Angela Ards

Assistant Professor of English, Southern Methodist University


2011-2012: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

The Ethics of Self-Fashioning in Contemporary Black Women's Autobiography

Project Description

The Ethics of Self-Fashioning in Contemporary Black Women's Autobiography

Situated at the intersections of African American literary and cultural studies, autobiography studies, and black feminist theory, The Ethics of Self-Fashioning examines how black women writers use their life stories to craft new ways of thinking and speaking about black identity, agency, and history. To sketch the evolving history of contemporary black subjectivity, the book is organized in three parts: “movement narratives,” autobiographies of those who came of age in the civil rights era but, in representing the past, push against received representations to reveal exigencies of the present; “hip hop narratives,” life stories that chronicle a subsequent generational shift in politics and poetics; and “immigrant narratives,” given that rates of immigration from Africa and its Diaspora rival those of the transatlantic slave trade, with implications for citizenship and cultural identity that are as transformative today as they were four hundred years ago. While invested in how autobiographers use rhetorical strategies and cultural idioms to create a persona, the project is less interested in how language characterizes the writer than how it illuminates the times, how narrative identities underwrite a political argument. However, rather than privileging any one politic, the manuscript strives for a “situated partiality,” an ethical stance that weighs a plurality of perspectives simultaneously. Too often political discourse succumbs to dogmatism or cynicism in a search for a seamless coherency. The Ethics of Self-Fashioning argues that autobiography, a form of storytelling that replicates human experience in all its challenging, inconvenient complexity, lends itself to crafting an ethic that breaks free from these dead-ends.

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