Friday, October 18, 2013
Recovering the 1980s: A note on Courtney Thorsson's work
Three of the four main works that Courtney Thorsson writes about in her book Women's Work: Nationalism and Contemporary African American Women's novels were published during the 1980s. She devotes extended attention to Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters (1980), Ntozake Shange's Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo (1982), Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow (1983), and Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (1988). She also has a chapter on Toni Morrison's novel Paradise (1997).
Outside of a couple of exceptions, discussions of black novels of the 1980s seem to come up infrequently. Alice Walker's The Color Purple, especially the popular movie version, stills receives frequent mentions, and so does Toni Morrison's Beloved (1987). Beyond those two authors' novels, for those of us not specializing in, say, black women's literature, it's possible to go for long periods without hearing much conversation about those 1980s books by Bambara, Shange, Marshall, and Naylor.
In the discourse on black poetry, I've often been curious about the silences concerning the 1980s. Contemporary commentators often jump over the 80s in favor of discussing the 1960/s70s, especially the Black Arts Movement. Even people who critique aspects of that movement tend to spend far more time thinking and talking about it than they do writers and their compositions of the 1980s.
At least as far as novels go, Thorsson takes us beyond those two signal works by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Thorsson helps us begin piecing together aspects of a seemingly forgotten decade.
By the way, it's worth noting that a considerable number of scholarly works, cited by Thorsson, were published during the 1980s. Thus, we do witness essential moments of progression in the scholarly discourse on black women's writing during that time period
• A Notebook on work by Courtney Thorsson