Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 6:30pm - 8:00pm
African American Romance Novels: Reinventing Images of African American Women
Ann White and Tamara Buck - Southeast Missouri State University
Despite stereotypes of romance fiction as “trashy” and “poorly written” Americans spend millions of dollars each year on romance novels, and many of those books are African American romances – books that are written by African American writers and feature characters in settings familiar to their readers. According to market reports, African-American readers make up the fastest growing segment of the romance reading community, accounting for about 25 percent of the romances sold.
African American romances have a unique history. One of the goals of African American publishers has been to provide outlets for the publication of material that enlightens and informs African Americans, and another has been to oppose the stereotypical images of African Americans that have pervaded mainstream media. The earliest of these efforts began in the late 19th century with the publication of work by African American women writers who created characters that were in opposition to the stereotypes of African American women in antebellum literature.
In this paper, I look at the history of African American romance novels through the lens of cultural representation. This is particularly significant for producers of African American romances because it gives those producers the power to control images of African American women that circulate in culture. The production of contemporary African American romances also provides writers an opportunity to challenge to the stereotypical images of African American female characters that appeared in American literature during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and that have reinforced stereotypical images of African American women.
“Outlaw stories in our own papers”: Heroic Outlaws in African American Romance
Sarah Ficke - Marymount University
The popularity of Beverly Jenkins’s novels set in the West testifies to our continued fascination with outlaws and other desperados from America’s frontier. However, the novels Jenkins writes do more than simply translate the character of the White outlaw into a Black story. Her engagement with the complex experiences of African Americans in the West and the nuanced motivations of her outlaw heroes (and sometimes heroines) encourage her readers to see these novels as educational interventions that recapture stories that were untold, or untellable, in the nineteenth century. Black outlaws, and cowboys like Nat Love, were instrumental Western figures, but they were not translated into fictional heroes until the late 20th century.
In this paper I will examine the outlaw as hero, focusing particularly on the historical novels of Beverly Jenkins, including The Taming of Jessi Rose, Something Like Love, and Wild Sweet Love, and their relationship to nineteenth century works of African American romantic fiction, including Winona by Pauline Hopkins and Clotel by William Wells Brown. As Jenkins notes in Wild Sweet Love, the presence of Black outlaws mattered to the African American population, and for more than their entertainment value. However, there were few outlaws in nineteenth century African American romances, and none of them are the heroes. The heroes are doctors, soldiers, or intellectuals. The outlaws haunt the margins of these stories, but never get a happily ever after. I argue that the absence of black outlaw heroes in nineteenth century African American romantic fiction highlights the connections between personal romances and national politics in the history of American race relations, and the outlaws’ appearance in Jenkins’s novels in the twentieth century shows the key role that romances continue to play in our national dialogue.
You Still Can't Do That on Television! (Or Can You?): Racism and Interracial Coupledom in American Television
Jacqueline Brown - Independent Scholar