 1970s, Robert Hemenway, Henry Louis Gates, Gayl Jones, John Lowe, Kathryn Seidel, and Mary Helen Washington.

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"Tell Me a Riddle"

Tillie Olsen

Rutgers University Press

“Tell Me a Riddle” renders an unforgettable portrait of a working class couple when the gender determined differences in their experiences of poverty and familial life give rise to bitter conflict after almost four decades of marriage.  As she dies from cancer, Eva, the protagonist, recollects a revolutionary past that both critiques and offers hope for the present.

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'Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?'

Joyce Carol Oates

Rutgers University Press

Joyce Carol Oates’s prize-winning story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” takes up troubling subjects that continue to occupy her in her fiction: the romantic longings and limited options of adolescent women; the tensions between mothers and daughters; the sexual victimization of women; and the American obsession with violence.  Inspired by a magazine story about a serial killer, its remarkable portrait of the dreamy teenager Connie has made it a feminist classic.  Connie’s life anticipates the emergence of American society from the social innocence of the fifties into the harsher contemporary realities of war, random violence, and crime. 

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Everyday Use

Alice Walker

Rutgers University Press

Alice Walker's early story "Everyday Use" has remained a cornerstone of her work. Her use of quilting as a metaphor for the creative legacy that African Americans inherited from their maternal ancestors changed the way we defined art, women's culture, and African American lives. By putting African American women's voices at the center of the narrative for the first time, "Everyday Use" anticipated the focus of an entire generation of black women writers.

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'Seventeen Syllables'

Hisaye Yamamoto

Edited by King-Kok Cheung
Rutgers University Press

Hisaye Yamamoto's often reprinted tale of a naive American daughter and her Japanese mother captures the essence the cultural and generational conflicts so common among immigrants and their American-born children. On the surface, "Seventeen Syllables" is the story of Rosie and her preoccupation with adolescent life. Between the lines, however, lurks the tragedy of her mother, who is trapped in a marriage of desperation. Tome's deep absorption in writing haiku causes a rift with her husband, which escalates to a tragic event that changes Rosie's life forever.

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'Yellow Woman'

Leslie Marmon Silko

Edited by Melody Graulich
Rutgers University Press

In the past twenty-five years many Native American writers have retold the traditional stories of powerful mythological women: Corn Woman, Changing Woman, Serpent Woman, and Thought Woman, who with her sisters created all life by thinking it into being.  Within and in response to these evolving traditions, Leslie Marmon Silko takes from her own tradition, the Keres of Laguna, the Yellow Woman.  Yellow Woman stories, always female-centered and always from the Yellow Woman's point of view, portray a figure who is adventurous, strong, and often alienated from her own people.  She is the spirit of woman.  Ambiguous and unsettling, Silko's "Yellow Woman" explores one woman's desires and changes--her need to open herself to a richer sensuality.  Walking away from her everyday identity as daughter, wife and mother, she takes possession of transgressive feelings and desires by recognizing them in the stories she has heard, by blurring the boundaries between herself and the Yellow Woman of myth. 

Silko's decision to tell the story from the narrator's point of view is traditional, but her use of first person narration and the story's much raised ambiguity brilliantly reinforce her themes.  Like traditional yellow women, the narrator is unnamed.  By choosing not to reveal her name, she claims the role of Yellow Woman, and Yellow Woman's story is the one Silko clearly claims as her own. The essays in this collection compare Silko's many retellings of Yellow Woman stories from a variety of angles, looking at crucial themes like storytelling, cultural inheritances, memory, continuity, identity, interconnectedness, ritual, and tradition.

This casebook includes an introduction by the editor, a chronology, an authoritative text of the story itself, critical essays, and a bibliography for further reading in both primary and secondary sources.  Contributors include Kim Barnes, A. LaVonne Ruoff, Paula Gunn Allen, Patricia Clark Smith, Bernard A. Hirsch, Arnold Krupat, Linda Danielson, and Patricia Jones.

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