Bessie Head: Subversive Identities in Exile

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University of Virginia Press, 1996 - Literary Criticism - 252 pages
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One of the foremost African writers of our time, who dispelled the silence between colonial and feminist discourses by "talking back", Bessie Head at last gets her due in this first book-length, comprehensive study of her work. This book locates Head's unquestionable importance in the canon of African literature. Author Huma Ibrahim argues that unless we are able to look at the merging of women's sexual and linguistic identity with their political and gendered identity, the careful configurations created in Head's work will elude us. Ibrahim offers a series of thoughtful readings informed by feminist, diasporan, postcolonial, and poststructuralist insights and concerns. She identifies a theme she calls "exilic consciousness" - the desire to belong - and traces its manifestations through each phase of Head's work, showing how "women's talk" - a marginalized commodity in the construction of southern Africa - is differently embodied and evaluated. Bessie Head's works are frequently featured in courses in African literature, third-world literature, and fiction writing, but there is little critical material on them. Ibrahim offers readings of Head's novels When Rain Clouds Gather, Maru, and A Question of Power, as well as the collections Tales of Tenderness and Power, A Collector of Treasures, A Woman Alone: Autobiographical Writings, and The Cardinals, the histories Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind and A Bewitched Crossroad, and her letters to Robert Vigne collected in A Gesture of Belonging. In Head's exploration of oppressed people, especially women and those in exile, Ibrahim finds startling insights into institutional power relations. Head not only subverts Western hegemonic notions ofthe third-world woman but offers a critique of postcoloniality.
 

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Contents

Identity
23
Euphoria and Subversion in Exile
52
Race Gender and Exile in National Discourse
88
Womens Identity and a Question of Good
124
A Dialogue on Oppression
171
Visioned and Envisioned History
200
Aesthetic
238
Copyright

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About the author (1996)

Huma Ibrahim is an Assistant Professor of Literature and has published articles on Ben Okri, Bessie Head, Anita Desai, Toni Morrison, and Dambudzo Marechera.

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