Defying Categorization: The Work of Suzette Mayr

Posted in Articles, Canada, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2013-12-28 03:06Z by Steven

Defying Categorization: The Work of Suzette Mayr

Canadian Woman Studies / Les Caheiers de la Femme
Volume 23, Number 2 (2004)
pages 71-75

Katie Petersen

Le corpus littéraire de Suzette Mayr examine les croisements raciaux, la sexualité marginalisée et la formation de l’identité personnelle dans des espaces indéfinis. Ses recueils de poemès et ses nouvelles ont tous remis en question la situation et le classement des populations. L’auteure a exploré et validé les espaces non explorés et non compartimentés qui sont présents dans les réalités traditionelles.

The literary corpus of Suzette Mayr examines racial mixing, marginalized sexuality and the formation of personal identity in undefined spaces. Her collections of poems and novels have questioned the status and the classification of the groups concerned. The author has explored and validated the unexplored spaces and those spaces not compartmentalized that are present in traditional realities.

In the afterword to her Master’s thesis “Chimaera Lips” (1992), the Calgary poet and novelist Suzette Mayr states that

a positive approach to categorization would not rely on having to distinguish oneself through comparison to another group, but would emphasize the whole or merged self, rather than the categorized self. (59)

In this work, Mayr explores “existence between ‘realities.’” She investigates and attempts to undermine the binary constructions surrounding race, sexuality and gender, by writing about, and presumably from within, what she terms “middle spaces;” spaces which exist between the starkly delineated realities commonly associated with various racial, sexual and gender categories (61). Mayr posits an absorption of “realities” by these in-between spaces, leading to an integrated system in which neither reality nor intermediate space dominates. The novels Mayr wrote following “Chimaera Lips,” Moon Honey (1995) and The Widows (1998), and her chapbook of poems, Zebra Talk (1991), all serve to challenge the ways in which people are necessarily located or categorized and to explore, expose, and validate uncharted, uncompartmentalized middle spaces…

Mayr’s chapbook, Zebra Talk, is a collection of poems of a relatively personal nature which describe Mayr’s own perceptions as a lesbian and a Canadian of mixed, Black-Caucasian, race. She explores issues of race and sexuality, identity and family, describing middle and hybrid spaces. Mayr treats her poetic subjects in much the same way as she does the characters in her novels; their appearances, actions and significances are described in unique, creative and at times ambiguous ways which emphasize the difficulty, if not impossibility, of categorizing individuals without that action being destructive and/or reductive.

Zebra Talk contains poems which discuss the idea of being a “zebra,” a person of mixed race. Mayr details the process of coming to terms with racial hybridity and of understand ing how a person of mixed race locates herself within a multiracial family setting and within the larger setting of a multiracial community or nation. Clearly, racial and cultural hybridity create new spaces. People of in-between colors and in-between cultures have to forge in-between identities and locations for themselves. However, what stands in the middle cannot be identified simply in relation to the poles it stands between.

Mayr’s use of the repetitive imagery of skin, invertebrates, volcanic insides, and people made of earth turns ordered family and romantic structures into a tempestuous and vividly multicolored mixture. In the first poem, the speaker describes her family:

The skin on a drum
The skin stretched over a moving rib cage
The skin stretched and bitten by two other heads on this
three-headed body
2 brothers 1 sister 3 heads and 1 body
plus 1 and 1 parents. (2)

The children, each different versions of the same mixture, form a three-headed being, sharing a body. The parents, “1 and 1,” remain separate. The skin to which Mayr refers appears thin but strong, stretched and fitted over skeleton and roiling core: “(Zebra pelt stretched over a hot and bloody centre)” (2). This particular mixture of heat and blood and guts is never given a clear meaning. It could be a reference, as George Elliott Clarke suggests in “Canadian Biraciality and Its ‘Zebra’ Poetics,” to “a volcanic core—a history of violence and death … O the same seething hurt,” an internal upheaval particular to people of mixed race (233). Or, Mayr could be pointing out that everyone, regardless of race, is, at the core, composed of the same unstable material, which cannot be classified or associated in any way with outside appearance…

Read the entire article here.

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The Widows

Posted in Books, Canada, Media Archive, Novels, Women on 2013-12-26 23:25Z by Steven

The Widows

NeWest Press
April 1998
256 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-896300-30-6

Suzette Mayr

Hannelore, Clotilde, and Frau Schnadelhuber are three old women tired of living in a world which does not allow old women to be seen or heard. Deciding to shake their fists at such a world, the three women plot to go over Niagara Falls in a bright orange space-age barrel. With the assistance of Cleopatra Maria, the 26-year-old genius granddaughter of Hannelore and grandniece of Clotilde, the four women steal the barrel from a travelling show and drive it across Canada determined to prove their worth to a world devoted to youth.

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Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge

Posted in Autobiography, Books, History, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, United States, Women on 2013-12-26 04:01Z by Steven

Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge

West Virginia University Press
December 2013
160 pages
Cloth ISBN: 978-1-935978-24-4
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-935978-23-7
ePub ISBN: 978-1-935978-25-1
PDF ISBN: 978-1-938228-64-3

Original Text by Frances Harriet Whipple (1805-1878) with Elleanor Eldridge (1794-1862)

Edited by:

Joycelyn K. Moody, Sue E. Denman Distinguished Chair in American Literature and Professor of English
University of Texas, San Antonio

Elleanor Eldridge, born of African and US indigenous descent in 1794, operated a lucrative domestic services business in nineteenth century Providence, Rhode Island. In defiance of her gender and racial background, she purchased land and built rental property from the wealth she gained as a business owner. In the 1830s, Eldridge was defrauded of her property by a white lender. In a series of common court cases as defendant and plaintiff, she managed to recover it through the Rhode Island judicial system. In order to raise funds to carry out this litigation, her memoir, which includes statements from employers endorsing her respectable character, was published in 1838. Frances Harriet Whipple, an aspiring white writer in Rhode Island, narrated and co-authored Eldridge’s story, expressing a proto-feminist outrage at the male “extortioners” who caused Eldridge’s loss and distress.

With the rarity of Eldridge’s material achievements aside, Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge forms an exceptional antebellum biography, chronicling Eldridge’s life from her birth. Because of Eldridge’s exceptional life as a freeborn woman of color entrepreneur, it constitutes a counter-narrative to slave narratives of early 19th-century New England, changing the literary landscape of conventional American Renaissance studies and interpretations of American Transcendentalism.

With an introduction by Joycelyn K. Moody, this new edition contextualizes the extraordinary life of Elleanor Eldridge—from her acquisition of wealth and property to the publication of her biography and her legal struggles to regain stolen property. Because of her mixed-race identity, relative wealth, local and regional renown, and her efficacy in establishing a collective of white women patrons, this biography challenges typical African and indigenous women’s literary production of the early national period and resituates Elleanor Eldridge as an important cultural and historical figure of the nineteenth century.

Read the original text from 1838 here.

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Notes from a Colored Girl: The Civil War Pocket Diaries of Emilie Frances Davis

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Forthcoming Media, History, Monographs, United States, Women on 2013-12-23 12:13Z by Steven

Notes from a Colored Girl: The Civil War Pocket Diaries of Emilie Frances Davis

University of South Carolina Press
May 2014
280 pages
9 b&w illus.
6 x 9
Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-61117-352-9
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61117-353-6

Karsonya Wise Whitehead, Assistant Professor of Communication and African and African American Studies
Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore

A rare glimpse into the thoughts and experiences of a free black American woman in the nineteenth century

In Notes from a Colored Girl, Karsonya Wise Whitehead examines the life and experiences of Emilie Frances Davis, a freeborn twenty-one-year-old mulatto woman, through a close reading of three pocket diaries she kept from 1863 to 1865. Whitehead explores Davis’s worldviews and politics, her perceptions of both public and private events, her personal relationships, and her place in Philadelphia’s free black community in the nineteenth century.

Although Davis’s daily entries are sparse, brief snapshots of her life, Whitehead interprets them in ways that situate Davis in historical and literary contexts that illuminate nineteenth-century black American women’s experiences. Whitehead’s contribution of edited text and original narrative fills a void in scholarly documentation of women who dwelled in spaces between white elites, black entrepreneurs, and urban dwellers of every race and class.

Notes from a Colored Girl is a unique offering to the fields of history and documentary editing as the book includes both a six-chapter historical reconstruction of Davis’s life and a full, heavily annotated edition of her Civil War–era pocket diaries. Drawing on scholarly traditions from history, literature, feminist studies, and sociolinguistics, Whitehead investigates Davis’s diary both as a complete literary artifact and in terms of her specific daily entries.

From a historical perspective, Whitehead re-creates the narrative of Davis’s life for those three years and analyzes the black community where she lived and worked. From a literary perspective, Whitehead examines Davis’s diary as a socially, racially, and gendered nonfiction text. From a feminist studies perspective, she examines Davis’s agency and identity, grounded in theories elaborated by black feminist scholars. And, from linguistic and rhetorical perspectives, she studies Davis’s discourse about her interpersonal relationships, her work, and external events in her life in an effort to understand how she used language to construct her social, racial, and gendered identities.

Since there are few primary sources written by black women during this time in history, Davis’s diary—though ordinary in its content—is rendered extraordinary simply because it has survived to be included in this very small class of resources. Whitehead’s extensive analysis illuminates the lives of many through the simple words of one.

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From hair care to racism, Afro-Germans share experiences online

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Europe, Media Archive, Women on 2013-12-20 19:00Z by Steven

From hair care to racism, Afro-Germans share experiences online

DW: Deutsche Welle
Berlin/Bonn, Germany

Lori Herber, Cologne

Two 20-somethings in Germany have launched, the country’s first online portal with an Afro-German perspective. For many in the community, it’s more than hair advice – it’s a roadmap to identity

After growing up with few role models who looked like them, Afro-Germans Barbara Mabanza (left) and Esther Donkor (right) didn’t want the same thing to happen to girls in Germany’s next generation. So they created a website to bring together a community.

Twelve-year-old Magdalena Inou is one of those girls the two had in mind. Magdalena has her Austrian mother’s quick smile and her Cameroonian father’s kinky hair. Tonight those tresses are pulled into a ponytail. She sits beside her mother, Sylvia and is quick to point out the obvious.

“My hair is different from the hair of my mother,” she explains, matter-of-factly. Her mother, Sylvia Inou adds. “I have German hair. Austrian hair. Straight hair.”

They’ve traveled more than eight hours from Vienna to Cologne to meet more than 50 fellow members of the online community called “Krauselocke,” or “kinky curls.” They want to get tips on how to care for Magdalena’s hair and, most importantly, to show Magdalena she’s not alone…

Read the entire article here.

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Scotching Three Myths About Mary Seacole

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, United Kingdom, Women on 2013-12-19 19:47Z by Steven

Scotching Three Myths About Mary Seacole

British Journal of Healthcare Assistants
Volume 7, Issue 10, (October 2013)
pages 508-511

Elizabeth Anionwu, Emeritus Professor of Nursing
University of West London

Mary Seacole has received unprecedented media coverage due to the phenomenal success of the Operation Black Vote petition to keep her included in the national curriculum. In a period of a month, more than 35 000 people signed it since it went online on 3 January 2013. The nationwide and international response has been remarkable. So too the overwhelming display of respect for Mary Seacole, as demonstrated in the comments of thousands who signed the petition.

A leaked draft of the proposed new history curriculum was featured in MailOnline on 29 December 2012 (Petre, 2012). The report stated that ‘pupils will again have to study these traditional historic figures’ and examples included Oliver Cromwell, Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill. In contrast, Mary Seacole and other ‘social reformers’ such as Elizabeth Fry, Olaudah Equiano (ca 1745-1797) and Florence Nightingale would be excluded. This was followed on 31 December 2012 with an article in MailOnline headed: ‘The black Florence Nightingale and the making of a PC myth: one historian explains how Mary Seacole’s story never stood up’ (Walters G, 2012).

The petition led to extensive analysis in newspapers, online media and radio and in February, the Government made it clear Seacole would not after all be dropped from the national curriculum (Rawlinson, 2013). Mary Seacole generated a debate: on the one hand, there was acknowledgement of her achievements, while on the other hand doubts were raised as to whether she merited this acclaim and admiration. It was argued by some that myths created about Seacole need to be corrected; three examples are explored here…

…Myth 2: Mary Seacole should not be considered as a ‘black historical figure’

Seacole was, for example, voted the Greatest Black Briton in 2004 (Taylor, 2004). Some suggest that accolades of this nature are dubious, as Seacole was ‘three-quarters white’ and, it is claimed, more at ease with her white and Scottish roots than her black Jamaican heritage. Evidence to back this up uses selected extracts from her 1857 autobiography, Wonderful Adventures Of Mrs Seacole In Many Lands, including that her skin colour is ‘only a little brown’ and disparaging remarks she made about her black cooks…

Read the entire article here.

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Thyra Johnston, 91, Symbol Of Racial Distinctions, Dies

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2013-12-19 09:50Z by Steven

Thyra Johnston, 91, Symbol Of Racial Distinctions, Dies

The New York Times

Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. (1939-2000)

Thyra Johnston, a blue-eyed fair-skinned New Hampshire homemaker who became a symbol of the silliness of racial distinctions when she and her husband announced that they were black, died on Nov. 22 at her home in Honolulu. She was 91.

She was the real-life heroine of “Lost Boundaries,” a movie that stunned the nation in 1949.

It is doubtful that Norman Rockwell could have dreamed up a family that better epitomized the small-town Depression-era American ideal than Albert and Thyra Johnston and their four children.

Dr. Johnston, who was born in Chicago, graduated with honors from the University of Chicago Medical School and studied radiology at Harvard. He was such a respected figure that in the 10 years that he practiced in Gorham, N.H., he headed the school board, was a selectman, was president of the county medical society and became chairman of the local Republican Party.

Mrs. Johnston, who was born in New Orleans, grew up in Boston and married her husband when he was a medical student, and was at once a model homemaker and mother and a civic and social leader whose well-appointed home in exclusive Prospect Hill was the scene of the annual Christmas social of the Congregational Church.

But Mrs. Johnston, described by her son Albert Jr. as looking as Irish as any of her neighbors, had a secret. In a society of such perverse attitudes that black “blood” was simultaneously scorned and regarded as so powerful that the tiniest trace was considered the defining racial characteristic, she was born one-eighth black, enough to qualify her as “Negro” on her birth certificate…

Read the entire obituary here.

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Regina Anderson Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian

Posted in Biography, Books, Forthcoming Media, Monographs, United States, Women on 2013-12-09 04:30Z by Steven

Regina Anderson Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian

University of Illinois Press
May 2014
176 pages
6 x 9 in.
23 black & white photographs

Ethelene Whitmire, Associate Professor of Library & Information Studies
University of Wisconsin, Madison

The life of a groundbreaking librarian and Harlem Renaissance figure

The first African American to head a branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL), Regina Andrews led an extraordinary life. Allied with W. E. B. Du Bois, Andrews fought for promotion and equal pay against entrenched sexism and racism and battled institutional restrictions confining African American librarians to only a few neighborhoods within New York City.

Andrews also played a key role in the Harlem Renaissance, supporting writers and intellectuals with dedicated workspace at her 135th Street Branch Library. After hours she cohosted a legendary salon that drew the likes of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Her work as an actress and playwright helped establish the Harlem Experimental Theater, where she wrote plays about lynching, passing, and the Underground Railroad.

Ethelene Whitmire’s new biography offers the first full-length study of Andrews’ activism and pioneering work with the NYPL. Whitmire’s portrait of her sustained efforts to break down barriers reveals Andrews’s legacy and places her within the NYPL’s larger history.

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Ivey describes herself as ‘Trayvon Martin’s mom’

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Women on 2013-12-05 20:45Z by Steven

Ivey describes herself as ‘Trayvon Martin’s mom’

The Baltimore Sun

Erin Cox

(Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

Gansler’s running mate is first African-American woman to seek lieutenant governor post

After Del. Jolene Ivey told a Baltimore crowd she hopes to be Maryland’s first African-American female lieutenant governor, she discussed what it means to be a fair-skinned black woman whose racial heritage is often questioned.

Ivey, 51, is the daughter of a white woman who was raised by her black father and stepmother. She said her racial heritage was the “No.1 issue” when she launched her first political campaign in 2006 — repeatedly being asked by voters to “clarify” her racial identity.

“As much as I’d like to believe that we’re in a post-racial country, we’re not,” Ivey said during an interview after Democrat Douglas F. Gansler announced her as his running mate in the 2014 race for governor.

The Prince George’s County lawmaker emphasized her roles as a black woman and mother of five boys. “I am Trayvon Martin’s mom,” she said…

Read the entire article here.

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Conversations with Natasha Trethewey

Posted in Anthologies, Biography, Books, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2013-12-05 20:32Z by Steven

Conversations with Natasha Trethewey

University Press of Mississippi
256 pages
6 x 9 inches, introduction, chronology, index
Hardback ISBN: 9781617038792
Paperback ISBN: 9781617039515

Edited by:

Joan Wylie Hall, Lecturer in English
University of Mississippi

United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey (b. 1966) describes her mode as elegiac. Although the loss of her murdered mother informs each book, Trethewey’s range of forms and subjects is wide. In compact sonnets, elegant villanelles, ballad stanzas, and free verse, she creates monuments to mixed-race children of colonial Mexico, African American soldiers from the Civil War, a beautiful prostitute in 1910 New Orleans, and domestic workers from the twentieth-century North and South.

Because her white father and her black mother could not marry legally in Mississippi, Trethewey says she was “given” her subject matter as “the daughter of miscegenation.” A sense of psychological exile is evident from her first collection, Domestic Work (2000), to the recent Thrall (2012). Biracial people of the Americas are a major focus of her poetry and her prose book Beyond Katrina, a meditation on family, community, and the natural environment of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The interviews featured within Conversations with Natasha Trethewey provide intriguing artistic and biographical insights into her work. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet cites diverse influences, from Anne Frank to Seamus Heaney. She emotionally acknowledges Rita Dove’s large impact, and she boldly positions herself in the southern literary tradition of Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. Commenting on “Pastoral,” “South,” and other poems, Trethewey guides readers to deeper perception and empathy.

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