This paper sits with the understudied subgenre of the contemporary black maternal memoir in the Black Lives Matter era. We read Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin’s Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin and Lezley McSpadden’s Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil: The Life, Legacy, and Love of My Son Michael Brown not only as performances of grief and of the birth of political subjectivity—even as they emphatically stage how respectable black maternal political subjectivity is born through loss. These black maternal memoirs also offer what we call strange intimacies, which strain the predictable scripts of the maternal memoir. We read the embeddedness of strange intimacies in these memoirs as a way of refusing the gendered logics of the reception of the black maternal, and as performances of intimacy that refuse and undo normative conceptions of familial intimacy and black maternal loss.
Strange Intimacies: Reading Black Maternal Memoirs
Jennifer C. Nash is associate professor of African American studies and gender and sexuality studies at Northwestern University. She is author of The Black Body in Ecstasy (2014) and Black Feminism Reimagined (2019) and is completing a third book titled “Birthing Black Mothers.”
Samantha Pinto is associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. She is author of Diﬃcult Diasporas (2013) and the forthcoming Infamous Bodies, and she is currently at work on a third book, titled “Under the Skin,” about black internal embodiment.
Jennifer C. Nash, Samantha Pinto; Strange Intimacies: Reading Black Maternal Memoirs. Public Culture 1 September 2020; 32 (3 (92)): 491–512. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-8358686
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