First of all, I must thank you all for venturing to accompany me on this critical literary and social journey as I hope to uncover the evolution of relationships and the ever-taboo subject of sex and sexuality within an African American discourse. My project’s focal authors are Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, Zane and Wahida Clark; Zora and Alice will comprise the 19th and early 20th centuries, while Zane and Wahida cover a contemporary period of the late 20th and 21st centuries.
As of now, these authors have piqued my interest in how they do (or do not) navigate the boundaries of a woman’s sexuality and pleasure, and the ever-dominate code of respectability. Based on my reading prior to discovering this topic, I have seen Zora and Alice put the African American woman and this issue in a light that is more favorable (at least to me) than the current “urban erotica” spotlight which Zane and Wahida are giving this group.
Zora and Alice depict many women characters who are very much aware of their sexuality and “cravings” but they also cast these women (usually) in socially respectable situations, i.e., marriage. For instance, Zora’s renown character of “Janie” is exemplary of a woman who wants love not just a marriage of convenience (which was very common during her period), and although she marries twice she finally goes after the love (and sex) that she wants despite the social taboo. Whereas in contemporary literature, the careful navigation of sexuality and respectability seems lost. Zane single-handedly created a new literary genre, “urban erotica”, which Wahida and other authors, particularly African Americans, have leaped into.
This genre bears it all! There are no secrets saved for the bedroom and only hinted at to its readers– everything is out in the open, as the song says. In these types of books there is no longer an emphasis on marriage (respectability); the relationships, indeed, mirror common contemporary societal relationships of “hookups” and “one-night stands”.
I think you can definitely read Zora’s work as a prelude to Alice’s work/characters, but what is puzzling is how does today’s genre fit as the succession to those authors’ works.
Well, this is the beginning. Won’t you stay on for the ride?
Peace and Prosperity