Growing Up Black: Coming of Age and the Afterlife of Slavery in Contemporary African American Literature

Dawson, Adam (2022) Growing Up Black: Coming of Age and the Afterlife of Slavery in Contemporary African American Literature. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis reads contemporary African American coming of age literature through what Saidiya Hartman terms the ‘afterlife of slavery.’ By bringing together age, genre, and the afterlife of slavery, I argue that the ways in which Black subjects have been and continue to be excluded from the category of the human is due to their exclusion from age-based subject positions, thus showing that age is far from a biological fact but is deeply political. Age-based politics plays out in the generic demands of coming of age narratives, which, I argue, are predicated on whiteness. The coming of age genre, then, scripts and judges the successful journey to adulthood by the standards of normative whiteness: characters complete their coming of age when they reproduce a heterosexual family, find stable work, or gain the material markers of adulthood, therefore transitioning between age-based subject positions. Taking an intertextual and comparative approach, the African American texts I read contest and rewrite this narrative by proposing models of coming of age which do not depend on access to, and transition between, age-based subject positions. Rather, these authors show that coming of age is achieved once their protagonists express and define their own subject position, therefore exercising agency in a culture which seeks to overdetermine their identity. Growing up Black concludes by arguing that the nebulous nature of the coming of age genre allows the contemporary writers in this thesis to offer models of coming of age outside of normative, white expectations for coming of age. By decoupling coming of age from the movement between age-based subject positions from which Black people are often excluded, these texts stake a claim for Black futurity.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Kitty Laine
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2022 11:40
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2022 11:40


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