In Women’s Work, Courtney Thorsson reconsiders the gender, genre, and geography of African American nationalism as she explores the aesthetic history of African American writing by women. Building on and departing from the Black Arts Movement, the literary fiction of such writers as Toni Cade Bambara, Paule Marshall, Gloria Naylor, Ntozake Shange, and Toni Morrison employs a cultural nationalism—practiced by their characters as "women's work"—that defines a distinct contemporary literary movement, demanding attention to the continued relevance of nation in post–Black Arts writing. Identifying five forms of women's work as organizing, dancing, mapping, cooking, and inscribing, Thorsson shows how these writers reclaimed and revised cultural nationalism to hail African America.
Women’s Work is a substantive, deeply learned, and provocative contribution to the study of an important body of literature. Teasing out the strands in novels where black women’s multifaceted creative work involves the theorizing of U.S. and diasporic nationhood, Thorsson provides a clearly written, intellectually rewarding, well-documented investigation of emphases of post–civil rights, post–Black Power feminist cultural concerns.
"Thorsson’s research is extensive and reflects her exploration of how African American women’s writing provides a framework for bringing theory to practice. The real value of the study rests in its exploration of the process of nation-making as an individual and a communal endeavor that cannot exist as a solely masculinist enterprise.... Women’s Work is a nuanced and important work that, to borrow Thorsson’s words, is a potent 'teller of cultural narratives'"
[A] very good and compelling book... [A]mong Women’s Work’s welcome contributions to African American literary studies is its painstaking attention to some of the most challenging, least studied works by these authors, including Sassafras, Praisesong, and Paradise.
Courtney Thorsson makes bold arguments and examines texts by foundational twentieth century AfricanAmerican women authors in Women’s Work.... This text is artfully written, rigorously researched, and the author’s approachable writing style does not diminish the complexity of her analyses.
As scholars increasingly reconsider the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s,Courtney Thorsson’sWomen’sWork stands at the cutting edge of scholarship that assesses thelegacy of that movement for black women writers.... Above all, Women’s Work is among the best demonstrations I know of the idea that literature can "do work in the world."
[Women's Work] revises and expands our understanding of nationhood, black feminism, and the role of literary form in constructions of nation and identity.
Courtney Thorsson is Associate Professor of English at the University of Oregon.