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Fellowship:Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow
Term in Residence:Academic Year 2011-2012
Title / Appointment:Assistant Professor of English
Location:Southern Methodist University
Address:104 Mount Auburn Street, 3R, Cambridge MA 02138
Angela Ards is an assistant professor of English at Southern Methodist University, where she specializes in African American literature and culture, 20th-century American literature, critical gender studies, and autobiography. For fifteen years Ards also has worked as a journalist reporting on the ways black communities are creating new vocabularies and strategies to address the political and moral dilemmas of the post-civil rights era.
At the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute, she will draw on this passion for storytelling and social justice to complete The Ethics of Self-Fashioning in Contemporary Black Women’s Autobiography. The project examines how writers use their life stories to craft new ways of thinking about black identity, agency, and history. In putting texts that engage era-defining debates in conversation with each other—from the limits of civil-rights discourse and the impact of immigration, to the rise and fall of hip hop—the manuscript simulates a deliberative space that invites readers to weigh a plurality of perspectives and, drawing from each, fashion a discourse that accounts for the emergent social ethics of post-civil rights black America.
Ards has a Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Her journalism, essays, and reviews, widely anthologized, have appeared in The Nation, The Village Voice, Essence, Ms., the Crisis, and the Los Angeles Times Book Review. Ards has also held residence at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Religion, Columbia University as a Charles H. Revson Fellow, and the Nation Institute as the inaugural Haywood Burns Fellow.
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.