By Guest Contributor Regina Barnett, originally published at Red Clay Scholar
Can’t you see Zane, Maya Angelou, and Toni Morrison swapping stories of sexual conquests at a Black Chippendale Review?
Zane intrigues me because not only does she write scripts and vignettes (yup, quickies. I couldn’t help myself) but she writes novels. Novels. Those make up the canon, right? Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou are a given, but could Zane make the cut?
My students, especially my womenfolk, were all for Zane being considered the next generation of black women’s literature. “She goes there and puts it all on the table,” one commented. “Zane talks about women and sex like they aren’t taboo subjects. She talks about it like it actually happens,” remarked another. On the flip side of that, my academic peers and professors gasped in horror and disgust:
“She’s not a writer, she’s a smut pusher!”
“As a burgeoning scholar, Ms. Barnett, I am appalled you would include her in this type of conversation…”
“Zane? A Writer? Get the hell outta here and come back when you’re sober!”
There is a critical need to include an angle to discuss the role of these recent women writers and their novels into the conversation about the trajectory of African American literature and the construction of its narrative from the perspective of a woman of color. The Noires, Zanes, Sister Souljahs, and even the vixen formerly known as Superhead (she’s retired) are battling it out for spaces on bookshelves against the Zoras, Tonis, Alices, and slave women narratives. Frighteningly, instead of putting these sisters of the quill in concert with one another, there is an imbalance and even a dismissal of one type of narrative for another. Ironically, which narrative that is dismissed depends on its audience – in academic circles, staple texts of the likes of Morrison, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, and Nella Larsen are given top priority. In lay audiences, Zane trumps Zora like a big Joker in a game of Spades. Let the record show, however, that the erotic scenes brought to life in the pages of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker make Zane’s sexcapades look like episodes of Sesame Street. Questions of the relationship between sex and the erotic, agency and pleasure, and self expression and subjection entangle themselves in black women’s discourse.
Often inextricably linked, these questions are the framework for discussing and presenting the peculiarities of African American women’s experiences in American society. In similar fashion to their male counterparts, black women often endure sex as a primary lens to their identities. And, parallel to black men, women of color are in a constant search to speak to the often traumatic experiences that frame our existence. Agency and social practice reflect the era and thus the writing it produces.