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African-American Literature: Lesbian  
page: 1  2  3  4  

The Lesbian as Feminist

Although "lesbian" and "feminist" are not interchangeable terms, a number of self-identified black lesbian writers have closely associated their lesbianism with their feminism. This association is transformational, for by drawing on their experiential knowledge of the interlocking forms of oppression in U.S. culture, they expand previous definitions of feminism.

Anita Cornwell, for example, describes the invisibility she experienced during the early stages of the contemporary women's movement and challenges Euro-American feminists to incorporate an analysis of racism into their work.

Writings by Pat Parker, Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Cheryl Clarke, and many others both confirm and broaden this critique. In their poetry, fiction, and prose, they maintain that feminists' exclusive emphasis on gender-based oppression overlooks the ways racism, classism, and complicate women's experiences of sexism. By reminding their readers that although all women might be oppressed, the specific forms of oppression they experience vary cross-culturally, this challenge has significantly altered the direction of U.S. feminist theory and activism in the 1990s.

This alteration of feminist theory and praxis reflects the transformational perspective found throughout twentieth-century African-American lesbian poetry, fiction, and prose. By developing Afrocentric feminist perspectives that validate self-affirming, woman-identified speech, black lesbian literature successfully challenges Euro-centric, patriarchal constructions of female and ethnic identities. As they depict their complex self-naming processes, African-American lesbian writers simultaneously redefine female identity and develop innovative models for cross-cultural communities.

AnnLouise Keating

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social sciences >> Overview:  African Americans

Glbtq African Americans frequently experience racism in predominantly white glbtq communities and homophobia in heterosexual black society, but the multiple oppressions faced by black glbtq people are now being recognized.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, 1900-1969

American lesbian literature prior to Stonewall exploited the "outlaw" status of the lesbian as it moved from encrypted strategies of expression to overt political celebrations of woman-for-woman passion.

literature >> Overview:  American Literature: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall various political agendas have dominated American lesbian literature.

literature >> Overview:  Bisexual Literature

Although Western culture's reliance upon binary systems of classification and identification has meant the practical erasure of bisexuality, as such, from literary and cultural analysis, bisexual experiences appear in many literary works from ancient times to the present.

arts >> Overview:  Blues Music

Blues music as it flourished in the 1920s was women's music, and it often featured sexually-inflected lyrics performed by women who were openly bisexual or lesbian.

literature >> Overview:  The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance, an African-American literary movement of the 1920s and 1930s, included several important gay and lesbian writers.

arts >> Baker, Josephine

Entertainer Josephine Baker achieved acclaim as the twentieth century's first international black female sex symbol, but kept carefully hidden her many sexual liaisons with women, which continued from adolescence to the end of her life.

literature >> Cliff, Michelle

Jamaican-born writer Michelle Cliff explores issues of race, class, and sexuality in her prose and poetry.

social sciences >> Daly, Mary

Radical feminist philosopher, theologian, and linguist, Mary Daly is an outspoken lesbian-feminist separatist who has provoked outrage by challenging established ideas and institutions that she considers destructive to women's power and creativity.

literature >> Grimké, Angelina Weld

A noted African-American writer from the 1900s through the 1920s, Angelina Weld Grimké fell into obscurity in the 1930s and was only rediscovered in the 1980s; her inability to act on her sexual desires inspired her writing and contributed to her ultimately abandoning it.

literature >> Jordan, June

In both her poetry and her essays, June Jordan called for the rejection of stereotypical views of bisexuality, and she associated sexual independence with political commitment.

literature >> Larsen, Nella

Constrained by the social conventions of the time, the bisexual African-American novelist Nella Larsen was covert in her treatment of lesbianism.

literature >> Lorde, Audre

The work of African-American activist and writer Audre Lord was greatly influenced by her lesbianism.

arts >> Rainey, Gertrude ("Ma")

"Mother of the Blues" Gertrude "Ma" Rainey made no secret of her relationships with women.

literature >> Sapphire (Ramona Lofton)

Bisexual African-American novelist, poet, and performance artist Sapphire came to public attention with works that focus on the harrowing realities of inner city existence.

literature >> Shockley, Ann Allen

Popular short story writer and novelist Ann Allen Shockley treats both interracial and lesbian experiences.

literature >> Walker, Alice

In her explorations of the damage done to the individual self by racism and sexism, Alice Walker views lesbianism as natural and freeing, an aid to self-knowledge and self-love.

literature >> Woodson, Jacqueline

A prize-winning author of books for young adults, the African-American lesbian writer Jacqueline Woodson gives voice to a complex range of both straight and gay characters.


Cornwell, Anita. Black Lesbian in White America. Tallahassee, Fla.: Naiad Press, 1983.

Hull, Gloria. Color, Sex, and Poetry: Three Women Writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Jordan, June. Civil Wars. Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.

_____. On Call: Political Essays. Boston: South End Press, 1987.

_____. Technical Difficulties: African-American Notes on the State of the Union. New York: Pantheon, 1992.

Smith, Barbara, ed. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology. New York: Kitchen Table, Women of Color, 1983.

_____. "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism." 1977. The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, Theory. Elaine Showalter, ed. New York: Pantheon, 1985.

_____. "The Truth that Never Hurts: Black Lesbians in Fiction in the 1980s." Feminisms. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Proce Herndl, eds. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991. 690-712.


    Citation Information
    Author: Keating, AnnLouise  
    Entry Title: African-American Literature: Lesbian  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 9, 2010  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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