Freedom Narratives of African American Women: A Study of 19th Century Writings

Janaka Bowman Lewis

Janaka Bowman Lewis is director of women’s and gender studies and associate professor of English at UNC Charlotte.

While narratives of enslavement have become more central to conversations about African American women’s writing, this book first discusses the genre of narratives of freedom and then examines women’s relationships to the community as they seek to illustrate a collective free identity. Lewis argues that these texts represent a sense of civil rights that emerges prior even to the ideas of racial uplift that reached a height for women in the late 19th Century and moved into the 20th Century.

Under the umbrella of freedom narratives, this book also reads black women’s narratives of education, individual progress, marriage and family, labor, and intellectual commitments to see how they both reflect and produce national and community rebuilding projects. Lewis opines that black women define freedom through all of the means listed above, but what is most significant for the purposes of their writing is freedom to choose their paths and to tell their own stories, in their own words and on their own terms.

Lewis, a faculty affiliate of Africana Studies, teaches courses on 19th and 20th Century African American women’s literature and African American archival and material culture. She has published several book chapters and essays on African American women writers of the 19th Century in addition to book chapters on black sports culture. She has contributed essays and chapters on race and gender dynamics in higher education. The author of two children’s books that she has shared in research and presentations on diversity in children’s literature, Lewis currently is working on a monograph about black girlhood and narratives of play in literature and media.