Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog


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From Push to Precious: Filmic Adaptation

Though I usually find that there’s a lot lost in the adaptation of a work from text to film, I didn’t find that to be very true in the case of Precious. Though I agree that there was something lost in the absence of Precious’ writing–they could have easily shown an over-the-shoulder shot of Precious writing in her journal–I feel like a lot was added to the narrative in the filmic re-telling of Sapphire’s work. There is something really important, I think, in the way that positive images of fatness were displayed in the movie. Fatness is usually relegated to side-roles and comedic relief in major motion pictures, and it meant a lot to me that Precious’ fatness wasn’t shied away from in the film.

However, I do think something was lost at the end of the film. Sapphire didn’t write such a positive, optimistic ending as was shown in the film. It absolutely brushed over the issue of AIDS, including it probably for dramatic purposes without addressing the real ramifications AIDS will have on Precious’ life.

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Trauma in the Color Purple

“Us sleep like sisters, me and Shug. Much as I still want to be with her, much as I love to look, my tithes stay soft, my little button never rise. Now I know I’m dead. But she say, Naw, just being mad, grief, wanting to kill somebody will make you feel this way. Nothing to worry about. Titties gonna perk up, button gonna rise again. I loves to hug up, period, she say. Snuggle. Don’t need nothing else right now.”

I know that we talked about this quote in class on Thursday, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. It still kind of jars me that there are people out there who don’t see Shug and Celie as lovers, how basically the complexity of the dynamic of their relationship can be swept under the rug in the name of decency and taste. Or even how “womanism” can be applied like a paste to the novel, not in addition to, but instead of the lesbianism Walker seems to emphasize. Womanism and lesbianism are in no way mutually exclusive, but I feel like people seem more comfortable using the term womanism to define Celie and Shug’s relationship.

Anyway, what I’ve been thinking about lately is what it means that Celie’s sexuality is affected through her experience of “just being mad, grief, wanting to kill somebody.” I’ve been thinking about how oppression functions to rob us of ourselves, how in the face of prejudice and trauma and our bodily reactions to that, we are robbed of some bodily experiences. I can’t think of a more cathartic reaction to Celie’s lived experience of resistance, of grief, of trauma, than Shug’s holistic love of Celie as an individual. “I loves to hug up, period, she say. Snuggle. Don’t need nothing else right now.” I often think of queer sex as a form of resistance to the heteronormative, patriarchal structures that exist outside of and within the self. And upon reading this section of the book I thought, “how sad, how bleak, that one of Celie’s methods of resistance is stripped from her by her experience of oppression.” But Celie and Shug’s relationship offers resistance even to this. It’s beautiful, this is probably one of my favorite parts of the book.

Sorry this was late—just realized I published it to Dr. Stockton’s old Sex and Sin in Early America blog by accident 😦


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Bonus Question: “Precious; The Fairest Mother of All?”

As I was thinking of how to situate Push in the context of the rest of the texts we’ve read this semester, I kept thinking back on the conversation we had in class a couple of weeks ago. Someone actually went through all of the texts we’d read and highlighted all the different representations of “bad motherhood” found in them. This exercise was meant to show the way in which Precious, as a character, was “the fairest mother of them all,” because she refused to give up her children and elected to raise them herself. Now, I agree that Precious’ defiance of the cultural conceptions of motherhood, as espoused by Ms. Rain and social services was a very powerful part of the novel. But not because it was Precious’ duty, as a woman, to raise and care for all of the children she gave birth to.  It was powerful to me, rather, because Precious was able to take control of her life in that way, because she wanted to raise her children, and because she refused to let others tell her she wasn’t good enough.

Looking back on the text we’ve read this semester, and all of the depictions of motherhood that don’t live up to the sexist, racist and classist ideal we hold as the ideal of motherhood, I don’t think there’s a single one I could condemn without taking into account the circumstances which made that kind of motherhood possible for them to attain. Lutie wasn’t a bad mother because she had to work two jobs just to make ends meet, and didn’t have a lot of extra time to spend with Bub. Petry is rather trying to call attention to the social circumstances which make it nearly impossible for a single, black mother to work to support herself and her child and still conform to the standards of motherhood that are required of her. Morrison worked to demystify and deromanticize the “mammy” figure, showing the way that class status functioned to require many black women to essentially mother rich white kids, and how that affected their own family life. I think it’s really important to move beyond the good mother/bad mother dichotomy in terms of understanding the complexity of experience these authors were writing about.


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Music in Precious

I was really, really frustrated with the music in the movie, specifically the placement of songs within scenes. The best is example is when Monique drops the TV off the balcony. That whole scene was dramatically violent, and probably the most intense scene in the movie. The sounds of that action would have, in my opinion, heightened the emotion and even the horror that the viewer felt. Instead, there is a very soulful, moody tone set by the soundtrack, one that I think is incongruent with that part of the movie. One of the best achievements of the movie is Monique’s final scene/soliloquy, in which silence and space are used to heighten tension. The camera even shot a few angles like you might see in a documentary: slightly shaky, but in focus and totally in the moment. That scene should have been a template for the rest of the movie, and I think that the movie would have been quite a bit better in some scenes (like the flying TV) had it followed that model.


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Bonus Question for Precious/PUSH

Precious is, I think, an odd fit into our course reading. I think that to an extent one could argue that everything we read until Precious had a place in a Black Arts canon of some sort. Even Shange’s poetry, which some people have deemed crude, is bold and artful solely through its experimentation. There are some very interesting narrative and plot structures at work in all of the novels that we read. Precious, on the other hand, is basic and almost graphic for graphic’s sake. I don’t want to take away from the work, because I like it and I think that it has its place in Black literature, but I think that Sapphire’s writing aims for emotional extremes through graphic images. Given the story, I think that this is a necessary effect, but I don’t know how to draw significant connections to the previous texts because it is a completely style of novel. As far as content goes, I think that Precious is the full evolution of the problems that plague black women and black americans, i.e. AIDS, drugs, crime, welfare-dependency AND more importantly stigma surrounding that dependency, education, pregnancy, and rape. Sapphire does have some conversation with these issues, and arguably the most frank and accessible conversation with and about theses issues of the authors we’ve read. Interestingly, all of these issues have come up before in most of the books, so content has not drastically changed, though Precious is likely the most inclusive. As far as the current state of black women’s writing goes, this novel would suggest that writing has changed from aesthetic to graphic, and that literature seeks emotional extremism.


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Bonus question!

Push connects with the books we’ve read so far in several different ways. An example would be her expression through poetry, just like For Colored Girls, that allows her to understand her life and communicate in a way that makes sense to her. On the other hand, her story does have naturalistic tendencies. In The Street, we see Lutie on a path trying so hard to succeed, but it is all for nothing because she ends up leaving her child and going to jail, perpetuating a racial/class stereotype she wanted more than anything to escape from. In Push, the story ends on a hopeful note until we come to terms with the fact that she is HIV positive and may not have many years to live. Like Lutie’s unavoidable path to destruction, Precious is also stuck on a path that she has no control over.

The novel, as mentioned before, is ultimately a naturalistic one, just like the first book we read. The fact that Push was written in 1996 which is not too long ago suggests that in spite of the racial barriers we as a country have managed to break down, racism still exists and being a black female in the world is and will continue to be a challenge. Though I am not certain of it, I feel like there are probably many Preciouses out there to this day who suffer abuse in a horrible home. Some people are stuck in a cycle of racism within communities, that it is as if they were untouched by any of the progress being made, but perpetuate the stereotypes that hold them back from breaking free from America’s racism and judgment. Black women writing I think will continue in its realism, informing people of the devastating stories of black females to try and get people who hadn’t thought about it before to begin to understand and empathize with what is actually going on.

Changes over time have included affirmative action, increasing interracial couples, obviously the election of a black president. Nevertheless, the fact that many black female writers, and black writers as well, continue to write similar stories of oppression, abuse, poverty, and alienation suggests that though racial inequality has improved, people can’t become content with thinking that we are living in post-racial world. These writers work to fight against the racial complacency that American is stuck in


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Thematic occurrences in our reading this semester- Black Women Writing about it all

This has been one heck of a semester with all the strong voices, and characters, showing us insight to the life and struggle with being a black woman in our formation of a  “post-racial” nation. These writers and characters would smack the face that uttered a claim to anything being void of racism and discrimination against certain classes. We saw through The Street, The Bluest Eye, The Color Purple, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and in our closer to modern day status, PUSH, that discrimination against women, and women of color especially, has been and still is the ugly bully of our schoolyard in this society. These women protagonists within the novels we have read have expressed their deepest desires to be accepted for who they are, and all the good things they can offer their communities, yet the oppression that surrounds them is obviously purely subjective to their skin color and social class. Being at the bottom of the social hierarchy as we know it, they are unable to break through to their environments on a large scale, but have all still reached remarkable differences in the units close to them. Celie from The Color Purple was able to find peace in her past, and free herself enough to love others and keep moving forward. Maya Angelou was able to prove to the world that she could take the unconditional love she received and use it to foster a new life. Precious Jones from PUSH was able to channel all the energy from being unjustifiably abused, to creating a new life where she could only love, and be loved more. Most of these women melted the stones that surrounded them.