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Speaking in Tongues and Dancing DiasporaBlack Women Writing and Performing$
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Mae G. Henderson

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780195116595

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195116595.001.0001

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(W)Riting The Work and Working the Rites

(W)Riting The Work and Working the Rites

(p.35) 2 (W)Riting The Work and Working the Rites
Speaking in Tongues and Dancing Diaspora

Mae G. Henderson

Oxford University Press

Taking its title from the preface to William Styron’s controversial 1970s novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, Sherley Anne Williams’s “Meditations on History” problematizes the relation of literary author to historical subject/object; the relationship of fiction to history; the relationship of private to public; and the relationship of oral to written discourse in her representation of the relationship between female slave rebel, Dessa, and her -interviewer-author, Adam Nehemiah. Through what Henderson describes as “narrative insurgency,” Dessa inserts herself into a dialogic of call and response. Not only does Williams introduce the black vernacular in order to write the voice of the illiterate slave into history, but she counters the “technology of representation” embodied in Nehemiah’s The Work with Dessa’s “working the rites of roots.” Just as Dessa displaces Nehemiah’s formal discourse with her vernacular voice, so the author seeks to challenges the power of white and male discourse with her privileging of orality.

Keywords:   Sherley Anne Williams, “Meditations on History,” Mae G. Henderson, William Styron, The Confessions of Nat Turner, intertextuality, Dessa, Adam Nehemiah, vernacular, working the rites, orality, “narrative insurgency,” call and response, technology of self-representation, discourse

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