Amaranth Feuth

Black Classicisms and Educational Backgrounds: Anchoring Techniques in Black Women’s Literature

Home > Projects > Black Classicisms and Educational Backgrounds: Anchoring Techniques in Black Women’s Literature

How are classical receptions in the works of contemporary female, Black, American writers anchored in classical literature? What is the relationship between the education of Black female authors such as Toni Morrison, Rita Dove, Harryette Mullen, and Donika Kelly, and their receptions of the classics? I try to gain insight into and enhance awareness of the issues as a female, White scholar in Europe.

Black classicism
Since the coining of the term ‘classica africana’ by Michelle Ronnick at the 1996 American Philological Association meeting (Ronnick 2004: 88), there has been quite some scholarly attention for what is generally called Black classicism. It has become clear that from the late 18th century onwards, Black scholars and literary authors in the United States have engaged with the classics, with a peak in popularity between the end of the 19th century and the mid-20th. Mastering ancient Greek and Latin was for many Black people an instrument to achieve acknowledgement by whites and to repudiate common theories of racial inequality. In fact, Black academic education to some extent anchored itself in the classics. Today, obtaining a classical education has lost some of its societal esteem and due to the many translations available, the reception of the classics is no longer reserved to classically trained authors alone.

Critical Black receptions
Black classicism often diverges from mainstream interpretations of the classics, subverting the Eurocentric world view so common in white American literature and politics. In this way, Black scholars and literary authors involved with the classics anchor both their respectability and their liberation from white oppression in classical literature.

Contemporary receptions by Black female authors
While classical receptions by male Black authors such as Countee Cullen, Ralph Ellison, and Derek Walcott, easily spring to mind, I focus on the anchoring techniques in the work of contemporary Black female authors who tend to be less well-known in Europe. As women, Nobel-prize winning novelist Toni Morrison, and poets such as Rita Dove, Harryette Mullen, and Donika Kelly are even further removed from white, colonial, and patriarchal views of the classics, and their receptions require more scrutiny for their anchoring techniques. Furthermore, since these women were largely taught by men, and since some did and some did not have a classical education, I also study the relationship between these writers’ anchoring techniques and their educational backgrounds. Finally, I am interested in the possible impact of their receptions on education in the classics itself.